Category Archives: Trust

Why The Affair?

Affairs are in the air.

Whether its ~

  • the long winter
  • the hint of spring
  • February’s “Snow Moon”
  • the endless disarray of our electoral process . . .

I’m not sure, but more clients than usual are coming to me upon the discovery of an affair.

After I listen to the story – which the betrayed partner absolutely needs to feel welcome to tell in as much or little detail as they wish – I say (more or less) two things.

1. An affair is either a wake-up-call or a death knell;

2. Understanding what happened, what contributed to the cheating partner’s choice to betray, will significantly impact which of the above two options plays out.

And this is tough.

However, yesterday I came upon  a helpful article by a former-cheater-turned-clinical psychologist and optimal performance coach named Jay Kent-Ferraro. He writes very clearly about what he’s determined are the four types or categories of affairs.

I’m re-posting it here because these distinctions can help ~

  1. the Cheater to begin to get some perspective on what just happened;
  2. the Betrayed partner to feel less alone, and to likewise begin to see this behavior in a larger context;
  3. the Therapist – because an accurate diagnosis of what’s going on is vital if a therapist is invited in to co-create a treatment plan with the individuals involved.

For the betrayed partner, I also encourage you to read Before You Trust Again – an article I wrote which gently invites you to become curious about how you may have unwittingly contributed to this situation.


 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

How can I ever trust them again? If they cheated once won’t they do it again?

“Once a cheater, always a cheater” is an understandable response from anyone who has been betrayed; it offers you the certainty to dismiss an unfaithful partner’s pleas for “I can change and won’t ever do this again”, removing the potential for getting hurt because it allows you to never trust them, and sometimes anyone, ever again.

 The problem is it’s too simple and fails to appreciate the complexity of why people cheat in the first place, let alone predicting whether or not they are capable of betraying you again – an important question to ask if you are a victim of infidelity.

 The psychology of infidelity is actually quite complex, much more than the current moralistic conversation about it where people are “good”, “bad” or “flawed”, therefore dismissed as damaged goods. Pundits and gurus abound offering their take on “can I ever trust him again” or “how to affair proof your relationship”, but too often good intentioned advice misses the real issue.

 You see the question is not “Can I ever trust him again”? but rather, “What contributed to this person’s choice to betray me – why did they choose infidelity”? The first question is an unanswerable one as trusting your partner following an affair has more to do with YOU and how YOU choose to respond to being betrayed. The second question is much more interesting, and if answered correctly, more likely to keep you safe if you decide to heal and evolve together following an affair.

 Every affair tells a story and although it is true that the story has something to do with the state of a relationship where betrayal takes place, what’s more true is that infidelity tells an important story about who the unfaithful partner is – the state of their own psyche and soul; whether they are even suitable for a real relationship with anyone with the bandwidth to actually love.

 Infidelity always has a purpose to it, although most often that purpose is not known or understood, and must be, in order to really answer the questions around “Once a cheater, always a cheater”. All behavior is purposeful and people don’t do anything without a reason for doing it. Your task is to become your own “personal psychologist” and ask the right questions about the right issues to arrive at your own truth about keeping yourself safe in a relationship with someone who has betrayed you.

 I’m here to help you do that because I am uniquely qualified. I’m an adulterer who happens to be a licensed clinician and willing to tell the truth about why I chose to have an affair. I have an expertise in the “psychology of infidelity”, not from a text book or social media platform, but from living the excruciating pain of having an affair that resulted in a divorce, growing up and searching my own soul for the answers to “why I did it”, and earning the trust and affections of the woman I betrayed again resulting in a magical reconciliation where we just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary.

 I am going to tell you the “reasons” that contributed to my choice to be unfaithful, and then offer you a context to help you decide for yourself what motivates people to have an affair. My goal is to empower you with choices you may not know you have as you chart your own relationship path.

 For me, there were six factors that contributed to a series of choices to have an affair:

