When you start dating someone, it's inevitable that some of their past experiences may impact how your relationship develops — especially if they're still nursing old wounds. Case in point: if you're dating someone who's been cheated on, then you might notice that they struggle with trust issues or be prone to jealousy. Fortunately, there are ways in which you can support your partner and strengthen your connection.
First of all, it's important to note that it's totally normal if your SO is still overcoming some lingering fears that stem from a past dating experience. If they were blindsided by a breakup, for example, then they may be skittish about making a serious commitment.
"Everyone has baggage from past relationships," says Melissa Divaris Thompson, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with young couples. "So, when entering into a new relationship, there will always be something to work on."
According to Thompson, your number one priority in this relationship should be building trust. You can't erase your partner's painful experiences with cheating from the past, nor can you force them to move on from them — only they can do that, and on their own timeline. However, you can be sensitive to their fears, insecurities, and needs in such a way that bolsters their trust in you and helps them on their journey to healing.
So, if your current SO was cheated on in the past, here are some things you'll want to keep in mind.
Actions speak louder than words. Telling your partner they can depend on you is one thing, but showing them can mean so much more in terms of establishing some trust in your relationship. That's why experts say it's worth always making an effort to keep your word.
"When you say you're going to do something, follow through," says Thompson.
Sure, there may be times when you need to cancel or reschedule plans — and that's OK. But a simple heads up with an honest explanation will go a long way in alleviating any of your partner's potential worries. If you leave them wondering why you didn't text, call, or show up when they expected you to, their imagination may very well run wild, causing them to assume the worst.
Create a safe space for their emotions.
According to Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear, being evasive or avoidant when your partner wants to share their concerns with you may only exacerbate their anxiety in your relationship. That's why Thompson advises ensuring that you've established a safe space, and your SO feels comfortable bringing up any concerns that may pop up in your relationship.
"When your partner brings up challenges or issues, it is important not to shut them down," she tells Elite Daily. "It’s important that your partner be able to talk to you about anything."
If you know your partner has been cheated on, it may actually be worth opening up a dialogue about their experience in order to better understand where they're coming from. It may be painful to talk about, and if they're not ready, it's crucial to respect their decision and give them the time and space they need before opening up. That said, Dr. Laurel Steinberg, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert, notes that this convo could give you an excellent opportunity to demonstrate empathy and validate their emotions.
"It's a good idea to talk about how sorry you are that they experienced that and how much you look down on that type of behavior," she adds.
Additionally, whenever necessary, Thompson says you can remind them gently that you are not the same person as their ex, and that you are completely committed to them.
"Let them into your world as much as you feel like you can or want to," she adds. "Introduce them to people in your life and check in with them often. Talk about your day and be open when they have questions. This will all help build trust and safety within the relationship which will serve your relationship forever."
You can learn to reduce suspicion without taking it on.
Depending on how much self-healing work they've done, there may be times when your partner's past experiences cause them to behave suspiciously. For example, maybe they become upset if you don't text back in a timely manner, or they seem anxious on occasions when you're out late with coworkers or friends and they're not present. Although you may feel compassion for them, it's imperative to recognize that their experience with cheating doesn't make possessive or controlling behavior acceptable. Still, you can definitely prevent as well as de-escalate any potentially triggering scenarios by being as transparent and communicative as possible.
"Remind yourself that this is likely due to their previous relationship and they are just feeling insecure," explains Thompson. "It's OK to take your time in texting back or hanging out with other people. Invite them when you can and introduce them to your friends and family if that feels right. This will alleviate some of the suspicion."
While you'll definitely want to show compassion for a partner who has experienced betrayal, Dr. Manly notes that strong boundaries are key as well. If you notice suspicious behavior, she suggest saying something along the lines of, “I understand that you get concerned when I am out and don’t get back to you quickly, but it’s important that you learn to trust me — and I know that might take time. Let’s keep moving forward."
Steinberg adds that if you still can't seem to convince your partner that you are trustworthy, and their jealousy continues to make you feel unsafe or constrained in your relationship, then that's probably a red flag that they have some work to do on overcoming their trust issues before they can be in a healthy, happy relationship.
While jealousy might be uncomfortable, Dr. Manly emphasizes that it's a natural human reaction, and there's nothing inherently "bad" about it. What ultimately matters is what you do with that jealousy and how you deal with it.
"If jealous feelings arise, it’s important to talk about the feelings in an open, non-judgmental way," she tells Elite Daily. "By building emotional awareness and communication abilities, such dialogues can build both trust and self-esteem."
According to Dr. Manly, being an emotionally aware partner means being able to validate your partner's feelings (by saying something like, "I understand it triggers some jealousy when [XYZ]") and also offer them reassurance without compromising your boundaries.
It's important to respect their need to take things slow.
It's understandable if your SO isn't ready to dive right into a serious commitment right off the bat — after all, a previous partner broke their trust. Additionally, as Steinberg points out, they may want to take some time to get to know the person before they become too invested (and more likely to get hurt).
So, try not to put any pressure on them. Of course, your needs are just as valid, so if you're eager to define the relationship, it's important to be honest with yourself about whether you can feel fulfilled in this partnership based on what they're at. All in all, though, keep in mind that patience is a virtue.
"Trust and respect are built over time and cannot be rushed," explains Thompson. "It is important to be patient and reaffirming and reassuring with your partner if they want to take their time. Share with them your resolve to wait while also working on other elements of building trust, such as honesty and transparency."
Dr. Manly adds that by sharing your needs and expectations with each other (and regularly checking in) you can make sure you're both feeling equally fulfilled.
"Otherwise," she says, "the relationship may get 'stuck' due to the effects of the past betrayal."
Knowing their triggers can be helpful.
Dr. Steinberg explains that depending on how traumatic their experience of the betrayal was, your partner may still be coping with certain triggers that bring back a flood of negative emotions. For example, if a certain song was playing when they walked in on their ex cheating, then hearing that song may cause them to feel panicked. Or if they frequented a certain place with their ex, they may want to avoid that location. If they discovered their former partner was cheating on them via social media, they may be extra sensitive about your Instagram habits.
"Even certain sexual behaviors may be associated with that person, so be ready to be OK accepting redirection (and don't ask too many questions)," adds Dr. Steinberg.
The point is, knowing what your partner's triggers are can be super helpful. This obviously depends on them being open with you about their experience, but the more you know, the more accommodating you can be.
The important thing to keep in mind is that it is not your responsibility to make up for your partner's past experience — it's up to them to do the necessary healing for moving forward from the betrayal. However, you can definitely make a concerted effort to establish a strong foundation of trust.
"When a new partner is consistently kind, transparent, and honest, a strong, loving, respect-filled connection can build over time," says Dr. Manly. "This genuine connection — and the deep realization that 'not all partners cheat' — can serve to overcome trust issues and fears."
What's more beautiful than restoring someone's faith in love and commitment? Gaining a partner's trust after it's been broken may always be easy at times — but hopefully, your efforts will be well worth it once you've helped them to re-open their heart.
Melissa Divaris Thompson, licensed marriage and family therapist
Dr. Laurel Steinberg, licensed psychotherapist
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist