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Building Trust After It's Been Broken




In a trusting relationship, the baseline is a feeling of safety and respect, a belief that your wants and needs are heard, and the general feeling that there is no need to hide things. A relationship where trust is lacking may be signified by a feeling that you always need to be with the other person to truly know what they are doing, a fear that being vulnerable will likely lead to getting hurt, intense feelings of uncertainty or insecurity, questioning someone’s actions or what they say, or an unshakable feeling that the other person is hiding something.


When Trust is Broken

There are many ways someone can betray trust. A few common examples are infidelity, getting caught in a significant lie, when an important commitment is not kept or there is a pattern of breaking commitments, when someone is absent in a time of great need, a pattern of withholding, a pattern of lying or manipulating, and when someone threatens you or betrays your confidence.


Trying to Mend

It’s possible to rebuild broken trust, but it can be a long and sometimes painful process, and all parties involved need to be aware and accepting of that fact in order to move forward. Begin by acknowledging the following intricacies of this process:

  • This is going to take time. You may be eager to trust (or be trusted) again, but that feeling is not one that comes back quickly.

  • This is probably going to be a nonlinear process. Some days will feel easier while others feel harder, and they won’t necessarily be in an order that makes sense to you. Try to give this as much nonjudgmental space as you can.

  • Working to rebuild trust in the relationship means acknowledging the need for growth in the relationship and on account of all parties involved, individually.

  • The goal is not to get back to the way you felt about the relationship before the betrayal. Though you can try to forgive and mend, you cannot un-experience the feelings you had, and they probably will change your experience of this relationship going forward.

  • At any point in this process, someone may realize that they are unable or unwilling to continue the relationship. While it may be extremely difficult, honesty is the root of this process, and this is no exception.


Steps to Rebuild Trust

  1. Get a commitment from all parties that they want to change things and they are willing to put in the work.

  2. If you are able to, find a couples, family, or group therapist to work with. A therapist can help you stay honest with each other and with yourself. They can also observe things that those involved in the relationship might otherwise miss. A recurring therapy session is a great container for continuing to work on the relationship.

  3. All parties should take some time to reflect, to ask themselves what they felt in the initial situation, how they feel now, and how they want to feel. Any anger or resentment needs to be acknowledged and shared. These feelings may have built up on all sides of the relationship. There needs to be space for everyone’s feelings to be shared and heard.

  4. The person who has broken trust needs to meaningfully apologize. They need to demonstrate an understanding of what they have done, express remorse, and commit to repairing it. If anyone else in the relationship acted in a hurtful way toward the person who betrayed trust, they may feel justified in their action, but it is still important to apologize for causing harm. The goal in this process is to improve the relationship for everyone. Forgiving and accepting forgiveness are goals to work toward. They will take time to fully achieve.

  5. Identify and share the needs and wants of all parties to begin attempting to trust again. The context in which the betrayal took place should be considered. Analyzing the context of the betrayal may lead to the illumination of a structural problem–perhaps the parameters of the relationship need to be adjusted or discussed. How can everyone be set up for success going forward? Come to a clear agreement about expectations and commitments.

  6. Now that commitments to change have been made, everyone needs to work toward leaving the past in the past. Discuss how you will move forward together. Make plans for things to look forward to in the future.

  7. Engage in joyful experiences together. Laughing, smiling, and enjoying something together can help stimulate your positive bond, to remind you of the good in the relationship.

  8. Invest in vulnerability. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with this person again and ask them to be vulnerable with you. Start rebuilding pathways and patterns of intimacy and sharing again.


Stronger Than Before

In a relationship with a meaningful history, between people who have a deep connection, going through the process of rebuilding trust can actually strengthen the relationship even more than before the breach of trust occurred. Though the breach may never be forgotten, watching someone commit to and put in the work of rebuilding that foundation, alongside you, can remind you of some of the wonderful aspects of your relationship that still exist. It can also give you a renewed appreciation for that person’s commitment to your relationship and their relational style, which may have been something that drew you to them before the breach. Rebuilding trust after it has been broken is not going to be the right choice for every relationship. But for some, it may feel entirely worth the work.


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