  1. I believed that the rules didn’t apply to me: Being a licensed clinician gave me more excuses and rationalizations to hide behind. The arrogance of having answers for everyone else allowed me to hide from the truth that if you don’t show up and ask for what you want in a relationship, you give up the right to expect having it. I expected a lot and didn’t show up by being emotionally absent which set the marriage up to be unfulfilling and fail.
  1. I confused significance and self-worth with certainty and success: I became a workaholic believing that Julie loved me only because of what I could provide her with allowing anger and entitlement, a dangerous alchemy fueling my acting out, to justify the erosion of boundaries and values giving rise to my affair. Without boundaries and a value base to live from, anyone is capable of having an affair.
  1. I made up that my wife was the cause of my unhappiness and disappointment in our marriage: I felt sorry for myself and blamed Julie for why I was so unfulfilled; once you convince yourself you’re a victim of something, you can justify anything. That belief alone allowed me to have an affair with impunity, almost a right, to find happiness with another – after all, “I had done so much and got back so little from my marriage”. Affair psychology is delusional!
  1. I was an accomplished liar: Men have an uncanny and dangerous ability to compartmentalize their lives such that one part doesn’t recognize the other. In this split, dissociative state, I rationalized everything including the creation of the two worlds I relished in calling it “complexity”, convinced myself I was being taken advantage of by Julie, and therefore had the right to find happiness “as long as no one knows so no one gets hurt”. So I did, under the self-deception of protecting her failing to see that the deception in an affair is where most of the pain is. Without integrity life simply doesn’t work.
  1. I confused sexual attraction and fantasy for love: Early in life, I learned to use sex as a drug and means of escape where I could nurture myself and soothe the chaos of an abusive childhood. When confronted with parallel lives, a child-focused marriage and the perceived neglect and lack of appreciation I felt in our marriage, I turned to strip clubs and pornography as a cure that only made things worse. A real relationship can never compete with a fantasy, and sexual attraction isn’t love. I confused an experience of excitement and novelty with a person I called my “soul mate” and chased that person as if they were the source of feeling alive. They weren’t. Affairs are not real relationships; they’re fantasies on speed built on deception that cannot stand the light of day.
  1. I didn’t take responsibility for my mental health. To love someone requires that we grow up, rise above our wounds, and take responsibility for what we need as adults. I failed to manage my depression, something I struggled with since childhood, evolve beyond my family of origin ghosts, and attend to my mental health needs. By not doing the necessary work to grow and heal, I never matured into someone capable of giving and receiving mature love. Intimacy, what I claimed to want and crave, was actually not something I was capable of, yet I blamed the marriage and Julie for “denying it to me”, further reinforcing my sense of entitlement to get that need met somewhere else.


While there is never a sufficient “explanation” excusing why someone is unfaithful, there is always a reason with a purpose for why affairs happen. Failing to understand what those reasons are robs you of the opportunity to learn from the experience, your best response to it, and can remove the chance to save a marriage ravaged from its effects.

I told you that the psychology of infidelity is complex and now I will tell you why:

The purpose of every affair is often as unique as the personality, life history, beliefs, values, needs and relationship dynamics of the person being unfaithful, and for that reason, I dismiss pithy overly simplistic explanations that try to answer complex questions through 3-step programs. The answer to “why they did it”? And “will they do it again”? can be answered, if you know what “type” of affair it is and the “purpose” of that specific affair.  All affairs are not equal although all are devastating. 

 After searching my own soul for several years, and now walking that same journey with people trying to answer their own questions about being unfaithful with people around the world, here’s what I’ve learned about “why people have affairs” and the truth about misguided advice like “Once a cheater, always a cheater”.

Type I: Fantasy & Flight Affairs

After hearing hundreds of personal accounts of clients struggling to discover, “why I did it”, I am convinced the vast majority of infidelity falls into the Fantasy & Flight category. Here, the “purpose” of an affair is romanticism gone awry where the need erroneously being met is to feel something you convince yourself is missing in your primary relationship assuming it now exists exclusively in your affair partner, the most unlikely place for it.

I call this affair pattern the “Soul-Mate Trap” where people confuse an “object” (the affair partner), with an “experience” (the feelings you get from being with a new person), collapsing them into a narrow reality they call “a soul mate”, based on a fantasy made up of fiction and emotions on speed.

The pursuit of a “soul mate”, as justification for choosing to have an affair, is the desperate attempt to find what is incomplete and missing in you. It is a plea for connection, wholeness, and getting “that loving feeling” again using the fantasy you create with an affair partner to bring you back to life.

Here are some patterns of Fantasy & Flight Affairs:

  • Accidental Affairs – An “unconscious” person not in touch with their feelings or needs, not honest about what’s missing in their marriage and vulnerable because they wrongly believe – “I’d never be unfaithful” – find themselves in a perfect storm situation where too much alcohol, too much enjoyment and not enough boundaries blow their life open when they find themselves in a place with a person they never imagined they would.
  • Soul Mate Affairs – Confusing a feeling for a truth that’s based on a fantasy that never will be, you convince yourself and anyone else who will buy it, that you’ve “found your soul mate” and do whatever it takes to legitimize the affair.
  • Flying Boys & Girls – A large group of “purposes” can be found here to include the proverbial mid-life crisis and feeling alive through the attention of someone 20 years younger, pursuing the fountain of youth, White Knight rescue missions, alleviating the panic of pending mortality or simply the commitment phobic amongst us. Here, the combination of refusing to grow up fuses with ‘time’s running out’ on the existential clock and “I got to do what I got to do” to feel relevant and vibrant so might as well use an affair to fix that problem.

Advice: While damaging and hurtful, these affairs are often the most responsive to good help, great boundaries and sincere healing efforts. Once they “wake up” assuming they decide to grow up, the prognosis is good that you get an evolved partner who is much more aware and awake to themselves and their relationship, as well as motivated to keep those relationships healthy from ever going there again. Stick with it, work with a competent therapist and do your homework to grow and design a new relationship with more transparency and higher standards for both partners.

Type II: Pathology & Deviance Affairs:

If you’re trying to make sense of being betrayed and/or sorting through the pieces of an affair remember this: All affairs are not created equal and not all people can be faithful. Fortunately, this next affair type is typically the minority of actual affairs that occur in marriages, yet they are the ones that get the most attention because of the press celebrity infidelity garners in our society.

The “purpose” of Pathology & Deviance affairs is straightforward: Serving needs that are skewed, distorted, and often unconscious rooted in family of origin wounds never dealt with. These affairs have everything to do with the unfaithful partner and little to do with those they betray.

