Trust is essential for a relationship. When a partner cheats, lies or otherwise breaks trust it can severely upend your intimate dynamic. However, all is not lost. Although rebuilding trust requires a lot of time, effort and honest conversations, your relationships can be saved or even become stronger as long as both partners are committed to the process and actively participate in the hard work.
How to Start
Recovering from the strain of a breach in trust take substantial time and effort. It doesn’t matter whether you were the offending partner or the betrayed, in order to get your relationship healthy again you both must address the following five key points:
- Know the details
- Release negative feelings
- Show commitment
- Rebuild trust
- Reestablish the relationship
Know the Details
It takes two in a relationship to succeed or fail. There are always multiple sides to any situation and you both must be willing to examine and discuss them all. The perpetrator must be honest and forthcoming with all information about the breach of trust and provide clear and concise answers to any and all questions from the hurt partner. By knowing the whole scope of the who, what, where, when and why the couple can address and discuss the various feelings or problems that may have contributed to the breach as well as other circumstances that could have complicated the matter.
Release Negative Feelings
Any erosion of trust can cause mental, emotional and physical distress to a person. Sleep may be compromised, appetite altered and even the smallest irritations can trigger an outburst. The couple needs to be willing to completely and honestly discuss how this disloyalty has affected both partners and their loved ones. Be willing to be transparent about life has been altered by the situation and the arising negative sensations. Allow both partners ample and equal opportunity to speak and listen to each other’s perspective. At the end, be willing find at least a part of the negativity to release.
Both partners must be willing to stay in the relationship despite the uncertainty and hard work left to do. Dialogue ways to show each other acts of empathy like sharing tough feelings, being appropriately remorseful and validation. Establish what both sides need from the relationship moving forward, ways the other partner can be supportive, and what rules or limits would be helpful. Also, although it might feel tough at first, discuss ways you can create opportunities for fun that can help rebuild your bond. In all this hard work, it is essential to set some time aside for lighter moments that provide opportunities for smiles or laughter.
As a team set and maintain specific goals and fair timelines for creating the relationship you both deserve. Understand this process may be lengthy and requires the following aspects:
- Commitment to forgiveness/atonement. The couple must consciously decide to promote authentic love by releasing the past hurts regardless of the time needed to fully heal
- Commitment to self-growth and improvement. Trust is impossible to fix with empty promises. The root causes for the infidelity must be addressed, discussed and worked on for the relationship to truly repair.
- Awareness of inner feelings and willingness to share perspectives. Both sides must be willing to share and listen to all thoughts, feelings and experiences regardless how tough it might be to process in order for the relationship to be successful.
- Sincerely want the union to be successful. This is not the time or place for lip service or empty sentiment. Instead this is the time to be truly honest about your wishes, intentions and goals for the relationship and each other.
Additional Action Steps for the Offender
It can be incredibly difficult for the offender to face the full impact of their transgression. However, in order for their partner to heal and the relationship to be repaired, they should work on the following points:
- Showing the hurt partner, the wayward behavior is purged by altering negative behavioral patterns. This includes eliminating secrets, lies, infidelity or anything else that fissures trust. Instead be committed to becoming open, accountable, and reliable.
- Be honest. Work diligently to understand and explain if possible, why the toxic behavior or action occurred. If you don’t truly know, be committed to working with a therapist.
- Show responsibility for your actions. Being defensive, elusive or transferring your poor behavior onto your spouse’s actions will only escalate the tension in your relationship.
Additional Action Steps for the Betrayed
It’s not just the offender that has work to do. The person who was hurt by the action also is essential to the healing process. They should focus on the following points to help make the rebuilding process more effective.
- Actively seek to understand how, what and why the relationship was threatened before the breach of trust. Trust doesn’t break overnight, there is frequently miscommunication, unrealistic expectations or hurt feelings prior to any major offense. In order to move forward together, you need to understand and discuss the blind spots that led to this trauma.
- Work on providing positive feedback on the work being done by the offender to rebuild your trust. Although this will be hard, you need to show them you are seeing the results of their hard work in order for them to keep progressing through the most trying of moments.
- Know that at any time, its ok for one or both of you to decide this relationship is unable to be salvaged. Ensure you both are always being honest with yourselves and each other. Never go through the motions because you think its what is expected of you both.
Reestablish the relationship
As the couple does the hard work to restore the relationship, they must always be guided by actively listening to one another and providing open and honest feedback. This is a fresh start for the relationship and as such this version of the relationship will look completely different than it was prior to when trust was broken.
This is an opportunity to create the best possible iteration of the relationship possible. Both partners must discuss what they sincerely value and need from each other and the relationships as a whole. Expectations must be checked at the door, and never assume that a partner knows what the other is thinking. Instead have active dialogue and be willing to listen and process even the toughest of feedback. Be willing to set a new standard of trust and behavior in this version of the relationship. Withholding trust or affection out of negativity will only impede your ability to emotionally reconnect with each other and move your relationship forward in a healthy manner.
Trust in the process of recreating your union and that your hard work will have a successful result. Be committed to being as mutually supportive as possible and find opportunities during the hard work for fun to build your bond. Together come to an agreement about what a healthy dynamic entails for you both. How often would you like to have date nights, what are your short and long-term relationship goals, what is your love language and how often should you both check in with each other about the health or needs of the relationship. Remember, and find peace that all relationships require work and sincere effort.
Using a Professional Help
As you work the steps listed above, you might find yourselves in need of professional guidance. A therapist can be very beneficial in helping your both process what, why and how your relationships reached the point that a breach of trust was possible. With ample training and an outside perspective, a therapist can give you both reasonable steps and behavior modification to help you move forward together. It is ok for you to go as couple (as long as both parties are truly receptive to external assistance), or as an individual. Multiple treatment options exist that can help couple rebuild trust, communication and connection. Again, trust the process and through mindful work and receptivity to honest feedback you may even end up with a healthier marriage than prior to the trauma.