Betrayed: The challenge of rebuilding trust
by Dr. Dave Currie
Betrayal rolls through my office like semi-trucks into a weigh station. On the freeway of life, people experience incredible emotional wreckage when they find out that someone they trusted has lied to them. This type of unfaithfulness is sadly too common.
Here are some complicated situations that create broken trust: A man finds out for sure that his wife has been cheating on him for over two years despite her denying his suspicions earlier; a woman walks in on her man ‘preoccupied’ yet again with trashy images of pornography on his phone after he said he was over his habit; a husband finds a receipt that can only be explained one way – his wife’s demoralizing re-lapse into a shopping spree even though their financial crisis was discussed. How many times should a wife be disappointed before her spouse would do what he promised? Yet, his lack of follow-through on commitments made is so crushing to her. She just can’t trust him.
Like two people partnered in a flying trapeze act, relational connection in a marriage is when one fully trusts that the other will be there to catch them, will hold on tight and will never let them fall. There’s a deep understanding and steady grip that reflect this trust. But what happens when it feels like you were just ‘dropped’? The heart-breaking stories are as plentiful as the emotions that accompany them on this road of betrayal. Cheating. Lying. Confusion. Secrets. Anger. Denials. Investigation. Broken Promises. Tears. Half-truths. Suspicion. Fear. Manipulation. Rejection. Blaming. Disappointment.
As hard as it may be to believe, even when their story isn’t convincing, partners with suspicious actions somehow deny them when accused and still justify them when caught. How is that possible? What are they thinking? How can they do that?
This great inconsistency of life within a once-dedicated bond is so disheartening. The relationship is extremely fractured often irreparably. Can trust be rebuilt?
Let’s get on the same page. Trust is the deep and genuine confidence in the reliability and integrity of another person. It’s what we come to assume within our most important relationships. Trust is a growing assurance of deep dependability of life and character.
For you to be and live trustworthy, you act in consistency with the other’s best interests and in keeping with your word. Your words are reliable. You keep your promises. You live by your word. That’s trust. Then as relationship deepens, I decide I can trust you. I start to feel safe with you. I am confident you have my best in mind. You have my back. I believe your words are truthful, your motives are positive and your interest is genuine. When trust is present, we mutually feel fully secure.
Broken Trust is Betrayal
That’s why betrayal is so hard – trust and truth are ripped from the core of your being and are replaced by a twisted version of disloyalty and deception. The safe feeling is shattered. A once pure and uncompromising alliance is now broken. So much was riding on that trust.
“But you said it was behind you, how could you do go back again?” Broken trust.
“I believed you all this time.” Broken trust.
“You promised me.” Broken trust.
“That’s surely not what you conveyed to me”. Broken trust.
While the actual action of betrayal is hard enough, for some, it’s the repeated all out lies that cause the greatest hurt. The offended partner is saying, “Where do I go from here if I really can’t ever trust what you say to me?” Betrayal, whether sudden or gradual, is worse than a hard relational punch in the gut. Your heart feels like it’s going to explode with disappointment. You gasp and cringe but the pain of infidelity and broken trust just won’t go away.
To rebuild trust is to re-establish a life of integrity over time. The primary obligation for rebuilding trust lies with the person who broke the trust in the first place. Their role is central to the renewal of faith in the relationship. It will take both time and effort to restore what their careless and selfish actions have destroyed. The wounded partner has a journey as well. An understandable guarded skepticism will have to be replaced over time by a gradual, renewed faith. And yes, it will take time and effort to risk again.
The Offender: Steps to Rebuilding
Naïve offenders say foolish things like, “You’re just going to have to trust me.” The truth is, you are going to have to give them good reason to trust you again. Though there are no guarantees, you’d be wise to follow these steps to have your best shot at genuinely getting your spouse back. The principles are aimed to a full recovery from one of the most challenging betrayals – an affair – but can easily be applied to every type. Here’s what rebuilding trust looks like.
Pursue third party mediation. Go to a marriage counsellor or pastor to help bring support and accountability and to establish the needed direction for the recovery. They can guide you in rebuilding the trust and restoring the relationship. Their presence brings a level of objectivity and clarity to the issues at hand and hopefully a Godly perspective.
Take initiative at every turn. Be willing to do whatever it takes to regain your spouse’s trust. Don’t hold back, sit back or fall back. Ask your spouse what they need from you and listen with the intent of trying to address all that is requested. You have to humbly be “all in”. Your actions, even when under the counsel of others, need to be authentically self-initiated and genuinely your choice. Your mate will see and sense your sincerity.
