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How Can I Ever Trust Him Again?
I see this question asked over and over again from countless women who have been betrayed by their intimate partner. Can he really repair trust?
I do believe that most of that trust can be regained, but it can only happen if the betrayer is willing to work hard to earn it back. Repairing trust isn’t easy, for either of you, but it can be done.
If you really want to earn back the trust you have broken I’ve created a 5 step plan that will help. I’ve made it even easier by turning it into an acronym. TRUST!
***This post is written to the betrayer, but the betrayed can also use it as a checklist to verify if they really should be trusting again. ***
T- Truth and Transparency
The first step in rebuilding trust is to be completely open and honest with your partner. This means about EVERYTHING! You can’t just tell her what she already knows, or the things you think she might find out.
How much detail she wants is up to her. You do not get to control that. Just answer her questions honestly with as much detail as she asks for. Don’t lie by omission just because she doesn’t ask super specifically either. Don’t minimize or gaslight. Understand her definitions of words and let her guide the conversations.
This isn’t a one and done thing either. This has to last for the rest of your life. You never know when she may think of another question, or just need reassurance that you really did tell all. It doesn’t matter if it happened 10 minutes ago or 10 years ago. If she asks then you humbly answer. Period.
Many couples find it helpful to do a formal full disclosure. You can do this with or without a therapist. If you choose to use a therapist make sure they understand that the victim is in full control of what they choose to hear. The therapist does not get to decide for them.
Many couples choose to do a full disclosure with accompanying polygraph. Not sure what should be on your disclosure? A good place to start is answer this detailed list of questions from my friend Kate. Kate is an addict in recovery as well as a victim of betrayal trauma. She’s seen it from both ends and has amazing advice.
Transparency also include allowing your partner to have access to anything of yours that she wants. Yeah it sucks. Yeah some people may tell you it’s a violation of privacy, but if you really want to gain trust this is the only way. Prove to her there is nothing to fear by hiding nothing.
Let her look at your cellphone whenever she wants. Give her the passwords to your email and social media accounts. Give her access to phone records or anything else she needs. It may seem over the top at first, but this is what she needs to find safety with you. If you are unwilling to be transparent then you are most likely going to lose your relationship.
If you ever want her to trust you again you have to take full responsibility for your actions. Your choices are your fault. Period!
No excuses, minimizing, blameshifting or attempting to escape the consequences of your actions. Don’t let the shame take over, just humbly take responsibility for what you have done and how it has affected her.
Good example: “I chose to look at pornography. I know how much that hurt you. I am sorry. I know that choosing to be on the computer late at night when I was alone contributed to this relapse. From now on I will shut the computer down at 9pm no matter what, and make sure I am only using it in family spaces where I won’t be alone.”
Bad Example: “I was really hungry and tired and this ad popped up. I just couldn’t help myself. I tried really hard. I went 2 whole weeks this time without looking. Don’t I get any credit for trying! You don’t appreciate me, why even bother.”
You are 100% responsible for your actions. Own it and make better choices. Apologize humbly when you mess up then show changed behavior.
Your partner needs you to understand and show respect for the trauma that she is going through. Imagine that you are sitting safe in your home when an enormous wildfire comes racing in and you have to run leaving everything behind. Now imagine how you would feel if you were told that your partner is the one who started the fire.
Betrayal Trauma literally changes the brain. It can cause physical and mental health issues. At a bare minimum it completely rewrites the narrative of your story together.
A betrayed partner now needs to process through and figure out what, if anything, in their relationship was real. Who are you? Who are they? What are you together? What is truth and what is lies?
These questions don’t just affect their relationship with you. Many of us begin to see red flags we never noticed before in other relationships with friends and family. For some their entire world is completely rewritten and must be processed in a new context.
Then there’s the grief. It can range from total numbness and dissociation to all encompassing pain and sadness. This grief never goes away. It can be triggered at any moment, and sometimes these triggers can totally knock someone on their butt!
If you want to understand Betrayal Trauma in more detail head on over to my ultimate resource guide.
S- Sympathy and Support
It isn’t enough to just understand what is going on with your partner. You actually have to care. This is probably the hardest step.
Shame and pride make it really easy to jump into instant defensiveness when she gets upset. It’s much easier to blame her for being over-dramatic, crazy, or unforgiving than it is to say “Yup, I did that.”
It’s also natural to want to put on your Mr. Fixit hat and try to make her pain go away. Toxic positivity won’t help here either. You have to be willing to just sit with her in her pain.
Here is what sympathy and support actually look like.
“If I understand correctly you are feeling triggered right now because you don’t feel like I was listening to you and I made a choice that went against what you wanted. I know that is a big trigger for you because I have a pattern of making choices without even talking to you and disregarding your opinions. I know that hurts because it sends the message that you and your feelings are not important to me. Do I understand you fully?”
Wait for her response. If she says no do the previous step as many times as needed until she feels understood. Even if you feel she is just repeating things, she needs to talk it out and know that you will listen. Once she confirms understanding move on to responsibility and sympathy/support.
“I am truly sorry that my actions have caused you to feel this way. I can see how I could have listened better and verified understanding before moving forward in this decision. I know I have hurt you and I want to be there for you. It sounds like you want me to (insert possible solution based on what she has said in the conversation). Is that correct?”
Once again wait for verification of understanding. Once a solution is agreed to affirm that you know the hurt won’t instantly go away and ask her if she needs you to sit with her for a while or be left alone. Every woman and every situation is different. Sometimes she will need you to hold her while she cries and sometimes she needs to be left alone to process. Be willing to give her what she needs, not what you want or think she should need.
The most important part of rebuilding trust is the final step, give it time. Trust only takes an instant to destroy, but it takes a lifetime to rebuild. You have to accept that 100% trust will likely never be there again. Due to your actions you may have to spend the rest of your life constantly proving yourself and dealing with her random triggers.
Some actions have consequences that never go away, no matter how hard you work to repent. Betrayal is one of them. Accept it. If you want to truly build a relationship in the house you destroyed you have to build the foundation first.
If you try to rush to putting up a roof before you pour the concrete your house will simply fall again. If you want to rebuild your relationship it has to be built on a foundation of trust. That trust is only gradually built up over time. There are no shortcuts.
The only timetable that matters is hers. It doesn’t matter how much you think you deserve trust. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell the truth, show up for her, or don’t look at another woman. You are not entitled to anything. You just have to humbly keep moving forward proving to her that you are worthy of her trust.
Don’t Keep Breaking It!
This should go without saying, but if you break her trust again you have to start all over from square one. Trust isn’t like a rising stock in the market, little daily ups and downs, but overall trending up. Every time you betray her trust your stock crashes. It doesn’t just go back to where it was though, it falls lower and lower taking more and more work to earn it back.
Last of all remember it is ALWAYS ok for the victim of betrayal to say enough is enough I’m done trying. It may seem stupid over a little lie or a little slip, but when it comes on the tail end of many many lies and slips over the years it is perfectly reasonable. Building trust is on you. You are not entitled to it, it is earned.
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