How to Rebuild Trust in Marriage
When trust is broken within a marriage, rebuilding it cannot automatically be assumed. Many times you can rebuild trust if both parties are willing to do the work necessary to restore it, though. David Horsager, author of The Trust Edge says, “(trust) is a confident belief in someone or something. It’s the confident belief in an entity to do what’s right and to deliver on what is promised and to be the same every time, whatever the circumstances.” Whether it’s due to infidelity, lies, withholding information, or betrayal, the ability to believe the offender will genuinely act in the best interest of the marriage is severely compromised.
🔎 While there are no guarantees the trust may be rebuilt, there are some things you can do to rebuild it.
For The Person Who Has Broken The Trust:
Here are some principles which may help to restore your partner’s trust.
1. Listen without being defensive.
Broken trust is more than just the act that was committed. Your spouse has invested time, emotion, and their own vulnerability into believing something about you, but now they’re not sure who you are. Their image of you has been tarnished. There is uncertainty and even a fear that you will emotionally hurt or betray them if it means getting what you want. It’s not simply that you hid money, lied, or had an affair. It causes one to question their own choice to emotionally invest in the relationship. Don’t minimize or oversimplify the act. Lean in to listen. Ask questions to understand the pain as fully as possible. It may hurt to hear. You will probably want to defend yourself—don’t.
Avoid statements like, “That wasn’t my intention.” or “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
2. Own your actions.
Don’t attempt to justify your actions. Be honest about what you said or did. Answer your spouse’s questions honestly. You can’t worry about trying to make it not look as bad as it may seem.
Avoid statements like, “All I did was…” or “It wasn’t a big deal.”
3. Accept the emotional impact on your spouse.
You cannot control how the betrayal impacts your spouse. You also cannot foresee the gravity of its impact. Betrayal affects people in different ways due to personality, experiences, relationship history, length of relationship, etc. It is painful to know that you have caused your spouse such anger, hurt, or sadness. Trying to lessen or minimize the pain caused is more about you not wanting the guilt and less about understanding the impact of rebuilding the trust.
☆ The emotional impact is there. Respect it. Learn from it.
Avoid statements like, “You’re taking this too seriously,” or “I didn’t think it would affect you this much.”
4. Give space for expressions of grief.
Being a safe space for your spouse to share their emotions is crucial if you want to rebuild trust. Your spouse needs the opportunity to find the words to communicate what they are thinking and feeling. (You may need to seek a qualified marriage counselor.) She may need to talk to friends. He may need to share his pain with you as he gains more and more understanding. This should never include abusive expressions.
You may need to apologize more than once. You may apologize for the act itself because that’s all you understand initially. Some time later you may apologize for the real hurt it caused as you understand it or see it more.You may apologize for the way it has changed the relationship when you recognize the tension and difficulty your spouse has functioning within the marriage. Instead, be specific about what you are apologizing for. As much as you desire to be forgiven by your spouse, direct your energy toward expressing your remorse for what you’ve done. 🔎 There must be genuine remorse for the action and its effects.
Avoid statements like, “I’ve already apologized. Isn’t that good enough?” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
6. Make necessary changes.
This may mean sharing passwords for social media, phones, or bank accounts. It may mean more communication about what’s happening at work. It may mean changing who you interact with and how (friends or co-workers). Being stubborn about making changes to decrease the likelihood of a repeat situation sends the message that you don’t understand the betrayal and insecurity that you’ve caused. Often, these changes can be talked through so that they are realistic changes.
Avoid statements like, “I’ll just make sure I don’t do it again.” or “I just messed up this time. I’ve got it under control now.”
You can’t rush the process of rebuilding trust. You must respect the process. Understand that different people respond differently to betrayal. At times it may appear the relationship isn’t making any progress. Other times, it may seem as though the relationship is back to normal even though it really isn’t. Your spouse needs time to build an image of you that they can believe will genuinely try to act in the best interest of the relationship even when it’s difficult. You’re not entitled to being trusted again. Your spouse does not owe you their trust once it’s broken. With humility and compassion, take the time to earn it, and more importantly, to simply be trustworthy.
Avoid statements like, “Don’t you think it’s been long enough?” or “Are you going to hold this against me forever?”
For The Person Whose Trust Was Betrayed:
What can you do to trust again?
1. Understand the difference between forgiving versus forgetting.
Forgiveness does not mean to forget or to act like it never happened. You may never forget what was done, how it made you feel, and how it affected you or your relationship. Forgiveness focuses on letting go of your feelings so that they don’t control your future actions. It’s a process. You can be fully aware and not ever have forgotten the betrayal while at the same time you may have forgiven the offender by not treating them based on the emotions the act itself caused.
Just because you forgive does not mean that you have to trust your spouse again. Kristina Coop Gordon, co-author of Getting Past the Affair says, “Forgiveness is very freeing. Just because you forgive, it doesn’t necessarily mean immediate reconciliation.” Your spouse may prove to not be trustworthy. To trust them again, you will need to forgive them, but don’t think that just because you forgive them means you have to trust them just yet. (Check out this blog about the process of forgiving your spouse.)
2. Don’t withhold your feelings.
Hiding or suppressing your feelings can lead to a host of unhealthy and negative emotions. Taking time to identify and understand the myriad of emotions you’re experiencing is good for your mental health. Don’t underestimate the value of positive friends in giving you the space to express yourself emotionally. You may need a good cry, a good scream, a good journal entry, a good venting session, etc. (A professional counselor can help you recognize and deal with your emotions in a healthy way.)
3. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed.
When trust is broken, your image of the offender is completely changed. The process of rebuilding that image and believing that the offender will genuinely attempt to always act in the best interest of the relationship is different for everyone. Rushing the process can lead to resentment or feeling manipulated. And while it’s not helpful to drag a person along just because you have leverage or power, it’s also not helpful to be told by others that you should just let it go and go back to the way it was.
I’d love to give you a fancy term here, but sometimes simple is best. Give your spouse feedback regarding what is helpful and what is not. As you’re understanding yourself better, share this with your spouse. Talk to one another about trust, commitment, and what you believe a healthy relationship looks like.
Do not take responsibility for someone’s else’s actions. At the same time, explore what (if anything) in the relationship may have led to the betrayal. There may be changes or improvements within the marriage that can improve relationship quality.
★ Rebuilding trust takes a commitment from both people in the relationship. Betrayal does not have to end the relationship, but the relationship may be able to improve through time, communication and understanding. There are many relationships where betrayal proved to be a catalyst for the couple to address issues in their relationship, ultimately making them stronger.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
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This was very helpful for me being able to understand how to act and be respectful of the way I made my husband feel. We are starting the counseling and we are looking for work shops to try to build a strong relationship again.
Excellent article, a great starting point to helping couples step into rebuilding trust. Thank you!