Rebuilding Trust in a Relationship

Trust in a relationship can be broken in a second. However, we all know it takes a very long time to rebuild it again.

When we think of trust that is broken, we automatically think of an affair involving a third party. There are many other examples where trust can be broken. E.g. your partner promises to do something for you and just fails repeatedly to follow through and honour their promise. A friend lies about something or fails to be honest about an important issue.  Your partner is consistently absent emotionally or fails to hear you. Your senior remains inflexible and is unwilling to see matters from your point of view on something that is important to you.

There are innumerable instances where trust can be broken in all kinds of relationships. The ways to resolve trust would apply to most of the circumstances mentioned.


Deal with the Emotions

The first thing we need to do, is to deal with our emotional response to the break in trust. We need to identify exactly what we are feeling. Very often we may experience and express enormous anger. What we need to realise is that anger is not the key emotion. Anger is a cover up for hurt. It is much easier for us to express anger than to share our vulnerability at a time when we are feeling exposed or defenseless.

Unless we deal with our deepest emotions in the circumstances, the chances are good that these emotions will be triggered again during arguments.  Our first reaction is often a defensive reaction. We want to retaliate or hurt the other person in some way, just to get them back. As much as this may be understandable, it is destructive and really detrimental to rebuilding trust. Write about how you feel or talk to a counsellor until you have reached a space where your emotions are calmer.


Give yourself Time

The next step is to play for time when rebuilding trust. Often as the betrayed person we will react and make decisions based on our emotions. The important point to remember is to not make any hasty decisions. I have had several male clients who have immediately proceeded with a divorce when they discovered that their wife was seeing someone else. The reality is that it is possible to find a way of reconnecting with your partner after such an incident and rebuild trust. But it will take time.

Take time to take a critical look at your own behaviour. Were there any warning signs that you chose to ignore? Did you fail to stand up for your needs or set boundaries about what is acceptable to you? Looking back, did you fail to respond to the warning bells? How did you contribute to the situation?

Often we fail to respond to our gut-feel and doubt ourselves. Only to discover that we actually were right in what we sensed. As strange as this may sound, it often takes some kind of betrayal for us to start trusting in ourselves and to stand up for what we truly want. Betrayal of some kind often breaks the emotional dependency we may have on our partner.

Two cases of trust broken in a marriage: A client discovers that her husband is having an emotional affair with another woman. After her initial shock she realises that there had been warning signs that she had failed to react upon. She talks to a trusted friend. She then decides to talk to her husband in a quiet and calm way. He realises he is not willing to sacrifice his marriage. They talk about what contributed to the situation. They had small children which impacted on the time they could spend together as a couple.  The marriage survives this tricky patch and becomes stronger.

Another client discovers that his wife is having an affair. She stops it of her own accord before he even confronts her. He is unable to let it go and continues to accuse her which makes the relationship deteriorate further. He becomes verbally abusive toward his wife, even more so after a few drinks. The wife is exhausted.  She wants a divorce as her husband is unable to forgive her (despite the fact that he has had several affairs in the past!). Unless he finds a way to put this behind him, there is little chance of the relationship surviving. It was clear that his emotional baggage from the past as well as the stress of running his own business, was contributing to him using his wife as the punch bag.


Rebuild Trust

It will take a long time to rebuild trust. Start by doing some fun things together or just spending more time together. Of course, it goes without saying that you need to talk through what happened. Be realistic though. Long hours of talking may be exhausting and draining. If you need to talk and then take a break, do so. In these interactions it is crucial that one of the partners needs to remain calm no matter how emotive the discussion may become. Give yourself weeks and months to hear one another out and to resolves issues.

You need to find a way of creating an emotionally safe space between the two of you to express how you really feel. This is a journey of rediscovering yourself and each other.

If you find that you are unable to move on in a constructive way, you may want to consider calling on a psychologist for relationship counselling. Breaking trust often triggers emotional issues from our childhood. This means that the healing process is likely to take longer than expected for some people.

It is important to know though that each crisis does bring hidden gifts. When all is said and done, work out what lessons you have learnt. What do you need to do differently in future?


Posted in Relationships, Therapy.