How Can I Trust after My Girlfriend and Friend Betrayed Me?

How can I trust again? My longtime girlfriend and I broke up this week and I came to find out that she had been cheating on me with one of my supposed friends. We were all friends and would hang out together sometimes, and sometimes they would hang out without me, usually with my knowledge, and both of them insisted over and over again that it was all as "just friends." When I was feeling unsure at one point, the guy even flat-out said to me, "I am not interested in a romantic or sexual relationship with her." Stupidly, I took them at their word. I feel like such an idiot for giving the benefit of doubt. Two people I really trusted lied to me over and over and over, then left me broken and alone. I don't know how I could possibly let someone close to me ever again after this. I feel like I don't even want to try to trust anymore, it's too painful when betrayal inevitably happens. —In Disbelief
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Dear In Disbelief,

Thanks for writing in. Gosh, I’m sorry you’ve been through such an emotionally brutal experience. I can’t imagine the blow of losing a girlfriend and an allegedly good friend at once, in this manner. It sounds like you had some suspicion that something was amiss, but when you asked your alleged friend directly, he lied.

I would not be surprised if you are experiencing some kind of posttraumatic stress from such an experience. Because relationships are so crucial to our sense of self and security in the world—especially intimate relationships—having our trust and emotional safety shattered in this way would naturally be extremely distressing and perhaps traumatic. Sleep, appetite, and other functionality is sometimes affected. Perhaps your other relationships are being affected, in terms of wondering who you can and can’t trust. Being lied to so baldly would completely scramble trust even in our own perceptions and sense of reality since what happened contradicts so dramatically what we thought we were seeing.

This may account for the self-blame on evidence in your question, when you “feel like an idiot” for trusting. That harsh self-condemnation is the result, I suspect, of trusting your own self-experience with people close to you—who often serve at least in part as reflections of ourselves, our sense of who we are and what we can have faith in—which, now shattered, leaves you with self-doubt over what you thought you were perceiving.

However, you are not responsible for the heinous behavior of these two. Taking you at your word (and I see no reason not to), I see no trace of any reason for them to have treated you so shabbily. I imagine this to be another reason for the self-doubt and self-condemnation you express, because our loved ones are often mirrors for us: when someone we trust and love treats us badly, a possible instinctive reaction is, “What am I, chopped liver?” It sounds like these two colluded in deception and abusive behavior, and of course such betrayal would be intensely injurious to anyone’s self-esteem.

Of course, being a therapist, I am going to suggest therapy in the spirit of seeing this episode as trauma. Often, such experiences will revive historical doubts and losses or previous crises of faith, if we have had other betrayals in the past. I think having a safe place to vent and process all kinds of understandable emotional reactions could be quite healing. Rage, grief, shock, hurt, and fear of future betrayals are but a handful of the normal human reactions you might be having, and the safe space of therapy can provide an outlet. You may need to vent about this over and over for a long time, and this is OK; don’t worry about “boring” the counselor or therapist. These losses take time to process and heal.

You might also want to look around for support groups, even online. Perhaps there is a group, either locally and in person or online, that offers support for those who have been betrayed in this way.

Finally, I wouldn’t be in a super hurry to start pressuring yourself, or feeling pressure from others, to “forgive and move on.” Forgiveness is a more complicated subject than meets the eye, and often presented in highly idealistic terms. In principle, of course, it is a beautiful thing. But people often rush to forgive others for hurts that aren’t fully understood or acknowledged, even by the injured person; superficial forgiveness may be espoused while hurts and resentments unconsciously simmer and continue to impact the personality—exploding when the person is re-traumatized in parallel ways.

I am not “against” forgiveness, of course, and find it ultimately to be liberating (and probably necessary in the long run). But it is not as neat and tidy as presented on bumper stickers and inspirational Facebook posts. There is a nice saying from Al-Anon: “Acceptance is not approval.” One can accept what has happened, without acting vengefully and in a spirit of moving forward, but there’s something to be said for learning from harmful behaviors (dishonesty, selfishness), remembering so as not to repeat them. Sometimes others show us what not to do.

Thanks for writing, and I wish you the best in your journey of healing. I hope you find a girlfriend and friend who treat you with the honesty and integrity you deserve. I suggest you treat yourself as a very good friend who is suffering, which is more consideration than you received, sadly, from the two who betrayed you.

