October 22, 2013

Adoptees and Trust Issues with Spouses and Significant Others

"I can't maintain a relationship, my trust issues are so severe..."

"I've been married three times, and am such a failure at it, with my trust issues...."

Photo Credit: Vagawi, Flickr
"I don't think I can trust anyone enough to marry them...I'm scared to death to make the commitment..."

"I can't get a relationship or keep one!"

I hear this from adoptees, all the time.

I recently met an adoptee who has been engaged for EIGHT YEARS so far. Eight years of engagement, because she is so afraid to fully trust, even though her fiance is, in her words, "amazing." 

And although I've been married for twenty six years, I completely understand.

The Doctor Visit

Three years ago it became necessary to change primary doctors. During the first visit with my new physician, I was presented with all the initial paperwork. Of course this entailed writing, “I don’t know…I’m adopted” on a lot of the forms. When it comes to my paternal side, I have no idea about anything so this leaves much of my medical history blank.

At this first visit, another form was also presented to me that would grant the right to the doctor or her staff permission to relay information concerning test results or diagnosis to my husband first  (or whoever I designated), if she called and I was unavailable. 

 I declined.

My husband readily signs such a form for himself, granting me full access to any information about him. He was extremely hurt that I did not do the same, and we had an argument about it.

I explained to him, my adoptee self simply couldn’t go there.

He didn’t understand, at all.  
Hadn't he been completely trustworthy…for 23 years of marriage, at that time? 

And yet I still couldn’t bring myself to sign the paper.


I reminded him about  something that happened when I was a young adult, in college. I came home for a few weeks on break and had my wisdom teeth removed.  I had expected this procedure to be a relatively easy one and the recovery just a day or two. It didn't go that way. One side of my mouth was in much greater pain, and bled a lot more. It put me out of commission for about a week and was rather bewildering as to why it was so excruciating. I mentioned it quite a few times to my adoptive mother, as I was struggling so much.  "Why is this one side hurting so very much more than the other?" I would ask.

Things did heal up within two weeks and I returned the surgeon for a scheduled follow up. After examining me they said, “Oh by the way, the pathology report came back fine…it was benign.” 

A total shock went through me and I practically screamed, “What are you talking about???” 

I was so upset about this surprise revelation, one of the staff ran to get my mother who was in the waiting room. Patting my arm in an effort to calm me down, they explained that when removing my wisdom teeth, they found a cyst.  It was not easily removed and they had to do much more work on the one side of my mouth. And, after removing it they sent the cyst to be tested at the lab. 

Suffice it to say, I had a minor okay a major freak out there in the chair. I was not worried. I knew nothing was wrong with me physically. I was just angry.  I was so mad I could have just burst out of the waiting room doors and ran  for miles and miles to nowhere.

They explained they didn’t mention anything to me about the cyst until the results came back…so I wouldn’t worry. They felt it was in my best interest.

Adoptees don't even need an explanation about my reaction.

Back to marital trust issues

Although my husband and I have no secrets, I wasn’t willing at that time to give him the opportunity to have a secret from me ABOUT ME, even for a second.  

I was angry that he wanted me to sign the paper.

When it came to my body, my life, my health - I felt like giving him information first was a scary prospect because by doing that I was empowering him with the opportunity to withhold information from me for a time, if he felt it was in my best interest. 

He wanted to know if I didn't sign the form because I planned on keeping information from him. I told him, of course not. That was the crux of the issue for me. In my idea of a perfect world, human beings wouldn't ever keep secrets even if they felt it was for a good reason. I wasn't trying to keep a secret from him...I was afraid of him keeping one from me or trying to make a decision for me, about my health or my body.  

Photo Credit: Alex_Ford, Flickr

Decisions Made in Our Best Interest
Like all or most adoptees, my life started with adults getting together and making decisions for me they thought were in my best interest.  

Some of those decisions hurt.  Now all of the paper trail concerning those decisions ABOUT ME are marked confidential and sealed. As an adult I don’t have the right to them, even though they are about ME. They sit at the Children's Home Society of Virginia, and the Henrico County Courthouse, sealed. This is because it has been determined in all but seven states that it's not in an adoptees best interest to have all of OUR personal information. I don't even have MY real birth certificate because it's been deemed best by a bunch of people that it's best I not have it.