In other words, you can be in what by all accounts is a “great relationship” (e.g. Ask Maria Shriver about Arnold) and the affair will still happen leaving betrayed partners very confused and blaming themselves or their relationships for failing to meet the needs of people who are really “black holes” where nothing real will ever suffice to meet their needs.

Here are some patterns of Pathology & Deviance Affairs:

  • Narcissistic Affairs – These are the proverbial “black holes” where entitlement and a mind-blowing lack of empathy make intimacy near impossible for these sad souls. Plagued by a diminished capacity to love or emotionally connect, flagrant disregard for others, hedonistically self-indulgent and feeling justified in doing so, these folks don’t have a core or solid sense of Self. They use relationship as a means for filling up a deep psychological void created by either the absence of nurturing and love in childhood for which they are compensating in adulthood, or were objectified themselves as children, and sometimes adults (celebrities, politicians, pro atheletes) highly indulged and given special privileges and treatment in exchange for the worship of family, friends and caregivers.
  • Sociopathic Affairs – Stay away from these people once you know this is what you’re dealing with! The most damaged souls amongst us can also be the most charming, however, their lack of remorse (cannot take responsibility) alongside their inability to see, understand or recognize the pain they cause the betrayed (no empathy) is a tell-tale sign you are dealing with an antisocial personality disorder or “sociopath”. The purpose of an affair here is simple: “It is always and will always be about me” and you can expect compulsive lies, gross irresponsibility, blame of the betrayed, lots of drama and a confusing absence of “normal” emotion when caught or confronted about their infidelity. Run don’t walk!
  • Sexual Compulsivity/Addiction & Philandering – Sex and Love addictions are real, and although similar in how they operate, each has a different purpose. Philanderers are love addicts who have such low self-esteem they need the attention and constant experience of “new love” to feel alive and worthwhile, whereas Sex Addicts do not feel much of anything unless an orgasm is involved so they confuse sexual attraction for real love engaging in compulsive rituals that often involve infidelity in desperate attempts to jump start their numb existence.

Advice: This affair “type” only gets better with a lot of commitment to recovery and lots of therapy which many in this category refuse to subject themselves to. Absent treatment by qualified mental health professionals, a robust accountability system and serious commitment to heal, grow and evolve, these “types” are unfit for relationship with anyone except maybe a gold fish!

Type III: Poor Strategies & Bad Intent Affairs:

Let’s face it… relationships are hard and most of us simply suck at them. Many have had poor relationship role models and examples, have acquired lousy coping skills, and despite the Oprah effect, are pretty ill equipped to succeed in proportion to what we expect to receive from love and relationships.

Sometimes, it isn’t bad people with bad morals, but rather, just people overwhelmed and under-resourced to such a degree they do really stupid things like have affairs doing more damage than if they simply dealt with the negative feelings fueling their poor choices.

Here are some patterns of Poor Strategies & Bad Intent Affairs:

  • Passive Aggressive Affairs – The purpose here is the expression of anger in the form of contempt and the ultimate form of criticism through the ultimate invalidation – sleeping with someone else. The message: “kiss my ass you worthless partner; you haven’t been there for me in years so I’ll do whatever the hell I want to meet my needs; if you find out so be it – you deserve it” – nasty stuff!
  • Sabotage Affairs – These are “coward affairs” where the unfaithful partner is not willing to take responsibility for their dissatisfaction in the marriage by doing something proactive about it. Instead, they live on a precarious edge where they feel both emboldened and justified to engage in the affair ‘in hopes’ that the infidelity will be found out and usher in the separation or divorce they fantasize about, but are unwilling to assume accountability for.
  • Revenge Affairs – Driven by irrational rage in relationships with a history of stored up resentment and hostilities which lie dormant and underground, the purpose of the affair coalesces into a grand finale in the form of a pay-back affair where the intent is to injure and hurt the self esteem of the betrayed partner who is made wrong and killed off thus allowing the unfaithful to justify any action to ‘pay them back’ for the hurt they believe they’ve been a victim of.

Advice: These are immature, un-evolved people who blame others instinctively and tend to see the source of their troubles originating in things outside of them, versus where they are – in how they think about and relate to the world around them. That said, people can learn and grow up, therefore change, and with the right support and new strategies, more adaptive ways to be with a partner can happen leading to healthier relationships if both are willing to work at it.

Type IV: Benevolent Neglect Affairs

The “common cold” of modern marriage is de-vitalization where the friendship tanks, both people take each other for granted, one person focuses on the kids, the other the career, parallel lives ensue and you stop meeting one another’s needs slowly euthanizing the soul of the relationship leaving both partner’s numb and dead to one another.

The “purpose” of Benevolent Neglect Affairs is to feel alive again, but in the wrong place; trying to find fulfillment with an affair partner (not happening because they’re based on fantasies and fantasies don’t last!) by bringing your best to someone else – what would actually vitalize the marriage that you’re fleeing from!

Here, you typically find good people who are “staying for the kids” or some other seemingly “good” motive who are using an affair as a very maladaptive way of coping with very real dissatisfaction in their marriage.

