When one partner has been deeply hurt by the other’s actions - through an affair or some other kind of betrayal - it can be hard to see how trust can ever be restored. But I have seen couples in this situation find a way forward and thought I would share some reflections on the factors that enable trust to be rebuilt.
Willingness to change
If both of you are committed to repairing the relationship it is important to take time to reflect on what might need to change to make your relationship work for both of you. While it’s easy to view the partner who had the affair as being “in the wrong” there may be many factors which have led them to act in this way including aspects of the relationship that have made them feel unhappy or unloved. When both partners are willing to make changes to benefit the other there is a much greater chance of finding a way forward together and saving the relationship.
Doing what you say you will do
We learn we can trust someone when they follow through on their promises. So if you tell your partner you’ll be back at 6pm, make sure you are back at 6pm. This helps to rebuild their sense that your word can be relied on.
Often the partner who has been betrayed has many questions they need answers to, particularly about why the affair happened. If the partner who had the affair is able to honestly describe what was going on in their heart and mind that led them to be intimate with someone else this can help the injured partner to make sense of why it happened. It takes away some of the mystery and fear surrounding the behaviour and helps the couple feel closer as they share more at an emotional level. Sometimes the partner who had the affair will find it extremely hard to put into words why they did it. Sometimes the betrayed partner needs to accept that they will not receive an adequate answer to their questions.
Genuine heartfelt apology
If the partner who had the affair is able to say sorry in a way that is meaningful to their partner this goes a long way to restoring trust. If you are able to listen to how your actions affected your partner and acknowledge the pain you have caused your partner will feel heard and understood. Finding ways to demonstrate your care for each other is very important in rebuilding trust.
Choosing to trust
The injured partner has to make a decision to trust even though this can make them feel extremely vulnerable at first. Otherwise the ongoing climate of distrust will undermine the attempts you are both making to repair the relationship. This may mean deciding to stop checking your partner’s mobile phone or Facebook account and allowing your partner freedom to go out without ringing them constantly to check if they are where they claim to be. It may mean choosing to stop going back over past events during arguments and instead focusing on the future and choosing to expect the best from your partner.
Ask your partner what they need from you
While the above thoughts are general ideas on what helps rebuild trust, find out what specifically would help your partner begin to trust you again. At first they may say “I don’t know” especially when the emotions are still very raw and it’s hard to think clearly, but I’d encourage you to return to this question again a few days or weeks later as it may take time for them to consider this and identify what would help.
All relationships are different and it’s not always possible to repair things when one or both partners have acted in a way that is damaging to trust. However my experience of counselling couples has shown me that when both partners are committed to changing and finding a way forward, trust can be rebuilt and couples counselling provides a safe environment to support this process.