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My Trust Is Broken – Again

Woman in Colorful Dress in Wheat Field

changingthruhope shares a mix of progress and challenges. Her Loved One has made much progress in his recovery. After a recent discovery about her Loved One lying to her though, it feels like a relapse, but without the drug use. This is a trying time, and it’s a lot to navigate.

My husband has been in recovery for the last two years or so, with several relapses, the last of which was 8 months ago. Last week I found out he has been dishonest with me about a major life development, and while he admitted it and seems remorseful, I really don't know what to do. It feels like a relapse but without the drug and/or alcohol use. I have a call in to his social worker (he remains involved with a rehab) to verify that he passed his most recent drug test, though I expect he did. He has been attending meetings and shared with his sponsor and therapist what is going on.

I really don't know what to do. It's a complicated situation. My sister overstepped her boundaries and discovered the deception and told me about it (he told me he was scheduled to defend his PhD- a huge step in moving forward with our lives after several years of addiction wreaking havoc- the defense was never scheduled). While I am grateful to know what is actually going on, she acted in a way that was inappropriate (she called his professor when I told her he had postponed).

In some ways it feels like my husband has made progress, and in others it feels like this is a never-ending nightmare. I know I have to make the choices I can live with.

Your husband has been in recovery for a few years now. He relapsed several times, but it has been 8 months since his last relapse. He has been attending meetings and is engaged with his sponsor and in therapy.

You discovered from your sister that your husband had lied to you about a major professional milestone. Right now, understandably, you are at a loss about what to do. Your trust was betrayed. Even though it’s not about his using, it stirs up the same old fears about where things are and where they are heading. Being lied to like this is so hard to stomach. You have the added complexity of your sister’s involvement. Perhaps she had good intentions, but this situation is already difficult enough without her intervening in his work dynamics.

Thank you for reaching out and sharing this with us. Those doubts and fears are so understandable in the face of such a violation of your trust. You are undoubtedly still working on picking up the pieces in the wake of those years of addiction that caused such upheaval in your life. This piece of news stings as it hits on wounds that were still in the process of healing.

The news of your husband’s sobriety and investment in his recovery, however, is wonderful to hear. He has come a long way – you both have. And this hard-won progress is a great encouragement. We all celebrate this accomplishment. You both deserve to celebrate each and every step in his recovery.

Dishonesty is something that we often have to confront, not just when we have Loved Ones with addictions, but in other circles as well. It is inevitable that, from time to time, we will encounter lying in some form or another with family members, co-workers, children, etc… And as we all know, lying comes in many shades. We may be able to let some things slide. This one is major. It feels like another version of a relapse, and with that comes some very difficult feelings. It’s a lot to digest. Now that it is uncovered, you have to decide where to go from here.

It is positive that he has been candid with you, at least on some level, in your conversations thus far. You also know that he is talking with people in his support network about it. This is all significant, and encouraging… What about attending some couples therapy sessions? As you say, it's a complicated situation. You could probably use some extra support in navigating through these waters. 

We have several posts on the site that may be helpful to read or reread. This post includes an article from the Center For Motivation and Change specifically addresses how to approach communications with a Loved One when they are lying to you. The related member comments and other articles referenced in the post are illuminating as well. One of the major points in the article is figuring out what your goal is for the conversation, when it comes time to actually address the lie. This is well worth reflecting on. It sounds like you have already spoken about it some, but this is a big event and it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t more conversations to come.

Although this is not directly related to substance use, using CRAFT principles, you would focus on communications that help bring you closer together. Learning Module 4 is definitely worth revisiting to help ground you in this practice. CRAFT would say to avoid negative talk – criticism, judgement, accusations – that ends up backing the Loved One into a corner. He already feels vulnerable and exposed, and probably pretty lousy about what he did. Any gesture that promotes openness, instead of defensiveness, is worth cultivating. It’s simple, but not easy. Always try to give yourself time to center and “empty out” before you embark on this kind of communication.

Try to open up as much as possible and be genuinely interested in hearing him about where he’s coming from. Use reflective, empathetic listening. This may give him time to come to his own conclusions about what led him to be dishonest with you about such a major life event. After giving him this time to feel heard, lean on the “I” statements you need to use to let him know how you feel. Don’t feel like you need to make any major decisions yet. Just see how it goes.

As you say, it’s a complicated situation. And his sobriety for the past 8 months is no small thing. There is a lot to clean up, but there is a lot of progress to also appreciate. His continued efforts are significant. But that doesn’t negate how terrible it feels to be lied to about something like this. Annie Highwater’s recent post: On the Topic of Trust, is a treasure trove of insights about the process of healing from broken trust. She helps us see how this process really is like tending to a wound. It is worth reading and rereading.

This violation of your trust really disrupts your own boundaries, energies, and your thinking. Given your sister’s involvement and the added complexity that that brings, it may be well worth your while to reach out to a counselor in your area. You need time to tend to yourself in order to move through this. Give yourself permission to take time to process it. Worrying about this being a “never-ending nightmare” is valid… but it will almost certainly sap your energy if you stay with that fear. Write in your journal, honor your feelings, and find a way to come back to the present without that runaway thinking clouding your vision. Give yourself a break, and tend to your own needs however you are inspired to. Give yourself time to work on the healing you need.

Thank you for writing in. You have a support network here and we feel for you during this hard time. We are also so encouraged by the progress you have spoken of with the substance use. Please keep us posted as things unfold.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. I appreciate this post, and I’m going to follow the advice and readings myself. My LO has been sober for eight months with a couple of lapses. This month he is lying to me about his drinking and I am checking and questioning, feeling hopeless, anxious and sad… all the things I used to feel. But it’s in his court. I’m disappointed to lose the relationship we had, but other than that, for now, (and I guess forever) it’s not the end of the world. I have to just keep noticing that I’m not alone (it helps to read posts like this) and noticing that my feelings have more to do with the way things used to be for decades, when I was not respecting myself, and having constant unresolved anxiety, kind of like ptsd. “You need time to tend to yourself in order to move through this” are very good words for me to remember, instead of thinking “what should I do? I wish I hadn’t done such and such last week, and I must do something right away”. Thank you.

  2. I have lied in the past because it didn’t feel safe to tell the truth, or, because I felt so much shame that it created intense anxiety.
    I am slowly recovering from some PTSD experiences and with the support of others have been able to rewire the shame and fear.
    Not being judged makes a difference.