When Trust Is on the Line
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My old high-school friend just told me that my partner of 10 years is cheating on me! She says she saw them in a restaurant and walking on the beach together. This took me totally by surprise, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s telling the truth, though I don’t know why she would lie. In fact my girlfriend has been acting strangely, and maybe it’s because she senses my shock and mistrust. Should I believe my friend? Should I break up with my girlfriend? Help!
Dr. Hurd replies,
You said it yourself: Your friend has no reason to lie, so there’s no reason to dismiss what she saw. Beware of denial! Face facts, while still recognizing that you don’t yet have all of the facts. Think back: How has your relationship been? Have you two grown apart? Has she been emotionally distant? She might be a good actor, but most people subtly back away from their spouses when they engage in affairs.
If your partner has been distant, then your friend’s news is an opportunity to find out what’s going on. Confront your partner. Remember that you have no obligation to disclose the identity of the friend who told you. If your partner is guilty, she’ll try to distract you by turning that side issue into a major one. That’s what guilty people do when cornered.
There’s no guarantee that confronting her will reveal the truth. Nobody can prove a negative. In other words, she can’t “prove” that she’s not cheating. But if she is, and you let her know that you know, she’ll come-clean a lot sooner. In the meantime, take care of yourself. Take an honest look at your relationship. If what your friend saw was unmistakably romantic, that’s all you need to know that something’s gone wrong.
Most people are not good liars, and sooner or later they trip up. You don’t need to be a detective. Just keep your eyes open. Confronting her might bring it out or, at a minimum, it will put her on notice that she’s starting to trip up. Push aside the hurt for a minute and see how foolish your partner is being. Rehoboth Beach is a small town where people know and see one other. Her lack of common sense is catching up with her.
Should you break up with her? If she broke your trust, then absolutely. You do owe it to yourself to give her a hearing for the sake of winding down such a long-term relationship. It’s not affairs themselves that do all the damage, as much as the lying. There’s no going back once the trust is broken. And once trust is gone, respect and love are not far behind.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner and I have always been included in a big annual party held by friends. The invitations are sent by mail, but we didn’t receive one this year. What a confusing situation! If we ask them if the invitation was sent, and we weren’t invited, we look foolish, they feel awkward, and we become potential victims of the dreaded “pity invite.”
On the other hand, if it was sent, and did get lost in the mail, we still can’t say anything, but we end up rudely not showing up. It’s a lose-lose. We can’t think of any reason they wouldn’t invite us. Is there any way to resolve this and still emerge with even the tiniest shred of dignity?
Dr. Hurd replies,
First of all, it’s not a lose-lose. It’s not your fault you didn’t get the invitation. It might not be the host’s fault either, if it was lost in the mail or otherwise overlooked. Don’t feel guilty over not acknowledging an invitation you never received.
You say you’re friends with these people, so eventually you’re going to find out whether or not you were actually invited. If your friend is genuinely disappointed that you didn’t show, he’ll say something. That will be your chance to tell him that you never got the invitation, and your friendship will probably become stronger. If he never mentions the fact you were absent, then either he was indifferent to your coming, or he deliberately excluded you. In that case, maybe he’s not quite the friend you thought he was.
You also have the option of taking a more assertive approach by saying, “Hey, I didn’t get your invitation—how was the party?” If you do this after the fact, then there’s no danger of a “pity invite.” This approach can be a little more challenging, but I see no reason not to be up front. If he claims to be your friend, and did in fact exclude you from the party, then I think he deserves to be put on the spot. If it was an accident, you’ll know from his reaction. Your friendship will either become stronger over a simple clerical error, or you’ll be free to move on to a better class of friend. Either way, you win.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to DrHurd@DrHurd.com.