Trust is the foundation of a healthy, secure relationship. But in a marriage, that trust may be broken by the actions of a partner, whether through dishonesty, betrayal, unfaithfulness, negligence, or erratic behavior. Unlike forgiveness, trust is not simply a choice. Trust is a feeling of safety and security in the relationship. It is a belief that the other values the relationship and is committed to making it a priority. Once trust has been damaged, it is not always easily restored. But it is not impossible to restore.
We often confuse what is difficult with what is impossible. With intentional consistency, commitment, and connection, trust can be rebuilt. It will require more than verbal reassurances. It requires bold, consistent changes in behavior. If you have damaged your partner’s trust and you are determined to work toward re-establishing a trusting relationship, the following trust-building activities can get you started.
1. Give a thorough apology.
Your apology should include specifically what you did wrong, how it affected your partner, your remorse, how you will make amends, and a commitment not to repeat the offense. Your apology may need to be restated as the effects of your offense continue to arise.
2. Allow your partner to freely express how he has been hurt by your offense without defense or excuses.
Instead, show empathy and understanding, demonstrating that it is safe to talk to you about his feelings.
3. Ask what specific behavior changes your partner needs from you.
This may include increased accountability throughout the day, limited use of the internet or social media, access to email or texts, cutting off relationships, financial accountability, more date nights or time together, more verbal or physical affection, increased openness about your feelings or desires, professional counseling, etc. It may be helpful for you and your partner to make a list or chart of trust-building behaviors and mark it on a regular basis.
4. Recognize the importance of honesty.
White lies, partial truths, and lies of omission will cause further damage. Forthrightness (being honest and direct before being asked) is necessary. Be gentle with your honesty, but be completely transparent. The more open you are, the less doubt your partner will have.
5. Be open to answer your partner’s questions.
When you are defensive or holding back, your partner’s insecurities will increase and she may assume guilt. Provide reassurances, alleviate worries, and tell the whole truth.
6. Stop behaviors that break trust.
Do not continue the behaviors that broke trust in the first place, and always be mindful if your actions will build or break down trust. Show your partner that you value her by making intentional decisions with her in mind, big or small.
7. Seek connection. Intimacy and connection are an important part of rebuilding trust.
Look into your partner’s eyes, hold hands, say “I love you.” Ask your partner what makes him feel loved, safe, and cared for, and do those things consistently.
8. Consistently follow through on the details.
If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you say you’re going to be somewhere, be there. Understand your responsibilities, and do them on time every time.
9. Be trustworthy with others.
Your partner will see if you maintain integrity with others in your life, and will see that as an indicator of whether it is safe for them to trust you.
10. Be patient with your partner’s insecurities.
Recognize that she will likely have her guard up with you for a while as they determine if you are safe enough to open up to. Trust is the foundation of a relationship, and just like a building, if the foundation is destroyed, it has to be rebuilt from the ground up. This takes time.
Restoring trust is not impossible, and incorporating these trust-promoting behaviors in your relationship can make it stronger than ever. When the offended partner is open to the possibility of trusting again and willing to allow his partner to win back his confidence and stop punishing her for the offense; and when the offending partner is willing to do what it takes to earn back trust, then you are on the road to restoring trust and healing your relationship.