Disclaimer: I am not licensed or certified in psychology or any related field. I am a trauma survivor who’s studied the topic on my own on my path to recovery and am sharing what I learned in the hope it helps others.
In the book, “I Love You But I Don’t Trust You” by Mira Kirshenbaum, the author introduces what she calls the “do-you-care test” as a way of determining whether or not your partner actually cares about you.
Mira says, “Of course caring is easy when it doesn’t really require anything. Every animal shelter has cages full of puppies and kittens who were given up because someone cared; they just didn’t care enough.
They wanted a cute little pet, but real animals poop and puke and require time and attention. Not being able to give the animal what it needs is a sign that the person didn’t really care. Not enough, anyway.
And it works the same way when there’s been a betrayal. All hell breaks loose because the person who’s been betrayed is just a quivering mass of safety needs. This is not a fun person to be with. This is most of us at our absolute worst—quite understandable, of course—and the yelling and storming around and making demands can go on for quite awhile.
But if the person who betrayed you can hang in there while you’re furious, he’s passed the do-you-care test. Think about it. You’ve been incredibly difficult—for weeks! Months! And yet he hasn’t walked out. That’s what we look for: this sign of his commitment to you, to the relationship, and to the healing process. If the betrayer can hang in there, you know that there’s a foundation of caring that can give you solid trust. You’ve gotten the answer to your question: He really does care. And if he doesn’t hang in there, you’ve still gotten an answer to your question. He doesn’t care. That’s sad news, but it’s not a surprise, and at least you now know. He really doesn’t care, so you’re really free to move on.
By using a long period of anger as a way of discovering whether the other person cares about us or not, we’re really putting the other person through a kind of trial by ordeal. Anyone can understand this. You put me through hell so if you’re not willing to go through hell yourself, you don’t really care about me.
I’m not saying we do this in a deliberate, manipulative way, (Though some of us do!) Mostly this just happens. We’re just angry. Our anger is not part of a plan, it’s just a response to our pain. But it does have the effect of setting up a situation so that we get a really good answer we can trust to the question ‘Do you care about me?’” [Source: “I Love You But I Don’t Trust You”]
How It Works
As Mira stated, most people don’t participate in the do-you-care test on purpose. It’s just the way we, as humans, naturally respond to betrayal.
When someone lies to us, hides things from us, steals from us, or otherwise damages our trust in them in some way, it’s only natural that we respond by getting angry.
The Grilling/Venting Process
The person who was betrayed will go through a grilling/venting process as they work through what they’re feeling.
During this time, the betrayed person will grill the betrayer with one question after another, demanding explanations for what they did. Unfortunately, no matter what the betrayer says, the betrayed party just gets more upset and furious.
This process will feel like torture for the betrayer, but the betrayed party is only trying to make sense of what happened and why. They need to understand what went wrong to ensure it never happens to them again.
Not only that, but the betrayed party often complains a lot because the betrayer made them feel like they didn’t matter and were unimportant. Complaining is the betrayed party’s way of being heard and saying they won’t be made to feel worthless again.
If the betrayer can hang in there throughout this grilling/venting process, it shows the betrayed party that they really do care, which goes a long way to re-establishing trust between them again.
The Anger Timeline: How Much Is Too Much?
In Mira’s book, she provides a timeline to help you determine when enough is enough and you’ve gone too far with the anger. Taking it too far will only destroy your relationship for good in the long run.
Here’s the timeline that Mira provides:
“By the end of the first month
There’s still much unlimited anger here. But there should also be two other things. Just occasionally, there should be a tiny bit of cooling off. Your anger shouldn’t be white-hot the entire month. And your anger shouldn’t be so intense that you’re doing crazy things to hurt yourself or the other person.
By the end of the first three months
You should be at the point where you can have a sane, productive conversation with the other person for the purpose of accomplishing some joint goal. You should be able, for example, do something like make a meal together, take the kids to the park, have friends over, or pay bills together without a fight and without it feeling like a tense ordeal. You may still be feeling that you’re under a cloud of anger, but it doesn’t affect or infect everything.
By the end of the first six months
You may still be aware that anger is an issue in your relationship. You may very well still have flashes of anger. Sometimes they will come out of nowhere. There may be a lingering feeling of walking on eggshells. But anger should no longer be your usual operating mode. It should feel as though you’re not angry more often than you are happy.
By the end of the first year
There may still be occasional flashes of anger, especially when something re-stimulates your feelings around the betrayal. But generally speaking, you’d have to say that you’re no longer angry. As far as the relationship is concerned, although you still don’t completely feel that trust has been restored, you do feel that you’re on the way.
By the end of the first two years
Anger is mostly gone, trust has been restored (at least you can act as if you trust each other), and your relationship is as good as if not better than it was before the betrayal without getting angry and upset.
I have to say that in my experience, the timetable I’ve outlined has more anger going on for longer than is healthy. You need to know that. But it’s still ok. It’s within the normal range. But if you go beyond this timetable, then the anger is really unhealthy.”
Tips For Displaying Constructive Anger
Anger in itself isn’t unhealthy. It’s how we express the anger that can make it so. Speaking loudly and displaying anger with your body language isn’t unhealthy as long as you aren’t hurting yourself or destroying objects or property.
Unhealthy displays of anger involve:
- Belittling/demeaning Language
- Demands and Orders
- Invasion of Privacy
For example, an unhealthy display of anger sounds like:
“I can’t believe how stupid you are! Why would you have ever trusted your brother to pay you back a loan for $10,000 when he’s never paid you back for a single penny you’ve loaned him your entire life??!!” What were you thinking??”
Let’s healthily rephrase this:
“[insert pet name/nickname here] I love you and I understand how much you love and care about your brother, and how much you wanted to help him, but can you honestly say you realistically expect him to pay that money back as he promised? He does have a history of not being reliable in that department. I’m concerned that we won’t ever get that money back and I’m hurt and upset that you did it without talking to me first. You need to understand how serious this is because this isn’t something I would like to see repeated in the future.”
Do you see how the healthy way still allows the betrayed party to display their anger while showing empathy and compassion to their partner? This allows for constructive conversation that leads to repairing the damage the betrayal caused to the relationship.
For more detailed information and scenarios on how trust is broken and restored in relationships, purchase Mira’s book on Amazon now.
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