The Importance of Trust in Relationships
1. Affairs/Adultery – One spouse chooses to have a sexual relationship with a persona who is not their current, legal spouse.
2. Abuse – Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
3. Addictions – Alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, etc.
What does a couple do to rebuild a trusting relationship?
- Admission / Accountability— There has to be an admission of the behavior and accountability on the part of the person who caused the break in the trust. It must stop immediately and professional help may be necessary. Without this acknowledgement and change, trust will remain dead and buried with the non-offending spouse.
- Apologize— True contrition, by apologizing with no excuses or blaming of others, is critical. The problem is the offender often thinks that apologizing should restore trust quickly and then gets frustrated that the trust is not quickly returned by their spouse. The offending spouse may say, “I have apologized, what else do you want me to do?” This is a huge misstep and shifts the burden of reconciliation back to the other spouse. The offender must continue to apologize with no expectation of rapid repair. There are still other vital steps that can’t be overlooked before the apology can take effect.
- Suffering— This step is often overlooked. If the offending spouse does not suffer at least as much or more than the other spouse, the non-offending spouse will not know if their spouse has truly understood the depth of the damage done. Without this knowledge, they cannot move forward and will carry the fear that the behavior will not change because the pain was not felt deeply enough.
- Bringing it up— You will be surprised to know that the offending spouse should be the one to be open and willing to talk about it. Esther Perel says that the offending spouse needs to hold vigil for an affair by regularly talking about it with their spouse. This helps relieve the non-offending spouse of wondering if the breach of trust has been forgotten or might still be going on. It allows the non-offending spouse to share their hurt. When this happens, the offending spouse needs to listen without any defensiveness.
- New behavior with no promises— That’s right, stop making promises. If one couldn’t keep marital vows of fidelity or trust, promising to do so now will be met with cynicism. Mark Twain said, “What you are doing is thundering so loud in my ears, I can’t hear what you are saying.” Adopt the motto of the state of Missouri, the show me state. Time and new behavior are the best trust builders.
Couples that understand and move through this process have a chance to make things better. They might even be able to build a stronger relationship from the one they had previously, but it will take time. Be patient. Suffer together. Healing can come. Trust can return. You can find peace again.
Dr. Scott Petersen is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), and Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC).
Dr. Petersen specializes in working with married couples. He helps couples learn conflict resolution and how to improve their communication. He also has training in helping couples affected by addiction work through the addiction and reestablish safety within the relationship.