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  • Writer's pictureFrancis Merson

How to Stop Doubting and Start Trusting your Partner

No one wants to suspect that their partner is unfaithful to them. But often our attempts to check on our partners can make us feel less safe than ever. Here's our guide to how to obsess less and get the trust back.

Trust is something that most partners regard as crucial in a relationship. But how can you know your partner is faithful to you? One mistaken assumption about trust is that it implies 100% certainty in your partner’s fidelity. As nice as it might be, total certainty is unachievable. And attempts to attain it inevitably damage trust, leaving us feeling more anxious and uncertain than ever.

Checking – the high road to eroding certainty and undermining trust

To attempt to achieve 100% certainty in a relationship is to fight a perpetually losing battle. The reason for this is that the things you might do to achieve certainty – such as checking on your partner's behaviour, reading messages, mentally reconstructing their day, etc. – generally make you feel more anxious, and less certain, in the long run.

The reason for this is that checking usually brings a short-term feeling of relief (more times than not, your partner isn’t actually betraying you). This feeling of relief serves as a reward – a pleasant reduction in anxiety. When a person gets a reward for a behaviour, it increases the frequency of that behaviour (think of what happens when you give a dog a treat every time it brings a ball back).

Of course, behaviour doesn’t come from nowhere: it is motivated by something. In this case, the checking behaviour is motivated by anxiety – worry that your partner might be unfaithful. So the feeling of relief also increases the anxiety that underpins the checking behaviour. This creates a cycle where you:

• Feel anxious, check, feel relief;

• Feel more anxious, check more, feel more relief

• Feel even more anxious, check even more, feel even more relief

And so now your anxiety is much higher than it was before you started checking.

Also, when you are anxious, your brain is designed to focus on threat – in this case, the threat of your partner cheating. So more anxiety also means more thoughts of possible betrayals. And if you’re constantly thinking of your

partner’s possible infidelity, you will feel less certain than ever. This same process is observed in individuals with checking OCD, who end up obsessively checking the front door to make sure it’s locked. They end up feeling so uncertain that they have to check constantly, and as a result they can feel chronically anxious.

So even though it seems like checking will help you achieve the certainty you need and boost trust, it actually takes you in the other direction completely. The more you check, the more anxiety you experience, the more you obsess about your partner’s potential unfaithfulness, and the less you trust.

Placing restrictions – how to make trust meaningless

Another way in which people try and increase certainty in a relationship is to place restrictions on their partner’s behaviour. This might mean pressuring them not to see certain people, stay out late, and in some extreme cases not to leave the house at all.

This also reduces trust, as you operate under the assumption that the only thing preventing your partner from cheating is the fact you’ve prevented them from having any opportunity to do so. And so you never give your partner the chance to do what would actually be ideal: to be able go out, hang out with their ex, stay out late with friends, etc... and not betray you. And so you ultimately

prevent yourself from knowing if your partner is even capable of fidelity.

Locking your partner up in the basement will definitely reduce their opportunities for infidelity, but it will not result in a very meaningful or profound form of trust.

Drop checking and restricting – and start trusting

So how to deal with all this? Start by sitting down with your partner and confirming your intention to be faithful to each other – if this is a genuine concern. Then make a mutual decision to trust each other deeply. Deep trust means that you trust them even if they are messaging their ex, joking

with an attractive colleague or haven’t texted you all day.

This might seem uncomfortable at first. However, once you start removing the obstacles to trust, it will become easier and easier as your anxiety levels reduce, and your trust deepens.

Then make a list of how you and your partner are currently checking on each other. Some typical checking behaviours are:

• reading their messages

• asking questions about their whereabouts

• double-checking with friends about their activities

• mentally checking for inconsistencies in their stories

• mentally reconstructing their day

Then work on gradually reducing these behaviours. This doesn’t mean you don’t ask your partner about their day. It means you don’t ask if you’re only doing it out of jealousy or anxiety, rather than genuine interest.

Then make a list of the restrictions that you and your partner are placing on each other. Some typical restrictions are:

• no contact with members of their desired gender

• not staying out late

• no friendships with ex partners

• not going out with friends

• not going out alone

Ultimately, no one wants to be in a relationship with someone who they have to check up on and whose behaviour they need to control. It’s also not much fun to be on the receiving end of these behaviours – as anyone who has had a jealous partner can tell you.

And so, ironically, attempts to ensure your partner’s fidelity can actually push them away from you. As such, reducing these behaviours is an important step to building a solid relationship free of anxiety, a relationship based on real, deep trust.

And if you feel like your stuck in a cycle of doubt and mistrust, it can be helpful to speak to a psychologist or psychiatrist. These experts can assess the situation and help you implement a plan for creating a relationship where you're confident in your partner's fidelity.

Remember, even if you're used to feeling anxious about infidelity in relationships – there is a way to learn to trust and feel safe.

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