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Dating Advice #203 - Starting Over

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

After a few years of downward spiral, can things be resurrected?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I have been dating a man for three years now. The first year was great, but the past two years we have been trying to work things out. The problem is that I lied to him about a lot of things and now he doesn't trust me.

My question: How can we restore the trust? Is this salvageable?


Dear Rosie,

It takes a concerted effort to rebuild trust when it has been broken. It is also challenging to resurrect a courtship in which two people have been spinning their wheels for an extended period of time.

Often, two people stay together under those circumstances simply because there is a certain inertia, a comfort in their being together, even though they no longer relate to each other the way two people in an enduring relationship should. When two people are stagnating, or when they are locked in a downward spiral, they need to take an honest look at themselves and decide whether they are each willing to try to rebuild their connection, or whether they should admit that things cannot be resurrected.

You can start by asking themselves the following questions:

1) Do we want the same things out of life? Where do we see each of our lives going in the short and long term?

2) What values do we share? Do we have enough common values to be able to build a life together?

3) Is my partner a basically good person who has the maturity and commitment to work on building our relationship from the start?

4) Can we set aside the hurt we have caused each other and start again as if we are dating for the first time?

5) Do we want to make a fresh start with each other?

There is another set of questions that must be addressed in your particular situation:

  • Do I understand why I was not honest with my boyfriend in the past?
  • Have I addressed the reasons for my dishonesty, through self-introspection and/or therapy?
  • Can I be honest with him from now on?
  • Have I apologized to him and asked for his forgiveness?
  • Is he willing to forgive me and to let me rebuild his trust?

Only if you can answer ‘yes' to all of these questions do we suggest that you attempt to rejuvenate this courtship. If so, you should begin as if dating each other for the first time. Dress up and go on real, formal dates to places with enjoyable ambiance. Renew the romance, the talk about each other's tastes, life experiences, plans, and dreams. Vary what you do together -- things you both enjoy, something you each enjoy doing, and perhaps something that will enable you both to give back to the community.

Engage in gestures that show consideration and kindness -- periodically buy or make something you know the other likes, cut out an article from the newspaper about something you know is important to him, do things for each other for the simple reason that you know your partner will appreciate it.

It is also important to engage in some heart-to-heart talks about where you see yourself in five years, what was your most meaningful life experience, and whom you most admire. And do all of this while you are on a "dating diet," meaning that you date no more than twice a week. All of these suggestions provide a framework on which you can try to build a new way of relating to each other.

In six weeks, look at the progress you've made. If you are able to relate to each other in a way that you both feel is promising, then there is a good chance you can continue to build on this. If you find that you cannot develop the necessary trust and emotional connection, then it is wise to end things now, on the best possible terms, and move on independently.

Rosie & Sherry

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