Soften your heart toward God. There’s no doubt you will need God at every turn. Ask Him to change your heart. Embrace His promise of forgiveness. Ask for strength to make the needed changes in your life. Ask that He help you rekindle a God-honouring love toward your spouse. Pray for your spouse, your marriage and the damage you have done beyond the two of you. Desire integrity before God above all else. Maintain a daily deep and consistent commitment to grow closer to the Lord.
Display heartfelt repentance. Own your wrong before God. Then, admit the wrong with your spouse. See your betrayal for what it is – pure selfishness. Saying you’re sorry is right and good but is often not heard by your spouse in the early days. Set up a time to work through the hurt when they are ready. Admit your faults in detail. Answer any question they ask. Apologize specifically. Ask for forgiveness and also what can you do to make things right. Make no excuses; when you defend or justify, you damage your cause and are not thinking about their perspective. Pray together if your spouse is willing. Remember, their forgiveness is a series of steps, not one act. The start is an initial step of willingness to let go of the wrong committed. It is wise to apologize to others in the family who have been affected – children, parents and other close family and friends who are aware.
Show genuine empathy for hurts caused. Own your mistakes for the hurts caused and the breach of trust that you have committed. Seek to identify with them how your behaviour has wounded them. Listen to their pain. Ask God to help you see things from their perspective, in so doing cultivate a genuine brokenness for wrongdoings. Empathize with the pain you have caused. Allow your spouse to find a few trusted confidantes to share their hurt and journey with. Don’t let your pride restrict them to walk this recovery road alone.
Come clean with complete honesty. The bottom line is that you have to be willing to disclose all your wrongdoings. You can’t rebuild a marriage on a foundation of half-truths in an attempt to either protect them or make it easier on you. Full disclosure of your unfaithfulness is best. Moving forward, there can be no more secrets, no internal inconsistency and no external incongruence. No more games or manipulation of facts to convey a safer more acceptable message. And as time goes by, if you realize you have in any way misrepresented the truth on either past or present issues, disclose this slip up as soon as possible, for sure within 24 hours. Don’t wait to be asked but make a humble, quick recovery if truth is breached.
Block access to the temptation. Whether it’s porn, a person or another distraction, let go of any right to maintain connection. Agree to break all ties and remove all triggers. Install filtering and accountability software to remove all access to porn on any internet-empowered devices. Cut off every means of communication with the person you had the affair with in a way that your spouse and the third party approve. Beyond this, whether gambling, shopping or any other temptation – agree on ways to fully prevent a repeated failure.
Accountability to a third party. This could be a pastor, a counsellor or a good friend, but it has to be someone with teeth, someone who your spouse trusts to ask the hard questions. Welcome this accountability. Request full accountability for your actions – where you are, who you are with, what you are doing. Invite them to call you to a God-honouring greatness on behalf of your spouse – to push you toward integrity.
Volunteer your whereabouts daily. Don’t wait to be asked. Allow complete access to your schedule. Disclose all the details of the who, why, when, where and how long in all your activities. Inform willingly and frequently about your world and what you are doing. Sincerely want to create an environment of openness and transparency. Volunteer all your comings and goings like this until your mate says it’s enough. Then, agree on the level of awareness you both will maintain as a couple moving forward.
Provide accessibility to electronics. Your spouse has a right to look through your phones, iPads, and computers and every app or program on them especially the social media ones. Give the passwords and access to all digital devices since they should be able to spot check anytime they like. After all, you no longer have anything to hide.
Healthy relational boundaries. Discuss what relational faithfulness will look like. What are the restrictions you will put on your outside opposite sex friendships? Create wise interpersonal limits that convey complete respect and uniqueness. Initiate weekly recovery discussions about how you are doing. Ask if there is anything that you are doing that puts them in a tailspin. Willingly listen to remove triggers to break the cycle of distrust.
Stay the course in recovery. Be patient. Healing from the betrayal will take time. Don’t hound them, crowd them or pressure them back into the relationship. Genuinely commit to do the hard work and commitment over time to make the changes needed. Yes, time heals but your genuine heart and life change demonstrated consistently over months will speed the healing.
Contact Dr. Dave Currie at email@example.com
In part two next month we will look at The Wounded: Steps to Reconnecting