I am having trouble trusting my partner. We have been together for 5 months but because of my past relationships I don’t trust him. I’ve been cheated on all my life.
I have checked his phone (which I know is wrong) and found he has screenshots of a couple of photos from his FB friends list - both were of women in their underwear. When I ask him why he did this he says he doesn't know and it doesn’t mean anything. I don’t understand why he wants other women’s photos on his phone when he has me?
It then makes me think how can he love me if he’s looking at other women on his phone. I need help to trust him and to stop checking his phone, I’ve only done it a few times but when I have I find something which isn’t acceptable. I don’t know what to do without ruining this relationship. I know I have to address my trust issues but he isn’t helping by doing what he did.
The sentence that glows from the screen is the one about you having been cheated on all your life. Without a doubt, anyone who feels they’ve had that experience may find it extraordinarily tricky to trust what time of day it is, let alone a partner. How could they when the basis of so much of what we need, want and strive for is based on trusting that someone will be there for us and not betray what little trust we have?
Trust issues are huge in relationships and can cause immense destruction. Whether you’re the person who is not trusting, or the partner who is not trusted, finding common ground on which to come together equally and without pain and suspicion is very, very hard indeed.
We learn to start trusting others from the moment we’re born. We trust that we’ll be comforted when we cry or hurt ourselves, or fed when we’re hungry. We trust that we’ll be cared for and cherished. We trust that we’ll be loved. Sometimes though, and for all sorts of reasons, those expectations get thwarted. That doesn’t necessarily mean that our needs as children are deliberately ignored by those who care for us. Mostly parents or care givers go their level best for kids but sometimes life gets complicated and we might not get quite get what we need. Over time that experience can build up. We emerge as adults who might believe that others are completely untrustworthy and cannot or will not ‘be there’ for us. Sometimes, we even seek out partners at a subliminal level who can be relied upon to reinforce what we have come to believe about ourselves. In this case, these pictures you’ve found make you feel unloved and second best. He’s reassured you it means ‘nothing’ but you’re left holding all this confusion and sadness that firstly he can’t take your concerns seriously and secondly, that you’re not enough for him.
One of the most common issues in counselling rooms all over the country (and now of course with Covid, counselling 'zoom' sessions all over the country), is where one partner is telling another that something isn’t important/ doesn’t matter/ to just 'get over it', or that too much is being read into it. Now of course, that might indeed be the case, we all get hung up on things sometimes and a partner might be right to gently point that out and want to explore what the real issue might be. Most couple relationships gradually sort out what is and is not acceptable. For example, talking to an ex or maybe keeping pictures that remind you of a good time from your past that might have involved an ex, all these things need careful negotiation and I think an acceptance that we all had lives before our current partner. Be very, very wary of any partner who can’t or won’t accept that life didn’t just begin when they came on the scene. You have a right to enjoy memories and not be shamed into thinking they’re unacceptable. The trick of course is to mutually agree that they don’t impinge on the trust between the two of you now. Unfortunately though, in this case, your lack of security has caused you to go in search of proof that he doesn’t really love you and there it is - some woman in her underwear.
Now, I can’t say what they mean or don’t mean to him. I have no idea. He may well feel they mean nothing, in which case get rid of them, or if they do mean something, then the relationship needs some looking at because basically, that really is a betrayal of your trust.
So, the thing here is this: whilst phone checking really isn’t helpful - as you acknowledge - if these images mean nothing then perhaps, as is the case for so many people, they sit there doing just that – really meaning nothing so no hardship to lose them – and this is what he should do. I wonder though that even if he did press the delete button, you would still be left wondering how come he didn’t recognize they would upset you and do something about it before it all came to this. Two things then. The first is that as a couple you need to get some better communication going about what feels comfortable for each of you. I don’t know if he is aware that you have been cheated on before. If he isn’t, then tell him. If he already knows, and does it again, then maybe it's time to question if this is the right relationship for you. But a word to the wise as well – so point number two: Many, many people have significant trust issues. They can feel paralysing and like nothing can actually be good, real and true. Even the kindest reassurance is never enough and the constant looking for proof that the relationship isn’t what it should be becomes exhausting. If this rings a bell then it might be an idea to get some individual counselling to help you work through whatever has happened in the past. Accessing counselling doesn’t mean that you’re weak or unable to cope or have anything ‘wrong’ with you. It does mean however, that you can sometimes work out how not to let the past constantly invade and undermine what you want from the present and the future. That might also include what you want from a relationship and how to address and potentially leave a relationship where your thoughts, needs and feelings on significant things are ignored. I’m not saying that’s what’s consistently happening in your relationship now - I don’t know enough about it - but offering this point as simply food for thought, just in case.
Ammanda Major is a sex and relationship therapist and our Head of Service Quality and Clinical Practice
If you have a relationship worry you would like some help with send a message to Ammanda.
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