Kind regards,
Darren

Darren Haber
Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
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  • don

    don

    October 3rd, 2014 at 1:49 PM

    Let me just say that you can trust again, maybe just not them

  • Marina

    Marina

    October 4th, 2014 at 5:01 AM

    There are always gonna be people who screw u=you over in life, there just are, but that doesn’t mean that you need ot give up on evryone. You don’t. Not everyone is gonna be like this. I know that it has to feel that way because all of you were so close at one point and now you see that you have been betrayed in the worst possible way. But i say people like this? They deserve to have each other. Let them do what they need to do and consider yourself lucky that you don’t have to rely on people like this in your life anymore.

  • Rodney

    Rodney

    October 4th, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    I too just found out my wife has been cheating on me with a patron at the bar she bar tended at. I had an intuition that something was going on and asked like you did and of course she denied repeatedly. We’ve been married for 4 years and this is the second time. We’re in therapy but trusting her is seemingly an impossible feat!… I’m taking my time and deciding what I’m going to do with this relationship!

  • fallon

    fallon

    October 4th, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    Not everyone would do something like this but then again I guess we are only worried about the ones that do. It can be so hard to get over a betrayal like this and it does make it almost too hard to even think about letting that kind of ntrust back into your life. I know that I have been through some things in my own past that keep me from getting to close to people sometimes, but then I have to remind myself that there comes a time when you have to let that guard down and let people back in. It is hard and there is a lot of healing that has to be done.

  • Steven A.

    Steven A.

    October 6th, 2014 at 3:55 AM

    You might just want to think about this as a way of finally getting rid of a plague on your life.

    You really don’t want two people in your life who would do this kind of thing to you do you? If you take a step back and look at it then you know that you really don’t.

    People like this are only going to look out for themselves, never you, and when you get to a better place you will realize that this is true and you will start to move on and move forward.

  • tim

    tim

    October 7th, 2014 at 4:00 AM

    I have gone through this same thing at one time, only it was my wife and bets friend. Think about how that one screwed me over! But you eventually come to see that these were two people who made some poor decisions that hurt a whole lot of people, and then every day it hurts a lttle bit less until finally the hurt is gone and you are left really with more of a sense of relief that it is all over. Now I won’t lie and tell you that this happenes quickly because it does not, but you will get there. Surround yourself with some really great people who care about you and what you are dealing with and sometimes that helps make things a little better.

  • Pamela

    Pamela

    October 9th, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    iT MIGHT BE HARD TO DO BUT THERE SHOULD COME A TIME WHEN YOU LOOK AT WHAT YOU COULD HAVE DONE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THIS. MAYBE IT WAS NOTHING, BUT IT COULD BE THAT THERE IS SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED AND DEALT WITH TOO ON YOUR END. MAYBE YOU HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS BUT IT IS AT LEAST WORTH EXPLORING TO SEE IF YOU PLAYED A PART IN THE DECEPTION

  • lisa

    lisa

    March 9th, 2015 at 3:26 PM

    that’s a horrible situation if the FACTS are TRUE. you can always forgive and trust again,. but if this is SOMETHING based on assumptions OR maybe one person saying it happened and your girlfriend saying it didn’t I say you have to go along with what your girlfriend says. I don’t believe that people can not be forgiven for their mistakes it doesn’t excuse what they did but it doesn’t mean its the end of the road

  • Amirhosein

    Amirhosein

    April 24th, 2015 at 1:17 AM

    Betrayals and deception have always been devastating in every aspect physically and spiritually. But all of us know that it could happen.
    So we have to prepare ourselves may hear some thing (relating to betrayal) about our girl friend or even friends.
    So prepare yourself before you fall.

  • krishta l.

    krishta l.

    April 2nd, 2016 at 7:33 AM

    MY G.F. did something after going to HER VILLAGE.she stop contacting me forever.interestingly,i saw in FB that she really enjoyed with boys hugging n …..
    Aftet 2 week she return n i ask 4 not talking to me 4m village.she did not said anything.now,she has gone to village.its 1 month now.she never pick nor call me.what is dis? There was nothing wrong between us but my GF past story is full of float n float. Now, i m having anxiety.i lov her v much.she knew it but???help me

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