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We have been married for 15 years without big issues, but lately things have started to change. I'm not good with interpersonal relationships (sometimes too cold. I'm aware that I lack empathy), while my wife is the opposite, she is very emotional and super empathetic (something I like from her).

I think this problem started after her grandfather died two years ago (she was very attached to him). My wife entered a period of depression that lasted for several months. I tried to support her as I understood it was hard for her. But on one occasion she told me that she was depressed and I did not support her, I did nothing (I think because she was also affecting me). I really don't know for sure why I didn't help her that time. I still regret it. If I could go back in time, I would change it. We had several discussions about it and little by little things improved for a while.

A few months passed and we went to dinner with some friends who introduced us to another couple, let's call them Alice and Bob.

Some time after that, I was with my wife, when Alice called me on the phone (she was crying) because she was in another country and had fought with Bob and wanted to know if he was okay (because he wouldn't return her calls or texts). She asked me if I could text him to see if he was okay, so I did (he was fine). Then she told me about the problems she had with Bob and asked for my advice about it. I thought to send her some links that could be useful for her situation. My wife did not want me to help her.

At first I thought that my wife was jealous, because I thought that there was no reason not to help her (I was not planning to meet with Alice in any way, or even talk to her on the phone, I was just going to send her those links, that was all). Later my wife spoke to another friend who knew Alice and asked her about her. Apparently Alice is a conflicting woman. So I followed my wife's advice and no longer helped her. However, what hurt my wife the most is my intention to help Alice and that when she felt bad, I did not help her (this has been the main cause of some recent problems). She told me she won't trust on me again because of that.

I recognized that trying to help Alice was wrong, so I have apologized about it several times. We talked about it many times and I thought that the doubts had been clarified and that we were fine.

Later last year, there was a tragedy in my wife's family and since then my wife has had a lot of stress, depression, among other things. She has been in therapy and has been improving, this time I have tried to be as supportive as possible.

2 weeks ago, I saw a friend of mine who I had not seen for more than a year (because of Covid). My wife is not totally fond of him because he just doesn't know what he wants in his life (a little bit of a messy life recently). He told me that he felt very lonely lately as he no longer sees anyone and partially because of his reckless behavior. He asked me if my wife knew of someone who could introduce to him just to chat (not romantic), as my wife has many friends. I told him I would ask her, so I did.

My wife got upset for the same reason as before: because I wanted to help him, but when she asked me for help, I didn't help her, so she brought back Alice's issue. After that, we talked again and things improved until yesterday.

Since the Alice issue, these are some of the things I have tried to improve her trust:

  • Tried to make her feel better by planning romantic dinners, taking her breakfast in bed, tried to be better at listening and other small details.
  • We read a book about empathy and how to improve it (I haven't had too many situations to practice it). (Book by Karla McLaren)
  • I have read some articles here and there about rebuilding trust (although many of the articles focuses mainly in rebuilding trust after cheating), still I have tried to apply some of their recommendations (for a short period of time).
  • I read an article about what one should never do with a woman that is not your wife, which made me understand what I did wrong.

Question

How can I improve her trust? (references welcome)

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  • Has she said what you need to do to fix your relationship and be better off?
    – Nepene Nep
    Jun 22 at 17:07
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Trust is easy to give once, but once it breaks, it takes a long time to fix. You can't fix it with a few neat gestures. You need to acknowledge that what you did was wrong, show them respect and wait a long time.

One key first step though, is listening. I read everything you wrote, and I don't actually know what your wife thinks about things.

What did she feel you should have done that you didn't do when she was depressed? Why did she feel you didn't love her?

There's a lot of possible answers, but the key thing is you need to be able to communicate and understand her.

Active listening is a key skill which is "crucial for effective communication in relationships.". To do that you need the three As, attention, attitude and adjustment.

You need to give her your full attention, go in with a positive attitude to listen, and be ready to adjust to the situation.

