“Trust is the foundation of a healthy relationship”. We have heard the saying time and again, “Without trust, you have nothing”. Trust is the glue that holds relationships together. It makes us feel safe and allows us to be vulnerable, connect and rely on our partner. As an unspoken code of honour, it is naturally given at the start of a relationship until proven otherwise. It becomes more profound as the relationship grows, but it disrupts the entire connection when the trust is broken.
Betrayal can come in many forms, such as dishonesty, disloyalty, cheating, or withholding information. One of the most significant challenges couples experience is coping with feelings of betrayal and rebuilding trust when it has been broken. Depending on the circumstances, the betrayal doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the relationship. For some, rebuilding the trust can make their relationship stronger. When both partners agree to continue with the relationship, the trust can be rebuilt with enough time and with the correct tools. It will not happen overnight, and it will require commitment, but with transparency, patience, effort, forgiveness, and understanding, your relationship will survive.
For a relationship to move forward after betrayal, it is essential for you to re-establish trust with yourself and your partner. Although there is no one-size-fits-all guide to restoring trust in a relationship, the steps below might serve as a basic outline for a starting point.
Pointers to rebuild Trust in your relationship:
- Take ownership of your betrayal.
Acknowledge and discuss your betrayal. Offer a genuine apology and accept responsibility for your actions. Be open, honest and answer all questions your partner might have, but do not divulge all the detail when it comes to infidelity. The visual information will leave a lasting scar on their mind. Make sure your partner feels heard and validated. Listen with empathy and show remorse. Don’t become defensive or try and rationalize your betrayal. Own up to your mistake. Allow space and grace for your partner to express their hurt and disappointment in your actions.
- Forgive yourself and the other person.
When you are betrayed, you tend to generate irrational explanations of why the situation happened. You find fault with yourself or blame yourself. “If I were a better partner, this would not have happened”; “If I trusted my gut, I could have prevented this situation”. Self-forgiveness is a vital process in rebuilding trust with your partner. It requires self-compassion and understanding that your partners’ actions are not reflections of your self-worth. Even with your flaws, you still deserve to be treated well.
If you cannot forgive your partner, it will be impossible to move forward in your relationship. By forgiving them, it does not mean you are letting them off the hook or accepting their behaviour, but you are releasing the emotional charge of the situation. By putting things in perspective and looking at the bigger picture, you can move your focus from the incident onto remembering their good qualities and traits. Acknowledge that we are all human that has flaws and makes mistakes.
- Trust yourself and the other person.
It is nearly impossible to trust someone else if you can’t trust yourself. After a betrayal, you might live in fear that you will not cope should this situation happen again. You might not trust that you will be okay to move on and still live a happy, fulfilling life without your partner. The fear of being hurt and humiliated again will be overwhelming, but you need to trust your gut that you will survive. Some people fear that leaving their unfaithful partner will impact their lives negatively and that they will not be able to cope without them. Believe in your strength and know that you will be okay should you decide to leave your partner or should the same situation repeat itself. Should you struggle to trust yourself, consider working with a professional to help you rediscover your strengths.
You need to start trusting your partner again, even if, in the initial, it’s starting with small things. Assess the situation and decide to move forward if you are able to trust your partner again. Does your partner take responsibility and accountability for their actions? Do they show genuine remorse? Does this person act with integrity in other areas of their life? Were there specific circumstances that played a role, or does this betrayal reflect their overall character? Have they broken trust before in a similar way? Is there more good or bad in the relationship in the bigger picture? Will this person act in the relationship’s best interest, or will this person take the relationship for granted?
If the answers to the questions affirm the positive, you have the choice whether or not to accept the person’s flaws and try and trust them again. There are no guarantees, and only time will tell whether trust is deserved. Withholding trust will harm your relationship and prevent you from emotionally reconnecting with your partner.
Don’t always expect the worse. Make a concerted effort to believe in what your partner says and assess their behaviour. It will not be easy in the beginning but forgive and rebuild your trust from a place of empathy and give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Have regular talks.
Make time to discuss your and your partner’s feelings. Don’t focus on the solution, but actively listen to your partner’s feelings and concerns. The offender should be open and transparent and answers their partner’s questions, even if they feel repeated or hurt. Both should stay calm and validate each other’s feelings. Don’t be concerned about privacy when re-building trust. Over time, the betrayed party should “ease up” on excessive scrutiny and reopening the wounds. If the offender truly has remorse and wants to rebuild the relationship and start a clean slate, they can not be reminded of their past mistake. This will require time, patience, and commitment, but it will become easier with time.
- Be patient and express empathy.
It takes time to rebuild trust. Be patient with yourself and your partner and don’t try and force the healing process. Depending on the severity of the situation, it can take months or years for trust to be rebuilt. It is only possible if both partners are willing to put in the effort and time to rebuild the foundation again. You can only rebuild trust if your partner’s positive actions become consistent.
The offender must understand their partner’s feelings of hurt and the emotional impact it has on them. They must allow them enough time and space to go through the stages of pain and grief. Express empathy towards your partner, allowing them to express their emotions related to the feeling of betrayal.
- Rebuild the relationship.
Both partners need to show real commitment in restoring the relationship. It can’t be one-sided. You need to treat the relationship as a new one, and both sides must be open to communicate their needs and wants from this relationship. Work together in rebuilding trust and a mutually supportive connection.
The offender must change their behaviour that led to their mistake, and they must demonstrate a pattern of dependable behaviour over time. Their actions need to back up their words, and you need to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Self-exploration is necessary for both partners to understand the underlying causes of the betrayal. Unexpressed emotions and feelings must be aired, and childhood issues must be explored and discussed in a non-judgemental way. Explore other areas in your relationship for weaknesses as it is not always just the situation that caused the break in trust. Did you spend enough quality time together? Did you constantly fight over the same issues? Were you emotionally available to your partner? Did your partner Trust you?
Reconnect emotionally when you are ready and do things that you both enjoy. Go on date nights, make time for conversations about the relationship expectations, explore each others’ love language, and set relationship goals.
- Take time out.
With the initial shock, your body will experience trauma-related feelings of anxiety, fear and you will experience insomnia, loss of appetite, or emotional eating. Take care of your body and mental well-being during this time. It is okay to ask for time apart to process your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend and find healthy coping mechanisms to assist you through this healing process. Don’t be too hard on yourself and know that it is okay not to be okay.
- Get professional help.
You both must be open to seeking professional help. A therapist or coach can help you understand and explore the underlying reasons behind the betrayal and what caused the trust to be broken. You can do individual counselling or couples counselling.
Depending on the nature of the offence, rebuilding trust in a relationship can be difficult, but it is possible. In some cases, it can never be rebuilt, and the relationship will come to an end. If both partners are committed and want to save the relationship, it will take time and patience to restore the trust.
Clear and honest communication is required. Both parties must show empathy, share their pain, frustration, and anger and create a safe space to express their feelings of hurt and disappointment. Discuss all fear related to the future and action a plan of how to restore the relationship. There is no right or wrong, and each couple will do things differently. If there is enough love and respect, your relationship will survive all the storms.
Debbie Hartmann, Life, Relationship and Teen Coach @ My Kinda Life Coaching.