3 min

Can I trust my charming boyfriend?

Dear Dr Ren,

I don’t know if I have a problem, but after reading your columns, I think you may be able to help me sort this out.

My boyfriend is a high roller with a financial institution. I’m a social worker. He’s handled our money throughout our eight-year relationship, including my investments. Now he’s being investigated by his firm. He’s not telling me much and he’s always been good at spin, so I’m not sure how much trouble he’s in. He tells me he’s done nothing illegal and my investments are secure.

The problem is that this follows on the heels of a seemingly unrelated incident, also involving ethics. “Charles” and I have an open relationship, with a “full disclosure/everyone in agreement” contract. Last year he hooked up with someone I vetoed, and I later found out he continued to see him behind my back. There was a blowout, some therapy, and all returned to normal.

Now this.

We are not foolish youth and, although I have always known our politics did not perfectly mesh, I believed we shared core ethical values. I feel sucker punched.

I have always admired Charles’s courage and charm. Now I don’t trust it. How can I tell who will be protected at all costs and who is really just another mark?

Am I abandoning my lover when he’s down? After all, he hasn’t been found guilty of anything yet. Is this my own stuff?

Help, please.

Burn Shy

Dear Burn Shy,

Eight years ago, you were bedazzled by Charles’s “courage and charm” and now you are suspicious of those very attributes. This is typical when we find in a mate those qualities we lack in ourselves. The quiet helper and the assertive businessman are drawn together because they complement each other. It makes sense.

What can be missing, however, is a mutuality of purpose and understanding, which you note you knew even from the beginning.

Practically, the first thing you might want to do is secure your investments elsewhere. Listen carefully to Charles’s thoughts on this. Is he more concerned about how moving your funds may reflect on his position in his firm or in finding safe harbour for your money? You may wish to get independent advice on this.

Secondly, let’s look at your responsibility in this situation. Have you been abdicating your own power? Do you stand up for what you want? Do you state your views clearly? You cannot blame Charles for driving the bus if you always sit in the back.

I’m intrigued by how little you say about the broken contract incident of last year. Though I’m glad therapy was part of your resolution, you do not mention what, if any, changes were made. Did Charles realize his ethical breach or did he simply apologize and promise to “behave” in future?

You see a correlation between the relational disillusionment of last year and the professional investigation of today. Does Charles? Have you discussed this with him?

It is never easy questioning someone’s integrity. Expecting Charles to own low ethical standards is pointless. Attacking him will only make him angry and defensive, hardly your goal.

What you want to learn is whether you two are on the same page in terms of core values. You want to know if this man whom you have trusted is worthy of that honour. You want to know if you are safe.

Surely it is difficult to hear that one’s long-time lover is under investigation — for anything. Charles seems to be less than forthcoming about the details. This may be generated by guilt, shame or ignorance. I don’t know, and neither do you. It is fair to give him a chance to explain himself.

Let me remind you that you two have been together for eight years, long past the getting-to-know-you stage. If there were fundamental ethical differences between you, you would have seen indicators of them prior to this. Are you really sucker punched? Or are you troubled because you have experienced but ignored small signals in the past? Are you afraid to disregard this red flag now?

The answer will lie in small indicators. Does he treat the dry cleaner with the same respect as the big investor? Does he stop by the store to pick up groceries for your elderly neighbour? Does he remember his employees’ birthdays?

Our whole continent has been shocked to learn that our trusted systems have been operated by wizards behind curtains who did not have our best interests at heart. Disillusion has reigned. Maybe Charles is one of the bad guys.

But maybe not. An eight-year relationship is a lot to gamble without making sure. Relationship solidity ebbs and flows. Maybe some more therapy would help you better evaluate what’s happening.

Wait. Discuss. Listen with your heart, but keep your brain engaged as well. Make no definitive moves until you know they are the right ones. Then trust the moves you make.