When There Is No Trust

She sat as if braced for a blow, unsmiling and on her guard. Seated at the other end of my long office couch, he was her reverse image, comfortably relaxed.

It was not until I met with her alone that she gave voice to her anxiety. In despair she said, “he wants this divorce and I don’t trust him anymore”.

Her husband, a businessman, had taken the first step and walked away from what she acknowledged was not a happy marriage. The roles they took throughout their 25 year union were well-defined, he the breadwinner and she in charge at home. They rarely crossed over into the others’ world. He knew so much more than she did about finance, about their finances. How could she possibly negotiate with him, when she felt she could no longer rely on his concern for her well-being?

Trust had been their bedrock, even as their intimacy faded. No longer.

She went on, “I do all the bill paying so he says I have a good grasp of money matters. Not so. He assures me I’ll be fine, but I no longer have confidence in what he tells me”

My response: “Why should you?”

She looked up, surprised.

I continued, “when an intimate relationship ends, trust flies out the window and anxiety sweeps in. Betrayal, broken promises or shifting moral standards, and a partner so well known becomes a stranger. The pain of loss and fear of the unknown dominates the emotional landscape. Then all that’s needed is a spark, a canceled credit card, a barbed letter from an attorney or finding out that a separate bank account has been opened. If there was any residual trust, it vanishes. Being assured that everything will be all right offers little solace”.

She listened intently and asked, “do I need to hire a more aggressive lawyer”?

My response: “that’s one option, although not one I would urge. While the family’s financial status quo is being maintained, I recommend you take this time to collect all the information you need to become stronger and wiser yourself. Then an attorney committed to settlement might well help you figure things out”.

Her eyebrows raised but she was smiling.

To those who’ve survived this early stage of divorce without declaring war and have found their way into a mediation setting, or who’ve hired lawyers who can advocate for them while seeking an equitable settlement, recognizing the need to address the interests of both parties, this is what I say: “let’s just assume that your spouse is untrustworthy. This is your current perspective. You may be wrong, but you may be right. So, why not simply accept the absence of trust, and design a settlement that doesn’t depend on faith. Assert your power to say a respectful “no” to anything that is suggested, until you are ready to say “yes”. Ask for documentation and test proposed solutions assisted by carefully selected experts, lawyers, financial planners. Decide to make no decisions until they are fully informed decisions. Let doubt serve you. No call to be accusatory or disrespectful. Just smart.”

In marriage we expect trust, assume that we’ll always be told the truth and our well-being given priority. That perfection may not always exist, but it’s a reasonable expectation.

When an intimate relationship ends, aggression is not the answer, but trust need not be assumed. Unless and until it is regained.










When an intimate relationship ends, aggression is not the answer, but trust need not be assumed. Unless and until it is regained.