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Learning to Trust After Romantic Abandonment

You're not as vulnerable as you think you are.

Key points

  • If you have been abandoned by your husband, you may be afraid to trust again.
  • Subsequent relationships will have a different quality and expectations from your first marriage.
  • You can choose to trust again, even though there are no guarantees.

It is a common refrain: “I’d like to be in a new relationship but how can I ever trust again?”

Many women with runaway husbands did not know that their husband was thinking of leaving. They trusted him with all their hearts. They never dreamed that he would have an affair. They felt secure.

But then, one day, out of the clear blue sky, boom! “I can’t do this anymore. It’s over!”

So how can a woman who couldn’t read the signs in her marriage (because often, there aren’t any) trust that the same thing won’t happen again with another man who may also seem loving and devoted? How can she protect herself from the devastation she went through with her runaway husband? It means taking a leap of faith, but also, recognizing that this relationship is inherently very different from your last one.

Then And Now

Most probably, you were very idealistic when you married your runaway husband. You imagined your lifetime future, building together all the lovely parts of home and family. You likely married in your twenties or thirties and the years ahead were spread in front of you like the smorgasbord table at a Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant. You had expectations! Your husband having an affair and leaving you was not one of them.

But now, you’re older and you’ve been through this experience and you know, right from the get-go, that men can leave. You’re wiser. You’ll listen carefully when any new man tells you how his previous marriage ended, paying particular attention to how he talks about his ex-wife. Is he mean and diminishing of her? Did he end the marriage? Was there an affair? Good information to know.

Unless you’re still in your thirties or early forties, you're probably not looking to start a family with a new husband. You may already have done that and are at the next stage of your life. The bond you will develop in a new relationship is of a different quality. You’re an independent woman now who can survive on your own. You won’t need to merge your identity with someone in the same way that you did in your first marriage.

You’re actually not as vulnerable as you think you are. You will never again be hurt at the same magnitude as you were when your husband left because you know it’s possible. And you’ve worked on yourself to be comfortable in your own skin. If you meet someone, don’t rush to fall in love. Get to know him gradually. He’s not the man of your dreams - he’s just a man.

New Africa/Shutterstock
New Africa/Shutterstock

You really have two choices. You can close up shop and not risk any new relationship which means that you will be safe but also may miss out on the pleasure of having someone in your life. Or, you can open your heart wisely, taking a chance with no assurances but being willing to expand your life to admit someone else.

Last year at a retreat I conducted, we spent an afternoon with the shaman Joseph White Wolf who told us about when he first got to know his wife who had been married before. She traced a big square in the air and told him that she had a map of her life with all the pieces in place in this square, just like she liked them. Her family, her home, her work, her friends - she liked the life she had constructed for herself. Then she said, “Now I see your little nose poking up into the corner of my map. I’ll let you come inside but you need to know, I’m not changing any of it for you. So you’re welcome to come into my life but you have to be a plus because my life is good just as it already is.”

And that is my wish for you. I hope you will be open to trust again, accepting the fact that not all men are dishonest, slowly getting to know someone - no big dreams or expectations. And if his nose is poking up into your life, choose wisely if you will let him in.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

More from Vikki Stark M.S.W., M.F.T.
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