Does Trusting My Gut Mean Not Trusting Him?

How to build a relationship based on trust -- and to know when it's time to walk away


Dear Michele,

I’m not sure if I can trust my boyfriend. Every now and then, I just feel like he may not be telling me the truth. Sometimes I catch him looking at other girls or flirting, although he says I’m being oversensitive. I don’t want to seem paranoid. I don’t think he would cheat, but how can I know if I can trust him?

Dear Can I Trust Him,

Let me state my bias up front: I tend to counsel people to listen to their gut. You know your relationship better than anyone. If you feel as if there is deception, then I would encourage you to continue to explore the possibilities and to be very open with your boyfriend about the process. At the same time, sometimes our own histories get in the way and make us suspicious when our partner truly is being authentic and loyal. Have you been in a relationship in the past where trust was an issue? You may be bringing some of that “baggage” into this relationship. The challenge is to decipher which category your situation falls into, while remaining open to the possibility that maybe it’s a little of both.

The reality is, relationships are built on honesty and trust. Any relationship, with a friend, a professor, a boss, a therapist or a boyfriend, requires trust. The more intimate the relationship, the more trust is required. If there is deception, there is a break in the relationship. In order to keep the relationship healthy, you need to stop everything and work on the issue. This means talking about it, exploring your feelings, and giving your partner time to explore his feelings both on his own and with you.

Learning to be authentic

The real problem is that when you are with someone who you think may be lying, you are never sure what is real and what is not. It’s a great formula for anxiety, conflict and arguments. What should you do when you encounter deception?

First, there are people (at times including us) who lie out of fear of what will happen if they tell the truth. They may lie out of shame, guilt, fear of conflict or fear of losing the relationship. They may lie because they are insecure or feel inadequate. These types of liars may not have experienced a relationship where they feel safe enough to tell the truth. They are not evil people, but they haven’t learned how to be completely authentic either. If your boyfriend is in this category, you may choose to try to work on the issue together.

It will likely be a difficult road, and it will require a lot of individual growth on the part of your boyfriend, but with the help of a trusted clergy, mentor or therapist, you may be able to restore your relationship to the safe haven and secure base it’s meant to be. Remember that you cannot change your boyfriend, and working on the issue of lying must come before the relationship can move forward. There are many people and many relationships that do not require this type of work to simply be honest and real, so be sure to be clear about what you are signing up for.

Avoiding manipulation

The second type of liar is the one who is completely aware and manipulative about his or her lies. They lie to purposefully deceive others, simply because they put their own wants in front of anyone else’s. If they want to date two or more people, they lie to do it. If they want to appear to be someone they are not, they lie to do it. If they know you want to date someone who is a Christian, they will pretend to be a Christian just to get you roped into the relationship.

They do not respect the truth. They do not care about the truth. They will lie to get prestige, affection, sex or even money. Run as quickly as you can from this type of liar. In the other direction. Far away.

Being honest with yourself

How can you know the difference? Although lying about thoughts or feelings is not an instant relationship breaker, if you see a pattern and you are constantly talking about what is real and what is not, then you may not be able to restore the relationship. Start by making truthfulness the absolute foundation of being together. If your partner cannot be consistently honest with you, even about his failings, you likely cannot have the relationship you want with him. If your partner is not clear about his feelings, behavior or other important facts, demand it. If you need to ask questions or somehow investigate what is the truth, do it. Once you have confronted the deception, listen to your boyfriend’s response and look to see if he takes ownership and expresses remorse. Talk about why he lied. If he’s willing to stop lying, then make sure you give any promise to “do better next time” enough time. Just hearing “I’m sorry” may not be enough, you want to see and experience real change.

How do you avoid getting involved, or getting more deeply involved, in a relationship with someone who is not telling the truth? The best antidote is for you to be completely honest. Stop lying, even if it is out of fear or embarrassment. Don’t lie about any aspect of yourself — your likes or dislikes, how you feel, how you react to situations. Make sure your foundation is solid, in the truth of who you are. Not sure what that means? Ask others if they can completely trust you. Slow down and take the time to listen to that little voice that is telling you that you are not being totally real. Ask God to help by coming into your heart and opening your eyes to areas where you may be deceiving yourself. Remember, to see others clearly, you have to get the log out of your own eye first.