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7 Steps to Trusting Again

January 18, 2012 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

How to bounce back after breaking up.

Your relationship is over, but the pain of the break-up still feels fresh. You hoped this one would work out. You put so much of yourself into it, making this your biggest priority and opening up in ways you never did with anyone else. But now you feel alone, abandoned, betrayed. Your sense of trust is shattered.

"Next time, I won't let myself be so open," you tell yourself. "I can't risk being hurt like that again. I'll wait until I really know him before relating on a deeper level, before I allow myself to have feelings."

So you date someone new, putting up a wall. You hold back on revealing your thoughts, feelings and dreams. Over time, your date's patience turns to frustration, because you don't show any sign of wanting to connect on any type of deeper level. Then, once the courtship is over, you tell yourself, "I knew it! I can't trust anyone."

Most of us become more guarded after experiencing a breach of trust by someone who was important to us. We need to learn how to trust again, so that we can open up to another person, give and receive, and develop the emotional bond we long for. The best time to work on this is before we start dating again.

Here are seven steps to help you trust again:

(1) Mourn the break-up. Acknowledge your feelings – toward the person who let you down, and toward yourself. Permit yourself to feel hurt, sad, betrayed, angry, depressed. You may experience periods of "bargaining" – thinking that if only you'd done something differently, the break-up wouldn't have occurred, or telling God that you're willing to do X, Y and Z in order to get the other person back. Your most intense grief may ebb within a week or two after the relationship has ended, but you may still be mourning the loss for months.

(2) Decide to move forward. The process will be difficult, because you may still experience feelings of sadness, hurt and loss. Work on yourself to gradually outgrow these feelings. After the most intense feelings of grief subside, you can think about what was wrong with the relationship and what kind of issues the two of you had that kept it from working out. This helps you understand that in spite of having cared for the other person, in the long run the relationship wouldn’t have turned out right for you. This realization will, in time, enable you to accept what happened and look toward the future. It's better to wait until you're reach this point in the healing process before you begin to date again. If you're still angry or bitter, your dating partner will pick up on these feelings - even though you think you're hiding them. This is a big turn-off.

(3) Look for people who are trustworthy. You may trust a doctor or an accountant, or a parent or sibling who cares about you. You trust that the mail will be delivered in the morning, and that the subway conductor will stop at the next station. Focus on these to tell yourself that trust still exists. When choosing friends to spend time with, be selective. Check out how s/he acts toward the people s/he comes into contact with each day. Does s/he treat co-workers, service-people, and mere acquaintances with sensitivity and respect? Does s/he try to avoid gossip, speak well of others, and honor other people's confidences? By exposing yourself to trustworthy people, you can build a reasonable expectation that the person you marry will be trustworthy.

Related Article: The Break Up

(4) Review for red flags. Look back at the broken relationship and try to find clues you may have missed, or purposely ignored. Are there indications that the relationship wasn't as wonderful as you thought, or that s/he wasn't as invested in the relationship as you? Can you see signs that your dating partner wasn't a trustworthy person? Perhaps s/he didn't treat others well, disregarded promises, or invalidated your feelings.

(5) Take it slow. Give yourself time to feel more confident. Ease into a new relationship. Yes, you are going to be more guarded than in the past, but try to slowly open up to someone and see what happens. You may benefit from the guidance of a dating mentor to help you gauge when and how much to open up, because it may be difficult for you to decide what feelings, thoughts, experiences or confidences are appropriate to share at different stages of a courtship. Your mentor can also help you look beyond your reluctance to trust, and evaluate how well your dating partner is responding to your revelations.

(6) Be prepared for disappointment. In her book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Dr. Susan Jeffers says that what holds us back is our fear that we won't be able to handle the consequences if something doesn't work out the way we expect. If you're afraid that you won't be able to handle another break-up, or an act of betrayal, then you will hold back from investing in a promising relationship. However, if you believe that you can deal with future disappointments, it will be easier to take “dating risks” to find the right person. Along the way there may be disappointment, but just as you have the resilience to heal from your previous disappointment, you will find the strength to do whatever it takes to find the right one.

(7) Live a full life. You may not feel like doing much of anything immediately after your break-up, but after the first few days it’s important to force yourself to follow a daily routine and activities that normally give you pleasure. This can include going to the gym, getting together with friends, using your concert subscription, and spending regular hours at work. You may not feel like dressing well, styling your hair, or wearing make-up, but it is important to take care of these aspects of your appearance because doing so has a positive effect on your mood. Over time, it will feel more natural to be doing all of this, and slowly, you’ll feel more like yourself and more optimistic about meeting someone new.

Others have done bounced back, and you can, too. Take care of your health – both physical and spiritual, surround yourself with supportive people, and most of all, give yourself time to heal and move confidently forward into your new future.

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