When you’ve been let down by someone who matters a great deal to you, moving beyond boundaries is not easy work — but it is important. One thing you can do in this regard is to figure out if the problem that was previously an obstacle is truly being transformed. In other words, is this person really changing? Is the big problem being solved the right way?
Here’s an example. I (Dr. Townsend) worked with a couple in which the husband, Bill, was a nice guy but irresponsible. He was one of those likeable people who loves to hang out with others and is a lot of fun. But Bill’s performance in life did not match up to his personality, especially in the area of finances and spending. He overspent on cars, gadgets, and entertainment. He also hid his spending habits, which meant his wife, Pam, was routinely surprised by huge credit card bills. These patterns took a major toll on the marriage. Pam was terrified of an uncertain financial future with him. She was not perfect and had her own issues as well, but his behavior came close to breaking up the marriage.
In our work together, Pam was clear that though she still loved Bill, she had lost all trust in him. She could not believe anything he said. “If he told me at noon that the sun was shining, I would go outside to check,” she said. As is common in these situations, Bill did not want to acknowledge the severity of the problem or make the necessary changes. He wanted Pam to change, to stop blaming him, and to learn to trust him. “If you would be nicer to me and trust me,” he said, “I would feel more supported, and I’d do better in my career.”
I had to step in there and say, “You are right; she shouldn’t be mean to you or attack you. But I don’t want her to trust you.”
Bill was bothered by that and said, “Don’t you want the marriage to work out?”
“Sure I do,” I said. “I want Pam to love you with no strings attached. But that is different from trust. While love is free, trust is earned. In the area of financial responsibility, I don’t want her to relax and trust you until we have evidence that you have changed.”
Again, Bill didn’t like that: “You’re both judging me,” he said.
“No,” I said, “neither of us is consigning you to hell. There is no judgment in this office. But you have not shown that you understand how deeply you have hurt her, nor have you made the necessary changes so that she can trust you again. If you and I were neighbors and I borrowed your screwdriver and didn’t return it, then borrowed your saw and didn’t return it, then your pliers and didn’t return them, what would you do if I asked to borrow your hammer?”
“Of course I wouldn’t lend it to you,” he said. “Okay, I see the point.”
Bill wasn’t as sorry as I wanted him to be at that point. He still didn’t seem to be able to acknowledge the impact he had on his wife, but it was progress.
Click to Tweet: Hurt and mistrust are nothing more than signals. They tell you that you either have some healing to do, or the other person has some changing to do—or both.
“Here’s the deal,” I said. “I want you to submit your finances to Pam on a monthly basis for a year. She is in charge. You both see a financial planner together. And we’ll see, month by month, if you are really changing for her sake and the relationship’s sake.”
I turned to Pam: “If he does what I am asking, would you be open to trusting him again?”
“I would,” she replied. “I want to get all this behind us. But it has to be real.”
They agreed to the plan. Bill did some blaming at first, which happens frequently. But he humbled himself and allowed her to be in charge of the money. As it turned out, Bill did fine. And Pam was able to get past her hurt and mistrust, because he had truly changed.
Hurt and mistrust are nothing more than signals. They tell you that you either have some healing to do, or the other person has some changing to do—or both. So, while monitoring if you are learning to trust again, also monitor how the other person is doing in the arena that caused a break in trust in the first place.