Needless to say, trusting others who claim to have my best interest in mind is not an easy thing.   

Does Good-Husband-Behavior Count?

Never had my husband broken my trust in any way. 
And yet, three years ago I couldn’t bring myself to sign that paper. 

We sat in our living room and had a horrible argument about it.

"I have no problem signing the paper for you...why can't you sign it for me?" he said.

Evidently twenty three years of good husband behavior counted for nothing.

“You just don’t get it, babe…” I said over and over again. “If you were an adoptee, you’d understand.  I can't bear the thought of anyone including yourself having opportunity to withhold my personal information from me, even temporarily, if you deem it best."

"But I'm not going to withhold the information," he said. "I've always been true to you. I've never betrayed you."

"Well then, what are you worried about?" I said. "If you're not going to do it, you don't even need the chance to. Why do you need an opportunity to betray me if you're not ever going to betray me?" 

On and on it went, neither of us understanding the other.

Fast forward 3 years

Recently I came back from my leave of absence after my natural mother’s death, and began the Monday after my return with a complete physical.  With her passing away so young from cancer and other maternal family members affected as well, I was encouraged to let my doctor know and have any necessary tests to be pro-active with my health.

My primary doctor recently moved to a new office, and I was informed that all of the intake paperwork needed to be completed again – including the consent form that would grant permission to release information to my spouse or someone else of my choosing in the event that I couldn't be reached first.

This time, I didn’t even have to stop and think about it.

I promptly signed the form, dated it and gave it right back, agreeing that Larry could receive any information about me.

What changed?

I had just completed eight months of therapy.

Not only did therapy help me survive and thrive through the situation that occurred with my natural mother, but it  helped with countless other post-adoption issues, trust being one of them.

I didn't enter therapy with Melissa to fix marital issues, but a by-product of my time with her, was that my marriage was greatly impacted.

I came to realize, my husband has proven himself trustworthy over 26 years of time.
The problem wasn't him, it was me.
I’m the one who needed to grow in this area, and throughout our marriage I hadn’t moved forward in regard. I just expected him to understand my trust issues, and accommodate them.

Three years ago, signing the form would have felt like I was leaping off an emotional cliff into an abyss. Now I signed it, without a moment's hesitation. That, my friends, is what therapy will do for you. (The right kind of therapy, with a licensed therapist who has an understanding of complex trauma, post adoption issues and complicated grief.)

The Agreement

I signed the paper without fear, but not without us both coming to an important understanding.  Larry and I agree that by giving one another opportunity to know information before the other doesn't mean we have a right to keep it from each other, even for a day. 
Signing the paper just means that if one of us can't be reached immediately, they can receive the information but it is incumbent upon the other to share it at the earliest possible opportunity.  

I'm not the only one who has changed. My husband has  come to understand the reasons for my struggle. He now has a greater understanding that I had no control over decisions made for me that have affected my entire life. He gets why it’s really important to me to make whatever current, and end-of-life decisions that I can, for myself. 

Some decisions are out of our control – left only to God. Many things don’t  go the way we envision. But there are some things all of us can do such as taking charge of our health or making a living will, to make a plan for ourselves as far as it depends on us. We can be good stewards of ourselves.  Doing things like this are important to me as it gives me a sense of choice regarding my own self.

Ways We've Both Grown

I no longer have to punish the people who love me, because of my history.

I can trust people who are worthy of being trusted. 

In turn, my  husband has grown in understanding why any of this was a struggle for me in the first place. 

None of this has happened overnight, in our relationship.

But it has happened.

And I believe this is important for adoptees to hear.

Photo Credit: Pol Sifter, Flickr

There is help!

Hopefully it won’t take other couples twenty six years to have a significant improvement on this, like it did with us.  We've taken the long road but finally...here we are.

I can honestly say I trust my husband, completely.

A relationship of trust IS possible for you, too.

Delve in to do the hard work  on yourself that is necessary to move forward.
Get therapy if you need it.

You don't have to stay engaged for eight years.
You don't have to be divorced three times.
You don't have to live in fear of trusting someone who loves you.

Please, get help sooner rather than later.

It's worth it.