Here are some patterns of Benevolent Neglect Affairs:

  • Parallel Lives Affairs – The roles and responsibilities you create and design your lives around leave little to no space, time or energy for either of you to meet your deeper needs for closeness, connection, nurturing, attention or fun. You choke on tasks and are overwhelmed by responsibilities you feel alone and unappreciated for doing. You attend to each of your respective lanes with diligence and discipline giving you the experience of being responsible and ‘serving’ the other. The problem is you live in a state of perpetual disconnect – while you are doing many of the right things you become “roommates”, not passionate lovers, and the thought of existing this way the rest of your days especially if you’re over 40 scares the hell out of you making you a prime candidate for an affair!
  • Just Friends Affairs – A common affair pattern is that women are more likely to have affairs for love and companionship, while men are more often content with sex alone confusing it with love and companionship. Women are likely to believe that their infidelity is justified if it’s for love; men are likely to believe their infidelity is justified if it’s NOT for love. In both cases, needs not met in the primary relationship that is neglected are being met through an emotional affair (eventually sexual) almost always justified on the basis of “we’re just friends”. People have affairs to experience an emotional connection that they feel is lacking in their primary relationship. They stray in search of someone who pays attention to their feelings and encourages meaningful contact be it “emotional” (female pattern) or “sexual” (male pattern) citing a need for “friendship” as the culprit.
  • Child-Focused Marriage – Child focused marriages where the needs of the children or “family” take precedence over the needs of the adults in the marriage are both sad and ironic affair types. Sad, in that there is typically a lot of love in these relationships and ironic that it is so misdirected that it often leads to unnecessary divorces after being ravaged by an affair. Inverse priorities are the problem here where the sexual and emotional needs of the adults are relegated to last place and where the focus of time, energy and attention goes exclusively to the kids or “family”. The purpose of the affair is a misguided attempt to satisfy legitimate longings in very illegitimate ways undermining everything really important to both partners.

Advice: The good news, if there can be any in this territory, is that Benevolent Neglect Affairs have more to do with bad priorities than bad character. Misdirected energy can be leveraged and focused in the direction of an anemic relationship in need of care, nurturance and being first for a change making survivability of a marriage after an affair quite possible in these situations.


So, “Once a cheater always a cheater” is really a defense mechanism and it too has a purpose: To protect you from getting hurt by never trusting anyone again. Don’t do that! Instead, get smart by understanding what drives someone to betray and determining the “purpose” of the affair. For Julie and I, it was in the ashes of our marriage where that purpose was discovered, and together, we made new meaning and determined to grow together from it



Before You Trust Again

Before you trust again, hit the pause button.

For some, the experience of losing trust in a loved one is a defining moment. Like those falling dreams where you are tumbling through space fearing there will be nothing beneath to catch you. And then you awake with a start. You’ve landed. You’re alive. The world has tilted on it’s axis. Your question might be ~

Now what? How can I survive in a world turned upside down?

For some, trust is a pretty disposable commodity. We give it and lose it and suck it up and do it again. The self-help industry is testimony to our human desire to rise again once we fall. The second, third and fourth marriage stats are a testimony to folks willing to risk the vulnerability of commitment again, and again, and even again. Your question might be ~

So what! Are there any safeguards against betrayal?”

I hope there are helpful things here for anyone who has ever felt the sting of lost trust. And, I realize I have a particular soft spot for people like my mother – who discovered my father was having an affair in the 1960s’ and had to just carry on. As a Catholic stay-at-home Mum she felt she had no options. Maybe I wish I could have shared these ideas with her back then. Maybe maybe she might have been able to guide her marriage into a more healthy harbor.

So indeed, loosing trust can be one of those moments we choose to gloss over. You know, go all British and bellow with false bravado “I say old chap, let’s . . .”

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Which, while it worked well enough for Britain’s Shadow Ministry of Information to rally morale and tamp down hysteria during World War II, is really not a workable operating instruction for great relationships.

Instead, I’d offer this as your rallying cry when it comes to rebuilding trust.

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Great question!

Well, it’s interesting isn’t it  What we want is the depth of trust Piglet has in Pooh.Screen shot 2015-09-30 at 12.09.22 PMWhat we’ve got is doubt, anger and uncertainty. And right there, when you are feeling so sad, betrayed, worried, frightened and alone I’m going to invite you to be curious in three particular ways.


As in, find out all you can about what just happened, from at least 2 points of view.

Think of yourself as the doctor, initially for your own case of pain and breach of trust, and then for the person whose actions have caused this for you.

Get curious about these six things below, for you and for this other person. You are seeking to reduce your uncertainty and confusion by understanding as much as you can about the situation. You are doing the opposite of KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. You’re investigating with eyes wide open and a determination to understand as much as you can. For each person, let yourself ponder these questions:

  1. ANTECEDENTS – what was happening just before this breach of trust?
  2. BEHAVIORS – what exactly happened? What did each of you do / not do?
  3. COGNITION – what are you thinking? How are you scripting this event? How is the other person scripting this?
  4. DURATION – how long has this been going on… for each of you?
  5. EFFECT – what are some of the outcomes of these actions and reactions?
  6. FEELINGS – what range of emotions have you been through? Have they?

