Building Trust In Your Relationships: Lessons From A Cheater

How I Arrived to Where I Am Now

I cheated on my boyfriend of five years with the man that is now my husband.

My now-husband was torn when I made my first move, too good of a man to consider being the “other man.” I persisted and, in the end, we had a brief romance. It all occurred in the weeks leading up to my departure. What was meant to exist on its own, inside a hermetically-sealed bubble, was actually the undoing of my five-year relationship with my boyfriend.

I was the instigator of its demise because I knew that this had been more than a fling. I knew that my would-be-husband was something far more. But I had no idea, nor model, for how one goes from being the “piece on the side” to being “the main dish.”

Based on my time with my boyfriend, I swore I knew what it would all look like. I would be put in a position where I would need to defend all of my actions, all of the time. He would worry, become suspicious, ask who I was hanging out with and eventually break out into full jealousy mode. But that never happened.

So, what did happen?

How Trust Occurs in a Relationship

In 1989, Holmes and Rempel taught us about the building blocks of trust in close relationships. They told us that there are just three: predictability, dependability and 3) faith. Predictability: we need to be able to predict what our partner is going to do, we need to be able to rely on a consistent pattern of behavior. Dependability: someone that can be counted on to be there and help us, especially during the tough times. Faith: a belief in the other that their reasons for being benevolent go beyond extrinsic motivation.

You may be wondering, do they all come at once? In my experience, no. Faith comes first and foremost. Without faith, you will never move beyond just a physical attraction.

When I left my would-be-husband at the airport to fly back to the US to reunite with my boyfriend, I was broken. I knew I had made a mistake. When I arrived, I broke the news to my boyfriend, phoned my would-be-husband and asked him if he would be willing to give us a chance. I asked him for faith. He gave it to me.

The next two building blocks, predictability and dependability, were harder to come by. These blocks would only come eight months later when my would-be-husband moved across the ocean to be with me. It was the first major act of commitment that led us on an upward trajectory of further commitment to each other. Three months later, I boarded a plane and moved to Europe to be with him. Jobs were landed, jobs were quit, adventures were had, countries were left, new countries were discovered—and we did it all together.

We didn’t know it at the time, but we were undertaking the often-cited idea of a mutual cyclical growth model put forth by Wieselquist, Rusbult, Foster and Agnew (1999). The authors describe this cycle in the following terms:

(a) dependence promotes strong commitment, (b) commitment promotes pro-relationship acts, (c) pro-relationship acts are perceived by the partner, (d) the perception of pro-relationship acts enhances the partner’s trust and (e) trust increases the partner’s willingness to become dependent on the relationship.

The way I read this leads me to believe that we each continued to double down on our relationship. As each of us did something for the good of the relationship, we felt closer, and the other one would reciprocate. 

For example, after living in a third country for nearly a year—a country we hand-selected—my husband told me he wanted out. I was stunned. We swam every day, ate lunch overlooking the sea and had time for an “afternoon delight.” I adored it. He was miserable. He couldn’t find his fit, either personally or professionally. While I wanted to stay longer, I agreed, and we found a new place where we could both be happy.

Nearly three years later, I made the same request of him. Feeling claustrophobic, I asked him to find a new place we could call home. While it is probably not the choice he would’ve made on his own, he knew what I was feeling and gave me the gift of trust that I gave him three years prior. This experience, combined with many more, laid the groundwork for our willingness to depend on each other and, in turn, trust each other.

However, it has not always been easy. Early in the first year, we were together when I told him it was all too much. I was concerned that I was feeling trapped, as I had with my last boyfriend. He told me, with sincerity, that if one day I needed to leave, he would help me pack and kiss me goodbye with only love in his heart.

That simple gesture was, in the words of Wieselquist, et. al, the most “pro-relationship” thing he could do. It worked, and it keeps working to this day. I joke with him that even if we get divorced, he will remain my only husband because I hate wedding planning—just as he likes to say that his next wife will appreciate all the things I have instilled in him (you’re welcome, wife #2, for his aptness with the clothes and dishes). These jokes are never said with malice or any intention to injure, nor are they a passive-aggressive way to express a dissatisfaction with our partnership. Instead, these jokes reinforce our trust in one another.

What’s the Takeaway?

Holmes and Rempel tell us about how the development of love is intrinsically intertwined with trust in your partner and the fact that you know how their feelings are developing alongside yours:

As romantic love develops, feelings of love largely reflect people’s confidence that partners’ feelings are similar to their own. Signs of mutuality in affection are used to pace people’s hopes and quell their fears about dependency. If the process of reciprocal reassurance successfully diminishes perceptions of uncertainty and risk, trust develops a core through dyadic experience that goes well beyond blind assumptions about the partner’s emotional investment in the relationship.

The gist of this quote is that your love will develop as you see your partner’s love grow, because no one really wants to be that person who falls into unreciprocated love.

My great gem of wisdom is this: you have to be willing to be the one that goes first. Whether that is making the first move (that was me), saying I love you first (him), bringing up moving in together (me) or asking for the commitment of marriage (him).

You’re probably thinking about the time you were hurt, shot down or dumped. I can’t make you feel better about this. It sucks. I’ve been there, too. But here’s the thing, if no one is ever willing to be the first—if everyone is too preoccupied with their ego—then love, and more importantly, trust will never come.




Author: Carly K. Petracco
Email: carly.k.p@gmail.com
Author Bio: Carly Petracco is a former economist, serial founder, advocate of reinvention, writer of love, late-night coder and an ardent feminist. She is the founder of Your European Wedding Celebrant and Taste Porto Food Tours. In addition to founding a now-defunct co-working space, she was formerly an economist for the likes of the World Bank, United Nations and other international organizations. After running away from that life, she decided to reinvent herself and encourages others to do the same.
Link to social media: Instagram @charliewanderluster


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One response to “Building Trust In Your Relationships: Lessons From A Cheater

  1. This is so beautiful and honest. It’s rarely easy to confront the times we’ve been hurt– or have hurt someone we cared about, particularly when those actions ultimately push us in the right direction. Carly writes through her experience with grace and decency. Her article is refreshing and I look forward to seeing more from her here.

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