Q: My girlfriend of three years is starting to bother me. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, but we’ve always managed to talk things through whenever there’s been a disagreement. Except for one issue: She doesn’t trust me when I’m out and about with other people, specifically my friends. 

She worries that I’ll meet someone else and develop feelings for them, or that someone I know will make a negative comment about her, which could harm our relationship. It’s not that I don’t understand that these things are possibilities. Yet I’ve repeated myself time after time, explaining that I would never allow either scenario to happen. But it’s these what-ifs that have plagued her for the past couple of years, I’d guess. 

It reached a peak about a month ago when I went on a vacation with my brothers in the Caribbean. This was a fishing trip, one that she’d known about (and said she was okay with) for a year. I also explained that sometimes on the boat, I may not have cell reception and that when I got back to the hotel, I’d respond to her as soon as I could. But sure enough, I’d return to shore and my cell phone would be overloaded with messages, a lot of them accusing me of being unfaithful or disinterested in seeing her. 

What can I do if my partner doesn’t trust me? The relationship feels almost hopeless at this point.

A: If you haven’t done anything to make your partner suspicious, then the behavior you’ve described sounds like an example of someone with trust issues. As the person on the receiving end of their accusations, insecurity, and anger, it can be exhausting trying to convince someone that you aren’t going to hurt them, leave them, or lie to them. And although you may care deeply about resolving your partner’s emotional pain, it’s essential that you remember to look after yourself, too. 

Even long-term partners need time apart for themselves, and to care for the other important relationships in their lives. In romantic bonds, it’s not uncommon for us to focus intensely on our partner—but the other aspects of our support network can start to wither. Finding enough time to enjoy your hobbies, friendships, and self-care activities isn’t likely when you’re navigating around your partner’s irrational jealousy. 

Definitely not easy—but coping with trust issues, past trauma, or retroactive jealousy isn’t either. One of the factors that likely keeps you engaged in the relationship is the romantic feelings you share with your partner, and it helps you keep pushing through the big issue you’re both facing. That shared bond is what brought you together; it’s also what will keep you together. Her trust issues need to be addressed and prioritized before the relationship is unsalvagable. 

If you’re wondering what to do if your partner doesn’t trust you, you can both begin healing by: 

  • Having a candid conversation about whether or not you wish to continue the relationship: If her trust issues have you at the point of no return (and you know it), there’s no reason to pretend. In the long run, both of you will benefit from honesty and transparency. However, find the right time and appropriate setting for such a conversation, with ample time for you to both talk in-depth, and then be able to cool down afterward, if needed. 
  • Finding a couples therapist or behavioral counselor who can offer professional guidance: You mentioned that communication felt pointless, which according to couples therapists, can be a warning sign that the bond you share is in real trouble. You can begin working toward a better relationship with a provider’s assistance.
  • Establishing empathetic but firm boundaries for yourself when your partner becomes upset: If you’re out with friends or family, tell your partner that blowing your phone up with texts and missed calls (if it’s not an emergency) is unacceptable. And if they accuse you of unfaithful behavior or thoughts while you’ve been away, give them time to cool off, rather than arguing. Seeking mental health services for the rift in your relationship (or for the stress and anxiety it’s causing you) can also help create another boundary between you and your partner’s corrosive jealousy
  • And lastly, restructuring the time you spend together to allow you both to decompress: For couples that have been together for years, you might start to develop a routine that gets boring. Maybe those Monday night pizzas, Netflix binges, and synced gym schedules aren’t cutting it anymore. Physical and emotional intimacy are core aspects of a healthy relationship—exploring different ways to reignite the spark you share could also cut back on your partner’s jealousy and mistrust. 

Without proper guidance and treatment, the roots of trust issues may not be recognized or fully worked through. Take the time to talk with your partner about whether or not a couples therapist could be the next step toward a healthier, more satisfying relationship.