When your trust has been broken, you initially may feel shocked, angry, disappointed. All so understandable. But you’ll also feel frustrated, helpless and uncertain. Letting yourself wrap your head around the initial facts of the situation can really help. There will be a time to go beyond the raw facts, but grasping these things can feel empowering, and even a little hopeful.


OK – so now you know the basics of the who / what / when  & where, and it’s time to reach out for some specific help. It could be your child you’ve lost trust with, in which case I’d suggest reading Option A (see below in gold). If it’s your partner you’ve lost trust with, scroll on down to Option B, also in gold.

A)  If it’s your child who’s challenging your trust in them by ~

  • Taking your car without asking
  • Getting a speeding ticket
  • Skipping school
  • Getting into drugs
  • Getting pregnant
  • Hurting or bullying someone else
  • Self-destructing and refusing to accept your (or anyone’s) help

Please do seek help. Here are 3 types of resources to begin with.


Yes – books are a powerful source of comfort and help so letting yourself do some research up front can make a difference.

Type “Defiant Child” or “Suicidal Teenager” or whatever your particular concern is into your favorite search engine. You’ll see heaps of articles and books.

One caution. Before you read anything (book, blog or article) figure out the credentials of the author. Can you trust this person to be helpful to you? Do they have an obvious bias? Faith tradition? Parenting philosophy” Just be aware that not everything on line or in print is good. That’s why I suggest looking at lots of things. The ones that seem to make sense to you will rise above the others.

Go to the library and search through the books you read about . Stagger out of the place with shopping bags full of books.

Skim the titles, the back cover, the inside jacket. Look at the chapter titles. Dip in and out of whatever catches your eye. Notice the biases of the authors, but hopefully you’ll begin to find some helpful information.

Again, there really is a plethora of good material out there.  I am particularly fond of:


Just because your trust in your child has been challenged or broken, does not mean one of you is “right” and one “wrong.” There’s lots going on with teens and deepening your understanding of what’s happening for them is vital. If the trust challenge has to do with one of the issues below you’ll certainly benefit from the appropriate resource.


When you reach the limit of your own ability to educate yourself with on-line resources, consulting a professional is enormously helpful.

Two great places to start in terms of finding a qualified professional in your area, with the particular expertise you need, are:

  1. AAMFT (The American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy) Therapist Locator
  2. Psychology Today’s Find A Therapist.

B)  If it’s your spouse who’s challenging your trust in them by ~

  • Not keeping their commitments
  • Being unavailable emotionally or physically
  • Squandering your joint funds
  • Not seeking help for their addictions
  • Having an emotional affair
  • Having a sexual affair
  • Leading a secret life

Please do seek help. Here are 3 types of resources to begin with.


Yes – books are balm and letting yourself do some research up front is super helpful.

Type “Best resources for rebuilding trust” into your favorite search engine. You’ll see heaps of books. Review some of them that catch your eye. Read the reviews.

One caution. Before you read anything (book, blog or article) review the credentials of the author. Can you trust this person to be helpful to you? Do they have an obvious bias? Faith tradition? Axe to grind? Just be aware that not everything on line or in print is good. That’s why I suggest looking at lots of things. The ones that seem to make sense to you will rise above the others.

Go to the library and search through the books you read about . Stagger out of the place with shopping bags full of books.

Skim the titles, the back cover, the inside jacket. Look at the chapter titles. Dip in and out of whatever catches your eye. Notice the biases of the authors, but hopefully you’ll begin to find some helpful information.

Again, there really is a plethora of good material out there and so much depends upon the nature of the breach of trust.


Just because your trust in your spouse has been challenged or broken, does not mean one of you is 100% “right” and one 100% “wrong.” Life is messy and complex and there are demons within each of us who sometimes take over. If your trust challenge has to do with one of the issues below, learning more about the specifics of the problem is very important.


If or when you reach the limit of your own ability to educate yourself with on-line resources, consulting a professional is enormously helpful.

Two great places to start in terms of finding a qualified professional in your area, with the particular expertise you need, are:

  1. AAMFT (The American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy) Therapist Locator
  2. Psychology Today’s Find A Therapist.


Ask yourself, and really answer, these seven questions.

  1. If there was one thing I was trying NOT to know about my relationship before I lost my trust, what might it have been?
  2. If there was one conversation I ought to have had much sooner, long before trust was broken, what might it have been?
  3. If there was one thing I silently judged about this person, what was it?
  4. If, looking back, there was one change in the way I related to this person who broke my trust – what might it have been?
  5. If, looking forward, there is one change I could initiate now in the way I relate, what do I wish it could be?
  6. If there was one positive outcome almost too good to hope for, that might possibly come about as we heal and move through this breach of trust – what is my most daring wish?
  7. If there was one aspect of my own character I would love to bring more conscious awareness to, what might it be?

So, dear reader, before you trust again, hit that pause button.

Love yourself enough to recognize no matter how powerless and broken you may feel, there is SO much you can do to understand, learn, support and be supported through this journey toward an ever expanding capacity for love, trust, understanding, wisdom, self compassion and that dash of curiosity that will allow you to indeed, after all of this . . .

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This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality


SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

Can We Trust Too Much?

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Q   Can we trust too much?

A    Yes!

If you think about your life, I expect you can think of a time when you put your trust in a stranger who let you down.

