Trust is hugely important for creating a safe, successful, loving relationship. A sense of trust in your partner and your relationship is what allows you to generally relax, let your guard down, and move with faith and ease in your life together.
According to Drs. Gottman et al, in their book A Man’s Guide To Women, trustworthiness is the #1 quality women look for in a male partner.
When trust is broken in a relationship, it can cause a lot of harm. It can make you question everything you’ve thought to be true and factual, and to wonder about what else you don’t know. Anyone who’s ever discovered their partner to have an illicit affair will know exactly what that means. Because you don’t know what to trust, it makes you feel kinda crazy.
If trust is broken repeatedly over time, sometimes years, it becomes very difficult to repair and stay together.
Even in perfectly harmonious relationships, trust gets broken from time to time. Whatever the circumstances, if you still have love for each other and you still want to be in relationship, you end up asking this question: Can trust be rebuilt in my relationship?
Whether trust can be rebuilt depends on the situation, and the way in which trust was broken.
Generally speaking, if you are willing to …
- Own what happened and take responsibility.
- Learn from it.
- Change behaviors.
- Making new commitments backed by action.
Then you have very good chances of repairing trust and healing, even growing, from what happened. If you’re not willing to engage in the actions listed above, it becomes very difficult to repair trust and salvage your relationship.
Building trust can be a long process that requires professional support, so don’t feel bad if you haven’t figured it out on your own yet. It’s a big topic, bigger than one article will cover.
We want to support you to get started, so here are some important pointers and steps to take.
Get really specific about where trust was broken. It’s a different situation if your partner showed up 5 minutes late to an appointment or emptied your retirement account and ran off with a lover. Both could be characterized as “broken trust”, but obviously not the same.
Instead of stating a general, “I don’t trust you!”, get specific. Is it that you don’t trust your partner to be with the kids? Or to shop for the right ingredients for dinner? Or to be faithful?
Getting specific makes it easier to stay on track with the process, and it helps the person who broke the trust to do something about it.
For the person who broke the trust, the first “something” to do is to go through a complete apologies process. Just saying, “I’m sorry” just doesn’t get the job done.
A complete apologies process involves steps such as ownership of the behavior, demonstrating to your partner that you understand the impact of your actions, making amends to repair the damage, making new promises, and of course, keeping said promises.
If trust has been broken repeatedly over time, or the breach was severe, repairing trust is process over an extended period of time, not a one-time apology process. It takes many new promises that are repeatedly and reliably backed by action to heal from breaches of trust. It takes the ability to clean up when you fall short of your promises.
In the process of repairing trust, make sure you acknowledge and speak out loud your appreciations for the efforts and progress made. If my partner had been lying to me, but now I see real a demonstration of him or her being truthful, I make sure to say, “Thank you so much for telling me that, I really appreciate it”.
It takes two
Even if only person was the one to break the trust, repairing trust still takes willingness from both parties. Even if your partner was the one to break a promise, it still requires willingness from you to learn and grow from what happened, and willingness to heal and eventually let go of what happened (with proper apologies and new actions from your partner). Note, letting go of what happened is not the same as forgetting or condoning what happened.
Finally, breaches of trust, betrayals, affairs, lying, etc. are difficult things to deal with in a relationship. It brings up all manner of feelings and the hurt can run really deep.
So get help! The faster the better. Call coaches like us, use a local therapist or a trusted friend. But don’t just stew with it on your own, that doesn’t help anyone.
And in the meantime, keep your agreements!