How do couples repair their relationship when trust has been broken? There are many ways that trust can be broken in a relationship. Trust can be broken through failing to keep promises. Trust can be broken when a confidence is betrayed. Or trust can be broken through addictions. But the most common breaking of trust is through infidelity. The breaking of trust in a relationship through the act infidelity may require significant changes of behaviour to rebuild trust again.
For the partner who has broken the trust, they may feel that their partner needs to move on and forget the past. They may believe that if their partner moves on, then the relationship will begin to heal. They may believe they have taken responsibility for their past mistakes and made amends. And they may feel that they have explained their motivation and the circumstances of the infidelity.
For the partner who has had their trust broken, it can be a deep wounding. And the repair and rebuilding of trust may take many years. The person may feel constantly suspicious of their partner’s motives and behaviour. They may feel torn between the need for proof of their partner’s commitment to their relationship. And they may feel the desire to forget their partner’s past infidelity, and forgive. They may believe they should be ready to trust even though there is still doubt and uncertainty. This may lead to inconsistent behaviour and mood swings. Your emotions may swing from feelings of trust and forgiveness to feelings of anger and betrayal.
There are several strategies that may be implemented to assist couples in regaining and re-establishing trust.
Transparency. To rebuild trust may require transparency in all communication devices; mobiles, tablets etc. Your partner may need to have complete access to your emails, texts and social media. Your partner may believe that secrecy initially led to the infidelity.
Consistency in behaviour. Being consistent in behaviour is about keeping your promises. If you make a promise with your partner to either do something or be somewhere keep your promise. It may be anything from picking up the milk on the way home to meeting for a drink after work. If you are late or forget the milk then it reenforces the belief that you cannot be trusted.
Take responsibility. It is important to acknowledge and take responsibility for any past actions. Rationalisation does not mean taking full responsibility, and it slows down the rebuilding of trust.
Honesty. Dishonesty may have led to the infidelity. Even though you may fear being honest with your partner, without complete honesty they can never rebuild trust with you again. You may feel ashamed or embarrassed by your past behaviour but withholding the truth or sanitising the truth will only increase the distrust. If you try to rationalise your behaviour by withholding the complete truth based upon the belief that you do not wish to hurt your partner, you are not being completely honest with yourself. This action will only delay the healing process and the rebuilding of trust.
Answer all questions. Be prepared to answer all questions with honesty and openness. You may be asked the same question over and over again. Even after a period of several years, questions may still arise that need to be answered. Be extremely patient. It takes a long time to heal after infidelity. But over time people can heal and move on from the past.
When trust is broken through infidelity then it may take many years to repair the broken trust. For some couples the spectre of the infidelity may never truly be gone from their relationship. Relationship counselling can assist couples come to terms with infidelity and move forward to a happier future life together.
Christopher Swane - Relationship Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington New Zealand