So, go to her, tell her you want to be more friendly with her, and ask her how she wants you to support her, and find out what she thinks. Listen to her, nod and be attentive, don't interrupt or disagree, and in the breaks see if you can summarize what she said so you can put it in your own words.

Here are some common threads to look out for from my personal experience with relationships and this list of common relationship problems.

  • She wants you to listen without trying to give solutions. Often complex emotional problems don't have easy solutions, but people suggest fixes. If she wants this, you can research how to listen better- see the communication item of the list.
  • She feels overworked from work or home life, and is stressed at handling that and depression. You can evaluate if you can get more freetime somehow to relive her stress (see money).
  • She wants you to praise her and mock her enemies and say nice things like that you love her more. If so, you can praise her and say you love her lots and commiserate about assholes together (see appreciation).
  • She has some issue like you being overly close with random women which makes her distrust you. You can avoid being overly close with random women (see infidelity).
  • You lack shared hobbies, and she doesn't feel close to you (see growing apart)
  • You have toxic arguments which are making her unhappy (see arguments).
  • She wants greater physical intimacy and romance, and feels you're not interested enough in her to offer cuddles and such. You can cuddle more with her (see sex).
  • She has some sort of trauma which is making it tricky for her to focus on you and is making her behave erratically (see trauma).
  • She has unreasonable and impossible demands that you can't achieve like fixing her heart quickly with the power of love, or being much richer. If this, you can tell her she's wrong and silly.

There's lots of possibilities of what you can do to regain trust. Step 1 is asking your partner. Unless you find out the source of an issue, it's hard to solve it.

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Here is a pattern I see.

  • your wife needed help when her grandfather died, and you didn't help (enough), partly because you feel you're not good at it.
  • Alice needed help finding Bob, and you helped, and your wife was upset by this. You aren't sure if she was jealous, or if she was thinking that this shows you are good at helping when you choose to yet chose not to for her.
  • your wife needed help again more recently, and you're trying, but apparently still not helping enough.
  • your friend needed help making friends, and you helped, and again your wife was upset that you did so.

You don't seem to notice two important things. I have been in your shoes and your wife's shoes, so I can see them.

First, the help your wife needs is nebulous and vague, and ongoing. You really can't say "ok I am done helping her grieve now". But texting someone to see where they are or asking someone for a friend's name or introduction is a single-time crisply defined help that was precisely asked for. It is a much easier kind of help than what your wife needs.

Second, you are trying to get better at helping and not being "cold" when someone has a problem. You are practicing with these simpler and easier tasks. When your wife constantly says "but you didn't help me 6 months ago!" she is (presumably inadvertently) putting you back into your "not a good helper" box. You are trying to grow past that. You're trying to help more, and to be thanked for helping, and to transform yourself somewhat. (This means that your earlier apologies for helping Alice and your other friend were probably misguided.)

My advice to you is to "look where you want to go" - focus on the continued growth you are trying to achieve. You want to be more helpful to your wife. If she gives you very crisp and specific requests (can you handle X this week to get some load off me, can you plan some Y for me so that I can relax on the weekend there) by all means do those things. And continue to learn how vaguer requests for support, help, understanding and consideration can be met. Keep growing. Encourage her to ask you for specific things when she thinks of them, while understanding that many people feel if they have to ask, it doesn't count, and that thinking of these things for her is part of the work she wants you to do. Learn how to ask "would it be helpful if I ...?" or "would you like me to ...?" more often.

Put the work in, help her as you can, and don't hold back on helping others when you get the chance. If she objects to that, tell her you are exercising your helping muscles. You are trying to strengthen yourself so that you can help her more. You are learning how to spot help requests more effectively, and experiencing what it is like to successfully help someone who needs you. This will make you better at helping her, which you want to do. (I mean, don't take on enormous projects that make you unavailable to her. But in general, practice being a more helpful person. Like exercising.)

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