How to Rebuild Trust ...by Stan Hyman, PhD, LCSW
When trust is damaged there is a powerful, sometimes overwhelming feeling of betrayal. The betrayal can come from almost any form of dishonesty or disloyalty of one partner to the other.
Obviously infidelity stacks up at the top of the list but lying and hiding important information can also cause trust to fragment.
When this occurs there is always despair, regret and hopefully remorse. If a couple is willing to work through the mistakes there is a good possibility that trust can be restored. Trust must be earned though; it is not something one is automatically entitled to. Therefore, the party who has breached the trust must be willing to rebuild it no matter what it takes. That requires a strong commitment, not just from the partner that breached the trust but from the other partner as well.
What follows are some tips that can help you travel the road back to rebuilding trust.
Apologize in earnest. It is not sufficient to simply say you are sorry for breaching the trust between the two of you. You must also begin to understand the harm and hurt you have caused. You must be able to see this from your partnerâ€™s point of view and really relate to it with empathy. Unless the apology can be conveyed in a heartfelt manner, it is unlikely that healing can begin.
Clarify the WHY. There is always the question as to why something happened. If there has been an affair the hurt spouse will of course want to know why the unfaithful spouse became unfaithful. The unfaithful spouse needs to explain the behavior from his/her own point of view, expressing how the way he/she was feeling may have led to the breach. This is not the time to blame the hurt spouse in an effort to deflect taking responsibility for the breach.
Be extremely patient. All during this process there will likely be a desire from the unfaithful spouse to speed things along and get back to some sense of balance. Patience is supremely important and needs to be understood as such. Both partners need to be reminded that this will take time, courage and strength of character for trust to be restored.
Create new expectations. Partners must now decide if the rules of the relationship need to be changed. Certainly expectations will change. There will be a need to be more accountable to the hurt spouse. The hurt spouse will need more reassurance that the unfaithful spouse is committed to change. The hurt spouse will also, at some point, need to recognize the efforts of the other and begin to move toward better understanding and even forgiveness (see my Newsletter about Forgiveness).
Get specific. Expectations need to be translated into specific behaviors that are acceptable. These agreed upon expectations are promises that you are making to each other. For example, if the hurt partner needs to hear from the other a number of times a day for reassurance, the promise of calling needs to be honored. Being forthcoming and transparent, not withholding and secretive is another aspect of meeting expectations. Keeping oneâ€™s promises and meeting expectations are the building blocks of restoring trust.
Deliver more than promised. As the expression goes, under promise and over deliver! In an effort to build trust, reconcile and get back in the good graces of your partner you might find yourself promising to do almost anything. You may have good intentions but be unable to deliver. That is not to say you shouldnâ€™t stretch yourself a little. However, it is always better to promise only as much as you are sure you can make good on and then make every effort to do more than you promised. The process of rebuilding trust is fragile. You can seriously compound the damage by not delivering on your promises.
Keep an open dialogue. Both partners need to feel they can express themselves and speak openly to each other. It may have been poor or fearful communication in the first place that caused, at least in part, the breakdown of the relationship. Some very emotional and important conversations can occur as a result.
Be consistent. Changing behavior requires persistence and consistency. The hurt partner has to believe that the other partner is truly changing, not just for the short term but for the long haul. It is imperative that there is a strong commitment to change or it will be impossible to break an old pattern and make new behaviors stick.
Have a strong commitment and a positive attitude toward change. Rebuilding trust is not easy. In fact it is probably one of the hardest things a couple can do. Partners have to suspend their disbelief that things can change and that they will once again be trusting and happy together. This process requires a strong commitment from both partners. The hurt partner has to be willing to encourage their spouse in order to show that there is hope and that forgiveness is possible.