Don't fool yourself into thinking that you can repair broken trust with a quick statement of forgiveness and a warm embrace.
Building Trust (even when it feels impossible)
Relationships flourish when partners trust each other to be honest, faithful, respectful, kind, consistent and open to resolving conflict (among many other things).
Relationships flounder when trust is broken, which, unfortunately, is all too common. Most of us are aware of the obvious trust-breaking situations, such as discovering that your partner has had an affair or has lied about something important.
That said, trust can be broken in far subtler, but nonetheless damaging, ways.
- What if your partner consistently says he or she will do something and never delivers on the promise?
- What if you are not informed of partners activities (social, work or finances)?
- What if your partner is emotionally unavailable to you during a trying time?
These situations may not destroy trust, but they can certainly threaten it.
Depending on the situation, trust can be rebuilt. But the process of building (and rebuilding) trust doesn't just happen. It takes significant inner work on the part of both partners.
Rebuilding Inner Trust
In order to build a stable foundation of trust with another person, your top priority is to firstly become trusting of yourself and your feelings — that whispering inner voice that tries to alert you when something feels out-of-line with your needs.
If you can recall a time that trust was broken in your relationship, think back on what happened leading up to the betrayal.
- Did your inner voice whisper something to you which you ignored?
Many times I have seen clients who felt betrayed but decided to ignore their instincts, brushing the issue under the rug. I've had multiple clients specifically tell me that they were aware of a financial betrayal in their relationship, but that their partners overcompensated by acting extra-charming.
Often, the disloyal person in the dynamic will anticipate trying to "make up" for his or her behaviour, as it makes it more difficult for the other person to really see it and deal with the conflict.
Other clients who have faced sexual infidelity in their relationship have expressed regret about having been in denial, saying things like, "I could feel the change when she started her affair, but I didn't want to believe it ... so I didn't."
Regardless of the situation, there is one commonality among my clients who have had to deal with broken trust in their relationship:
- They did not sufficiently trust their own instincts and ended up sublimating their needs.
Before you can commence to trust your partner again,
- The first need is to trust yourself — your inner knowledge of what's right and wrong for you. We have all been graced with two sources of knowing — our feelings and the wisdom that pops into our mind from our higher guidance. When you learn to trust your feelings about your partner and learn to trust the wisdom that is always here for you, then you become truly trustworthy of yourself. This means that you stop ignoring that inner whisper and start listening to what you know in your heart and soul.
- Only then will you be able to discern what is true and what isn't about your partner and the relationship. With self-trust, you will be able to feel — and believe — when he or she is lying or trying to take advantage of you in a way that erodes trust.
Rebuilding Relationship Trust
When trust has been broken in your relationship, both partners need to apply real therapeutic attention to the relationship to rebuild it. There is a two-sided mutual dynamic at play, and the reasons behind the betrayal need to be addressed and healed collaboratively.
Both partners need to learn to love (and trust) themselves enough to be able to approach the relationship from individual places of self-respect and personal integrity.
When you make a commitment to treat yourself with love and compassion and genuinely trust your needs, you will not harm yourself or your partner by lying or cheating. You will listen properly to yourself so you can welcome open and honest communication into the relationship with open arms.
Trust is the foundation of a healthy, secure relationship. But in a committed relationship or marriage, that trust may be broken by the actions of a partner, whether through dishonesty, betrayal, unfaithfulness, negligence, or erratic behaviour. Unlike forgiveness, trust is not simply a choice.
Trust is a feeling of safety and security in the relationship. It is a belief that the other values the relationship and is committed to making it a priority. Once trust has been damaged, it is not always easily restored. But it is not impossible to restore.
We often confuse what is difficult with what is impossible. With intentional consistency, commitment, and connection, trust can be rebuilt. It will require more than verbal reassurances. It requires bold, consistent changes in behaviour. If you have damaged your partner’s trust and you are determined to work toward re-establishing a trusting relationship, the following trust-building activities can get you started.
1. Give a sincere thorough apology.
Your apology should be sincere from your heart and include specifically what you did wrong, how it affected your partner, your remorse, how you will make amends, and a commitment not to repeat the offense. Your apology may need to be restated as the effects of your offense continue to arise.
2. Allow your partner to freely express how he has been hurt by your offense without defence or excuses.
Show empathy and understanding, demonstrating that it is safe to talk to you about his feelings.
3. Ask what specific behaviour changes your partner needs from you.
This may include increased accountability throughout the day, limited use of the internet or social media, access to email or texts, cutting off relationships, financial accountability, more date nights or time together, more verbal or physical affection, increased openness about your feelings or desires, professional counselling, etc. It may be helpful for you and your partner to make a list or chart of trust-building behaviours and mark it on a regular basis.
4. Recognize the value of honesty.
White lies, partial truths, and lies of omission will cause further damage. Forthrightness (being honest and direct before being asked) is necessary. Be gentle with your honesty but be completely transparent. The more open you are, the less doubt your partner will have.
5. Be open to answer your partner’s questions.
When you are defensive or holding back, your partner’s insecurities will increase and they may assume guilt. Provide reassurances, alleviate worries, and tell the whole truth.
6. Stop behaviours that break trust.
Do not continue the behaviours that broke trust in the first place, and always be mindful if your actions will build or break down trust. Show your partner that you value her by making intentional decisions with her in mind, big or small.
7. Seek connection. Intimacy and connection are an important part of rebuilding trust.
Look into your partner’s eyes, hold hands, say “I love you.” Ask your partner what makes him feel loved, safe, and cared for, and do those things consistently.
8. Consistently follow through on the details.
If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you say you’re going to be somewhere, be there. Understand your responsibilities and do them on time every time.
9. Be trustworthy with others.
Your partner will see if you maintain integrity with others in your life and will see that as an indicator of whether it is safe for them to trust you.
10. Be patient with your partner’s insecurities.
Recognize that they will likely have her guard up with you for a while as they determine if you are safe enough to open up to. Trust is the foundation of a relationship, and just like a building, if the foundation is destroyed, it has to be rebuilt from the ground up. This takes time.
Restoring trust is not impossible, and incorporating these trust-promoting behaviors in your relationship can make it stronger than ever. When the offended partner is open to the possibility of trusting again and willing to allow his partner to win back his confidence and stop punishing her for the offense; and when the offending partner is willing to do what it takes to earn back trust, then you are on the road to restoring trust and healing your relationship.