You wonder why the bank account has gotten so low, only to discover your partner has been spending without telling you.
You overhear your spouse sharing your most private information with her best friend after she promised to keep it confidential.
Your partner lashes out at you in anger and threatens to leave you.
Couples can do and say thoughtless and unkind things to one another, things that erode intimacy and security in the relationship.
Once this happens, it can be hard to rebuild trust when you have been so deeply hurt or betrayed by your partner.
Trust is something that, once broken, can take a lot of time to repair.
You’ve seen that your partner is capable of betraying you, and now it’s hard to rest easy in the untarnished faith you once had that this behavior won’t happen again. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
As painful as they are, these broken trust scenarios don’t have to spell the end of the relationship. In fact, they can be areas of learning and growth for you and your partner.
The most important thing to know is that with commitment from BOTH partners, trust can be restored and the couple can have a strong and intimate connection again.
Knowing how to rebuild trust in a relationship can be the hardest part of the entire process, especially if the wounded partner is still suffering from the breech.
If you are the wounded party, you can’t expect your partner to know how to rebuild trust or what will make you feel safe again. If you are the one who broke the trust, you can’t expect your partner to “get over it” right away.
You both must work together on a plan that is realistic but that addresses the fears and concerns of the one who has lost trust.
Here’s how to rebuild trust in a relationship once it’s been damaged:
Communication is key.
The most important first step in rebuilding trust between you is practicing open and honest communication.
If you can’t talk to each other in this way, then there isn’t much hope of repair. Bottled up resentments and fears will slowly but surely erode your intimate connection.
If you and your partner are both willing to sit down and talk to each other, then you have a great starting point.
Each of you should discuss how you are feeling about the situation that caused the breech of trust. You should also be willing to listen to how the other feels, whether you agree or disagree with them.
For the wounded partner, being able to let those feelings out allows you to release some of the hurt that you have perhaps been bottling up.
For the offender, this is an opportunity to apologize, ask for forgiveness, and to explain (without defensiveness or excuses) why you behaved as you did. Giving your partner a window into your frame of mind can help soften the blow of betrayal.
After you have talked about your feelings, discuss how to rebuild trust between the two of you.
- Talk about expectations and what you both want the end result to be.
- Come up with a plan that will work for both of you.
- Don’t be afraid to voice what you want and need.
At the same time, understand that your partner may not agree with some of those things. Be ready to talk about why they are important expectations for you.
Throughout the process, take time to talk about how things are progressing, how you are currently feeling, if your feelings have changed, and anything else that you think your partner should know.
If the plan isn’t working for you, sit down together and work something else out.
The wounded partner might need more transparency or accountability from the transgressor. The transgressor might feel frustrated with the wounded partner’s need to shame or blame.
If you have a hard time communicating verbally about your feelings without anger or frustration, then try writing your thoughts and feelings in a kind and positive way. To help with this, check out the book, Write It Out, Don’t Fight It Out: How to Use Letters to Heal Your Relationship When Talking Gets Tough.
Honesty is the best policy.
If you have been lied to or cheated on, then complete transparency and honesty from your partner is very important. Even a very tiny lie or a lie by omission can cause hurt and further mistrust.
Being honest can be hard, especially if you know it will hurt your partner or cause you negative consequences. But remember — most people are hurt more by being lied to than by the situation they were lied to about.
Err to the side of being overly honest.
If you aren’t sure whether or not your partner wants or needs to know something, then assume they would. By being open and honest in the small things, you are showing them that you are making an effort to do better in the big things.
In fact, both partners should make every effort they can to be honest about everything.
If you’ve been lied to or betrayed in some way, you may want to lash out or betray your partner to get back at them and even the score. As tempting as it is to get even, it only further damages your relationship.
Set an example by being the kind of trustworthy person you want your partner to be. If he or she catches you lying or engaging in deceitful behavior, then you’re showing that honesty isn’t as important to you as you say it is.
Spend more time together.
When you are working on repairing the relationship, that relationship needs extra time.
You need to take more time to spend together and do things that you both enjoy. It’s healing to be reminded of why you got together in the first place and to focus on all of the good things about your relationship.
Over time, committed couples can grow apathetic and bored with their relationship if they aren’t actively working on keeping it fresh and exciting.
This apathy can lead to a breakdown in communication, which leads to frustration and resentment, which can lead to betrayals and broken trust.
A relationship needs constant attention, communication, intimacy, and nurturing to stay healthy and happy.
Take the time to go on more dates and movie nights. Spend time alone together, go on relaxing vacation, or do any of the fun things you used to do that remind you both of how much you love one another.
Turn off your phones and other digital devices, and reconnect with on a deeper level.
Rekindling those initial feelings of infatuation and closeness can help a lot in rebuilding the trust you have lost.
Take care of each others needs.
Take time to truly be intimate and affectionate with one another. Enjoy things such as massages or baths together. Spend more time touching and cuddling.
Find ways that you can spice up your sex life that make you both feel loved and cared for.
Caring physically for your partner can open up the way for trust to come back, as you show tenderness and kindness. These physical expressions reveal a willingness to reaffirm your commitment and love.
Take the time to make an extra effort to support and help your partner with chores or projects. This reinforces that you are thinking of your partner’s well being and that you care about how he or she is feeling both physically and mentally.
If your partner is having problems at work, take the time to listen and offer suggestions of ways you could make things easier and relieve some of the stress he or she is facing.
Don’t be afraid of couples therapy.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help, especially if one or both of you can’t seem to move past the incident that broke the trust between you.
If you and your partner can’t work things out on your own, but you both want to continue trying, find a therapist who can help you.
There are many therapists who specialize in helping couples rebuild trust and intimacy when things have gone wrong.
They can help you work through your anger, pain, and guilt, and give you suggestions and exercises that you can do together and separately to help repair your connection.
A therapist can also help you work on healthy communication and give you strategies to make sure this situation doesn’t happen again.
Of course it is painful and devastating for both partners when the sacred trust you’ve built in your relationship is damaged. Initially, it may feel as though the relationship can never be repaired, and there is no way to find your way back to same couple you were before.
But with commitment and determination by both partners, you can get past this challenge and move on to a new level in your relationship — one defined by resilience, abiding love, and recommitment to one another.