Coping with Mistrust in Relationships Post-Divorce

By: Terry Gaspard
April 10, 2017

Mistrust in Relationships Can Exist In Many Forms

When most people think of mistrust in marriage, cheating comes to mind. Most articles on this topic focus on whether or not the cheater can be trusted again, while helping the partner who is betrayed decide whether the relationship can be rebuilt. Not as much is written about the other forms mistrust can take, and how your divorce can develop mistrust in relationships.

Trust is about so much more than catching your partner in a truth or lie. It is about believing that he or she truly has your best interests at heart. Mistrust is a lingering feeling in the back of your mind that your partner does not truly love you, or may abandon you. So much about trust is walking the talk. Your partner may tell you he or she loves you, but do his or her actions support that? All too often, I find myself operating from a viewpoint that the only person I can rely on is myself – even though I know it’s not true.

Mistrust Isn't Always Related to Cheating

The breakup of a marriage can set the stage for mistrust in relationships, even if infidelity does not take place. In my case, I had leftover trust issues and emotional baggage from my divorce even though I was not betrayed by my ex-husband. Now in my second marriage, I know that my husband loves me, but sometimes little things will come up that trigger wounds from my childhood or first marriage. All too often, I find myself operating from a viewpoint that the only person I can rely on is myself – even though I know it’s not true.

In his book, The Science of Trust, relationship expert Dr. John Gottman challenges the way most of us define trust. He says that trust is an action rather than an idea or belief – more about what our partner does and the consistency between his or her words and actions.

Take a moment to consider this: your partner is not solely responsible for creating mistrustful feelings. In most cases, you must take equal responsibility for creating an atmosphere of safety and security in your relationship.

Consider These Questions When Overcoming Mistrust 

  • Does my fear of loss cloud my perspective and cause me to overreact to my partner’s actions?
  • Do I feel comfortable asking for what I need and allowing myself to be vulnerable?
  • Do I bring my best self to my interactions with my partner?
  • Do I possess self-love and allow myself to be loved and respected?

Kelly, a woman I interviewed for my book Daughters of Divorce, is a thirty-something married teacher who often reacts with fear and suspicion when her husband Mark returns home late from work or there’s the slightest imperfection in his story. Kelly has a tendency to blow things out of proportion when she says, “You’re always late and you don’t care about me.” In the past, Mark reacted negatively to these accusations, but he has learned to reassure Kelly and now calls her if he’s going to be late. 

Mark is working on showing Kelly through consistency in his words and actions that he is there for her. Likewise, Kelly must learn to examine her thought processes. Is her self-doubt and mistrust grounded in reality or a result of a wound or betrayal in the past? She must be willing to let go of self-defeating thoughts – to free herself from the blueprints of her past.

Your Own Mistrust May Stem From The Past

What I’ve come to realize is that trust is an act of courage. You may enter a relationship with fractured trust for a variety of reasons. Divorce is not always the root cause. But as you become more aware of your tendency to mistrust your partner, you can stop yourself and ask: “Is my mistrust coming from something that is actually happening in the present, or is it a fragment of my past?”

Over the years, I’ve watched myself and my friends endure different variations of mistrust in relationships. Sometimes money is the culprit. Some people go through a breakup because they watch as their bank account dwindles as their partner spent their money needlessly or carelessly. For me, the hardest thing about broken trust in a relationship is being able to trust my own judgment. Am I making a wise decision about who I give my heart to?

You can turn the hurts from past betrayals into lessons. Trust is more of an acquired ability than a feeling. When you sustain the loss of a relationship due to broken trust, it makes you smarter and more keenly able to extend trust to those who are deserving of it.

You can learn to trust your instincts and your judgment when you honestly deal with your fears. If you are able to come to a place of self-awareness and understand the decisions that were made that led up to trust being severed, you can start to approach others with faith and optimism.

Learn From The Past and Acquire Trust 

Trust is a skill that can be nurtured and learned. The notion that trust is a skill is not something commonly talked about in our culture. People talk about proving trust, restoring trust, repairing trust – but not enough about learning to trust. So often the trouble is with the person who operates from a place of suspicion and wariness.

Many relationships are sabotaged by self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe your partner will hurt you, you can unconsciously encourage hurts to emerge in your relationship. But day by day, if you learn to operate from a viewpoint that your partner loves you and wants the best for you, you can enjoy trust in your life.

Five Ways to Create Trusting Relationships

  • Gain confidence in your own perceptions Pay attention to your doubts and instincts.
  • Ask yourself – does your partner keep important promises or agreements?
  • Don’t assume the worst. If your partner lets you down, don’t always assume that a failure in competence is intentional – sometimes people simply make a mistake.
  • Listen to your partner’s side of the story. Make sure your words and tone of voice are consistent with your goal of building trust in him or her.  
  • Keep in mind that learning to trust is a slow process. You were born with a propensity to trust others but through your life experience you may have become less trusting as a way of protecting yourself.

In sum, learning to trust is really about having the courage to heal a broken heart and it takes time. You can face your trust issues with optimism when you extend trust to those who deserve it and learn to trust yourself day by day.