“Trust” won’t save you from infidelity

But it also doesn’t need to

Ask most people how they feel about the risk of infidelity, and there are two main answers:

“I worry about my partner cheating”
“I trust my partner and believe they won’t”

(There are also very small groups who brush it off with “I just try not to think about it” or even “I wouldn’t care,” but they are the minority.)

The second viewpoint, “trust,” is what we uphold and sell to each other as the goal, being one of two secrets to a good relationship (the other being communication.)

But where does the second one get you? You’re still hanging your emotional wellbeing on someone else’s actions, and if they veer off course, you’re surrendering (or rather, denying) agency over your own happiness.

There’s a better solution than trust

And it’s something closer to love:

“I understand what I do and do not control, that I do not control anything outside of me, and I don’t try to change that. I invest my emotional wellbeing in things I control.”

I’m on a plane as I write this, so let’s take air travel as an example.

There are two main types of air travelers:

  1. “I am afraid of flying”
  2. “I trust that we won’t crash”

(And then, of course, we have a few people who say “I just try not to think about it” or —the truly deranged — “I wouldn’t care if we crashed.”)

Fear

One of my best friends from college is terrified of flying. Despite being a manager in finance and having to occasionally travel for work, she starts each flight heavily self-medicated and ends each flight emotionally fatigued.

“Every time I land safely, I feel like I’ve cheated death”

She’s terrified that she has no control over the situation, and her fear is really desperation for control.

But you don’t control the plane. You will never have control over the plane. And in the same sense, you will never have control over another human being.

Trust

A lot of people lean on this one. They point to the statistics — more people die in car accidents than plane crashes — and they reassure themselves “pilots are professionals — they do this every day.” And both of those are true, but what if hell does freeze over? What if that .000001% odd does occur?

To trust is to live in a play-pretend world believing you are special and immune to statistical risk. And maybe you are. Maybe you’re the majority.

And, more importantly, to “trust” alone is to put ourselves at more emotional risk than we need to.

Trusting alone is being over-leveraged and exposed to the heartbreak we’ll experience if it does happen. (And statistically, it could.)

Wanting it, wishing, and hoping aren’t emotional protection.

Where is “trust” going to leave you if the plane is going down, or your partner does cheat? Those subsequent moments are going to be ones of very negative emotions — probably the same ones as the worried woman next to you, except she’ll also be internally (or externally) screaming: “I knew it! I just knew it!”

Acceptance

I am not afraid of flying, but it’s not because I point to the statistics or necessarily even trust the pilots (my brother, a jet pilot in the Air Force, distrusts commercial pilots more than anyone I know.)

It’s because I respect the limitations of what I control, and I don’t let emotions — fear included — run wild with what I don’t.

I 110% trust my partner won’t cheat. I believe this not only from a position of belief, but rationale. In other words: he is both incredibly loyal and incredibly picky. I trust him. But I don’t dump my emotions into what he does.

Just like I also trust that he won’t die in a car accident after I kiss him goodbye in the morning. I believe this, but I also understand that I don’t control this, and I have emotional insurance and a contingency plan in the horrible event that it happens.

I trust. But I also don’t hang my emotional wellbeing on something that is out of my control.

I trust that a coffee shop is going to be open. I trust that the street light will turn green. I trust that my flight will be on time.

But if it isn’t, it doesn’t destroy me. I deal and don’t hang my emotional wellbeing on external things.

Acceptance, non-attachment, and healthy love

Accept that we have no control over the situation. Look at it, stare it in the face, and say “you belong to the universe, and so do I. Neither you nor the world are my domain.”

These are the same stance we take with our partners.

It may sound cynical or pessimistic, but it’s not.

It’s not assuming our partner will cheat. It’s still trusting they won’t while respecting that they are their own people, and not confusing our emotions with what we’re actually entitled to.

It’s the same way we treat anything else in life — I trust that if we make them happy, our clients will want to continue working with us. But I understand that they may one day call me up and say “we’re going with someone else.”

It’s still disappointing, yeah. It’s fucking shitty — I do anything I can to avoid that happening, and if it does happen, to bring them back. But at the end of the day, I respect that they are running a business, and make their own decisions.

Understanding isn’t cynicism; it’s respect and care for other beings.

It’s eyes-wide-open and open-hearted and fully honest. And most importantly, it is relaxed. It is relaxed not in a denial or blind optimism or “hoping” kind of way, like “trust”, which leaves us vulnerable to being destroyed emotionally should the thing occur.

It’s looking things straight in the eye and saying “I see you for what you are, not what I wish for, and I accept you either way.”

And this is love.

I board each flight knowing full well the risks, and not denying them, and I live my life respecting the fact that it can be taken away. I enter relationships the same way.

I am independent of my partner. My emotional wellbeing is independent of his actions.

Non-attachment is still caring

I would obviously care if my plane went down. I would care if my partner cheated. I would still be afraid if we crashed, and hurt if my partner cheated, but the difference is that rationale would kick in and remind me, “my partner is his own person, on his own journey. You don’t control him. The only thing you have control over is your own response.”

It’s understanding the domain of our control, the limits to the authority of our emotions, and where to hang our wellbeing. Understanding and respecting the limitations of our control.

We are responsible for our own wellbeing, and we should hang our wellbeing on the thing we control — our mindset.

We let the rest exist with acceptance. Which is the same as love.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s leading publication for entrepreneurs and startups.

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