Just as long-distance relationships come with unique rewards, they also come with their own challenges — like coordinating costly trips back and forth, playing phone tag due to busy schedules, and obvi, missing each other like whoa. Not to mention, seeing each other less frequently can be challenging if you don’t feel totally secure in your relationship. If you’re wondering how to trust your long-distance partner when you're worried about cheating, fret not — there are plenty of ways to boost your confidence in your bond, and thus put a serious damper on your nerves.
According to experts, it's well worth the effort to build trust in your long-distance partner. No healthy relationship can exist without it. "The ability to trust is the cornerstone of any relationship, near or far,” says Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent relationship therapist in Los Angeles. “Trust is what allows us to feel safe enough that we can be our true authentic selves with our partner, and that they can and want to be open and transparent with us. Without trust, any feelings of love and belonging will ultimately deteriorate over time."
When you and your partner live in the same city, you have a bigger physical presence in each other’s lives, which can help to keep any worries about their faithfulness at bay. But put hundreds of miles between you two and your imagination can be left running wild about what they’re up to. An unanswered text or call can trigger all kinds of distressing assumptions, especially if you already had existing trust issues going into this relationship.
While it may feel a tad uncomfortable to tell your SO that you’re worried they’ll cheat, experts agree that this level of openness is essential to building trust with your long-distance partner. As Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking, points out, fears and insecurities are common in LDRs, and simply being transparent about these feelings can help to erode the shame around them and offer instant reassurance. If your partners knows that cheating is an ongoing concern you’re struggling with, they’re in a better position to try to minimize those concerns.
Once you’ve acknowledged that you’re worried about cheating, you can begin the work of strengthening your trust. According to Dr. Brown, it's best to kick off this conversation in person. “The opportunity to confirm our trust occurs more easily when we can actually be in the presence of our partner because it is so much easier to read their body language and tone of voice, and determine if their facial expressions seem consistent with what they are saying,” he explains.
So, the next time you have a reunion planned, make it a point to explore your trust through a series of discussions. First, it’s a good idea to delve into what fidelity means to both of you. Two individuals can have very different ideas of what constitutes cheating, and making sure you’re on the same page is essential to avoiding any hurtful misunderstandings. (Do you draw the line at flirty banter with a friend? Sleeping in someone else's bed? Be specific about what worries you and what you're OK with!)
Additionally, Trombetti suggests talking about your expectations for how frequently you'll communicate throughout the day or week. She says that when you make a commitment to touch base, following through (or communicating clearly with your SO when you need to reschedule) is crucial to building trust.
Dr. Brown notes that there are also certain boundaries you may want to set for those periods when you’re apart. For example, you might agree that checking in on a daily basis will make you feel more secure, or that you’ll give each other a heads up if you’re going to be unreachable at work or an event. Ultimately, you have to find what works for you and your SO based on your own unique schedules and needs, but Trombetti emphasizes that having a sense of structure to your communication can offer some much-needed reassurance about your shared commitment to the relationship.
It's also worth considering if your partner has ever given you any reason not to trust them. Do they call when they say they’re going to, or have they started flaking out recently? Have they remained forthcoming about their feelings, or do you get the sense that they’re hiding something from you? Have there been increasingly longer delays in their responses to your texts? According to Dr. Brown, it’s helpful to identify these signs not only to sleuth out whether or not your partner is faithful, but also because these answers can offer valuable insight into why you’re feeling uneasy.
Once you’ve figured out what’s contributing to your trust issues, you can bring those observations up to your SO in a curious, non-accusatory way. That means saying something along the lines of, “I’ve noticed [X] lately and it’s making me feel [Y]. Is there any reason that’s been happening?”
If you can’t find any signs of shady behavior from your partner, then you may be struggling with trust issues that have nothing to do with them specifically or the nature of your relationship. Dr. Brown notes that those issues could be lingering from a past betrayal, or they could be triggered by anxiety in general.
“Should your feelings of distrust continue, you may benefit from seeking counseling to help you navigate these feelings and thoughts,” he adds.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is aimed at eroding destructive thought patterns and replacing them with healthier ones, can be particularly helpful under these circumstances. Working with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in CBT is the best way to reap the benefits of this approach. The more you practice CBT, the more you’ll train your brain to avoid anxiety-inducing assumptions ("My partner hasn't called me back because they're cheating on me") and to choose a positive alternative instead ("My partner is waiting until they have enough time to catch up, because they want to have a meaningful conversation").
While there are many things that you and your long-distance partner can work on together to establish trust, Trombetti adds that focusing on your independence by doing the things that you love and learning more about yourself is another key component of this process. "It will keep you from ruminating about the relationship," she explains.
All relationships depend on mutual trust to flourish, but that goes double when you have a long-distance love. Remember: clearly communicating your boundaries, expectations, and concerns and strengthening your sense of independence are the best ways to minimize your fears around cheating. Trusting your long-distance partner with your heart may feel like a risk, but as they say — no risk, no reward. In this case, the reward is feeling closer than ever to your SO.
Dr. Gary Brown, couples therapist
Susan Trombetti, matchmaker