  • Has a salesperson ever made false promises about a product ?
  • Did you fall for that on-line magical diet only to find you’re still 15 lbs more than you want to be?
  • Has a vacation brochure promised sea views from your balcony but here you are looking at a brick wall?

My guess is however that you still believe strangers, buy stuff, sample new diet aids and are persuaded by good ad copy to take distant vacations.

Why do you do that?

How come you knowingly engage in activities that conned you before?

Possibly, like me, you learn from the feedback you receive each time your trust is betrayed.

You’ll probably consult the Better Business Bureau or talk to friends before believing a particular products’ claims.

If you’re in the market for some self-improvement routine for your body or your mind you’ll probably read the testimonials, or maybe talk at length to some people who have tried what you are considering.

And as for those glossy sea-views or cruise-ship brochures? Two words. Due diligence.

In other words, you cultivate discernment. Hopefully you make fewer dumb purchases, and the economy still thrives because there are so many folks who are on their own particular learning curve so shoddy products, fake diets and ghastly vacations still sell like hotcakes!

Let’s go deeper.

I expect you can think of times when you put your trust in someone you love who then let you down.

  • Did your parents ever say “I’ll be at your game!” only to never show up?
  • Did your partner swear to live within the budget you both agreed to, only to squander $1000s gambling and rack it up as unanticipated debt?
  • Did your spouse promise to be monogamous, only to cheat on you?

Now what?

  1. Did you stop inviting your parents to your events so you’d not feel let down?
  2. Did you invite your parents, give them dozens of chances to redeem themselves, and ride that roller coaster between hope and despair in your childhood home?
  3. Or did you invite your parents, but manage your expectations so whether they came or not you’d be OK?

What about your gambling partner?

  1. Do you file for divorce immediately and unravel your joint finances so you can regain control over your life?
  2. Do you have another budget conversation and trust them to “never gamble again, I swear…”
  3. Or do you create some accountability with a firm-but-fair response that connects your spouse with some version of Gamblers Anonymous and you with resources to help rather than enable the behaviors?

What about an unfaithful spouse?

  1. Do you immediately file for divorce without exploring any of the circumstances because it’s just too darn painful and you feel irreparably betrayed and righteous as in “How could s/he do this to me?”
  2. Do you so fear being abandoned that you put up a modest fight, but let them know you forgive them if they just won’t ever do it again?
  3. Do you insist on clarity, and invite both of you to therapy to explore what led to this affair, to understand what your relationship needs now, begin to heal and renegotiate the contract each of you wants going forward?

It’s not black and white is it?

And while it might seem as if I biased the answers above to favor option 3 in each case, the truth is that how we respond depends upon a whole other layer of trust. We can only end up more or less in alignment with the option 3 responses to the extent we trust ourselves.

We experience our world as predictable enough, as trustworthy enough to the extent three factors are in play:

NATURE – there is mounting evidence that people are born with different predispositions around trust. Don’t take my words for it! Here’s

NURTURE – Since John Bowlby’s work on attachment in the 1950s we’ve understood that parenting matters. Here’s

NOURISHMENT – Is the term I’m giving for this third factor in ones ability to trust. It’s the only one over which you have control, and it’s never too late to begin. Summed up by one of my favorite aphorisms:

“Trust in Allah, but tether your camel first.”

it’s about cultivating conscious awareness for all the factors in play before deciding whether, and how much, to trust.

As Frank Crane puts it ~

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We need that Goldilocks zone of trust.

Believe me, if a couple comes to me so burdened by one partner’s inability to ever trust again after a painful betrayal it greatly reduces the likelihood the relationship will ever recover.

And, if a couple comes to me with one partner totally committed to trusting their sweetie in the face of overwhelming evidence that this is unwise (refusing to recognize when addictions are present for example) it will bring about their mutual assured destruction.

More and more I find I’m working to help individuals learn how to trust themselves enough to be able to make heart-centered yet informed decisions.

This means helping a person learn how to nourish their own feedback systems so they can ~

  1. manage their natural inclination to be either more or less trusting, this Alphabet helps;
  2. manage their attachment wounds, if present, so that the fear of abandonment or abuse is recognized and healed;
  3. cultivate a clear-eyed, robust sense of self so they can wisely discern what level of trust this or that person or situation safely warrants.

What does this look like in practice? Come back NEXT WEEK where I’ll be writing about how to trust yourself more accurately


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality


SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

The Alphabet of Trust

Trust is like love. It’s one of those super dense words we seldom unpack. So, for a start, what does it mean to love? What does love look like?

I think that’s why 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is such a popular wedding verse. It offers a set of “How To” guidelines:

  • Love is always patient and kind;
  • Love is never jealous;
  • Love is not boastful or conceited,
  • It is never rude and never seeks its own advantage,
  • It does not take offense or store up grievances.
  • Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.
  • It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.

Absent these suggestions, we might think love is just a fuzzy feeling.

So how about trust? Is trust just a fuzzy feeling, or are there behavioral guidelines that show us how to behave in a trustworthy manner? Or how to demonstrate our trust in someone else?

And if so, what are they?

Relationship researcher extraordinaire John Gottman has a fascinating article on Trust & Betrayal. If this is an area you are interested in, I highly recommend checking this link.

Meanwhile, I decided to take a stab at my own list of behavioral guidelines for how to cultivate trust.

Your character (who you are ) and your competence (how you act) show up in many ways of course, but the list below, if practiced, will help your relationship in two powerful ways.

  • You will become more trustworthy
  • You will become more trusting.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve had a few clients lately who were raised in less-than-trustworthy environments. They were abused sexually, emotionally or physically and never learned what a trustworthy adult looked like. These young people can’t call upon an inner experience of trustworthiness. They have to think through the huge issues of “Whom can I trust?” and “How do I trust?”. They could use some behavioral guidelines.

This Alphabet of Trust is for them

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ACCEPT influence ~ from your partner. If you show them you accept (which does not mean you have to agree) their views and opinions, they will be more inclined to accept, and trust, yours.

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BELONG to one another ~ reassure your partner you are there for them, they belong in your heart, there is always a space for them.

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CONTROL ~ is an illusion in all but two places: your thoughts and your behavior. So, by all means take responsibility for all you think (and the stories you tell yourself) and all you do (how you show up on the planet with words and actions). But release any temptation to control or manipulate your partner. Trying to manage the outside world to protect your inside emotions never works.

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DUMP DEFENSIVENESS ~ if you make a mistake, don’t use excuses or be defensive. Own your error and simply say you are sorry. Be clear. Be true. End of conversation!

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ENJOY EYE CONTACT ~ lean in, look into each other’s eyes, whether you’re chatting over a beer or making love. Eyes seldom lie.

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(be) FAITHFUL ~ to whatever promises you make. If you’ve pledged monogamy, stay monogamous; if you’ve pledged to move after med school, move after med school; if you say you’ll take kid duty all Saturday, do that. Keep your commitments. If you absolutely need to change things, negotiate. Don’t  just drop the ball.

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GIVE thanks ~ be grateful for little things; a bed made, a meal served, a wound kissed, a knotted shoulder rubbed.

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(be) HONEST ~ tell the truth in everything . Little lies are a slippery slope to big lies. Tell the truth even when no one will know otherwise.

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INITIATE connection ~ reach out frequently. Little and often is great. A text. A smile. A hand squeeze.

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JUDGE with your heart ~ it’s too easy to tell ourselves negative tales about why our partner did this or that. Suspicion is like a poisonous worm – it will eat you up from the inside out. If you have a worry, it is better to confide that you have a worry and get it out in the open.*

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KEEP their secrets ~ if your partner shares something with you in confidence, guard it fiercely. The alternative is a fast track to betrayal.

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LISTEN deeply ~ tune in, seek to understand, paraphrase what you heard and ask “Did I get that right?”

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(be) MINDFUL ~ when you speak and act. It’s crazy-making to live with someone who says or does hurtful things and then denies having said or done them crying “But I didn’t mean it!”

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NEGOTIATE WITH A WIN-WIN MINDSET ~ in partnerships, that old win/loose idea is actually loose/loose. It does not feel like a simple win/loose, it feels like win/betray. Get creative until you find a solution that works for both of you. See How To Negotiate The Small Stuff for tips on how to do this.

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OWN up ~ if you blow it, say so. Offer an apology. Excuses suck!

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(be) PREDICTABLE (but not boring!) ~ a fine line, I know! Create certainty in the big stuff, like your values and dependability. Bring variety to the small stuff, like where and how you “eat, pray, love” (Thanks Ms. Gilbert).

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QUESTION ~ what you do not understand, don’t make assumptions. Ask your partner to clarify things so you can get to know the truth, not your fantasy.

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RESPECT ~ who your partner is, take his/her thoughts seriously. Never be dismissive.

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SPEAK ~ carefully. Not all the time of course, the warm friendly banter between two lovers needs no scripting nor censorship. But if something is bothering you (from a small irritation about making the bed, through a huge gut-wrenching fear your partner may have been unfaithful) HOW you approach the issue is key.  Huge topic of course – you may find my series on communicating helpful. It begins with The Five Conversations,

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(be) TRANSPARENT ~ be upfront about your motives, reasoning and opinions.

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USE “Us” & “We” ~ not “I’ and “You,” as in “We’ve got a problem between us”  rather than “I want this and you want that; I’m right & you’re wrong.”

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(be) VULNERABLE ~ let yourself show up warts and all. We all have aspects of ourselves we are afraid of, or embarrassed by. It is a huge vote of trust to share these aspects of who you are.

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WAIT ~ and count to 10 if you must, before you express an angry emotion. Being with a partner who flies off the handle is emotionally frightening. Calm yourself down before you talk about a difficult subject. If this is an issue for you, see The 7 Deadliest Fights.

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(E) XAMINE ~ your life and conscience from time to time. Are you as trustworthy as you can be?

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YIELD ~ your desires and wants sometimes. It can feel very reassuring to feel prioritized by a partner.

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ZIP-IT ~ sometimes stopping all the noise, all the words, all the “communicating”, processing, planning, commentating, justifying and explaining to simply be still in the presence of one another is the biggest boost to mutual trust there is.


These guidelines are not always wise. It will depend upon whether or not you are in a relationship with a more or less healthy individual. Be sure to come back next week and we’ll explore what to do when your partner is not yet deserving of trust.

  • Is learning how to trust rocket science?
  • No.
  • Does it require the dedicated life long practice of heart, mind and soul?
  • Yes.

And well worth it it is.

(Thank you to  Jenn Erickson for the delightful vintage alphabet images.)


Can we ever be too trusting?


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality


SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

  • The Alphabet of Trust


According to the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition), someone who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has at least 5 of the following characteristics:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

The DSM IV goes on to note NPD often comes with the associated features of Depressed Mood (Dramatic or Erratic), and/or Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Developmentally we all move through two stages of appropriate and necessary narcissism – as toddlers and as teens – so versions of these are for the most part familiar, maybe common and even celebrated traits today as anyone who has read much about Steve Jobs might have noticed. As Albert J. Bernstein puts it “there may be narcissism without success, but there is no success without narcissism”

However, try to live with someone who has five or more of these traits and you’ll be in your own private hell. If you want a fuller picture for what this might look like, day-to-day, I encourage you to read this.

I am running a 5 part mini series ( 25-29 March 2013) on Narcissism. I am seeing more and more clients impacted by living with someone who suffers from NPD and the first step in the healing process is to learn as much as you can about this disorder.  I’ll print a list of helpful resources in Part 5.

  1. Narcissism – Symptoms                                
  2. Narcissism – Now What?
  3. Narcissist – Living with one
  4. Narcissist – Leaving one
  5. Narcissist – Healing from life with one            

Can I Trust Again?

Would you let an elephant stand over you?

If you’ve never met Tara and Bella their love and trust are inspiring. Tara & Bella

For someone whose spouse has been unfaithful, it can seem easier to imagine a huge elephant foot hovering over their ribcage than it can be to imagine offering their heart to this person again.

What IS trust?

How do we earn it in the first place, and is it possible to restore trust once it’s broken?

Trust is earned as we run 3 criteria* through our emotional and logical filters.

  • INTENTION – an emotional evaluation ~ does this person mean to do me good?
  • CAPABILITY – a logical assessment ~ is this person capable of doing what they say?
  • HISTORY – a logical proof ~ in the past, has this person been predictable and reliable?

We probably all know folks who seem to trust way too easily, becoming vulnerable with no logical input. Conversely, too much logic and we’ll never allow ourselves to be vulnerable . That’s the “magic” if you will, of trust.  It’s that Goldilocks place where we are “advisedly vulnerable.”

So – how did Bella come to trust Tara, and visa versa? How can we begin to rebuild trust with someone who has hurt us badly?

For Tara and Bella – they sensed their mutual “Lets-be-friends” intentions; they were both capable of bringing joy through play and loyalty; and historically, day by day, they built up evidence to support these truths. Bingo – massive trust such that Bella can lie on her back and know the vast foot rubbing her tummy will be comforting, not crushing.

I have found that even when two partners both want their relationship to heal after a breach of trust, the process is confounded by ~

  • Lack of a clear goal (how will we know when trust is regained?)
  • Paralysis over the first step  (is it forgiving, forgetting, penance, transparency – what?)
  • Aftershocks (waves of loss, betrayal and hopelessness undermine honest effort)
  • Foggy Progress (no clear feedback loop for either partner).

Try this.

Both partners focus on the unfaithful partner’s 3 compromised Trust Tanks ~


Considering these three tanks, the hurt partner gets to answer the question:

“When you hear your partner tell you they want to do whatever it takes to win your love and trust back, how full is each of their tanks?”

Trust Tanks

This is a more-or-less typical response.

INTENTION is at 97%  ~ The hurt partner believes their unfaithful partner genuinely wants to repair the damage. This tank will notch up to 100% as the unfaithful partner keeps reassuring the hurt partner that this is exactly what they want – their intention is to keep doing everything they possibly can to win back the trust.

CAPABILITY is at 65% ~ The hurt partner is somewhat encouraged. He/she has noticed that in the effort to re-build trust, their partner has done everything asked of them: made their phones and computer fully transparent; switched departments at work; put a block on the affair partner’s number; worked extra hard to be there for the kids, etc. This tank will slowly fill as the couple discusses the twists and turns of what the hurt partner needs that the unfaithful partner is capable of delivering. E.g., “I realize I need us to have a plan for what happens if we bump into your affair partner one day together.”

HISTORY is at 2% ~ It sounds like bad news to be at only 2%. However, the good news is that this tank can fill one faithful day at a time as history is re-written. The couple can decide if one year is enough to have this tank refilled, or if it will never go above say, 90% in recognition of this event.

Now you have ~

  • A clear goal ~ filling each of the tanks
  • A step by step path ~ as the partners identify what is both needed and possible to fill the tanks
  • Infrastructure ~ to counter the aftershocks, now understandable in the face of low History levels
  • A feedback mechanism ~ by using these percentage estimates to talk about how each tank is filling.

May your journey toward “advised vulnerability” bring you to a place of safety so, like Bella and Tara, you can walk in the woods and wag your tails together.

* I heard these distinctions of trust at a Family Therapy conference ages ago. Long since lost my notes and can’t remember whom to credit. If you know – do write me. I’d love to be able to give credit and read more by who-ever-wrote about this first.