Since we are all sinful dysfunctional people who at some time will prove ourselves to be untrustworthy, every important relationship in our life will require the rebuilding of trust at some point in time. Sometimes it may only be a slight “remodeling” while at other times it will be a complete “rebuilding” process. In some of our relationships it may seem much easier to just cut and run. We decide the relationship isn’t worth the effort of rebuilding. And this may be true in some situations, but seldom is it ever true of marriage. You might even say that one of the purposes of marriage is to teach us how to rebuild trust when it is broken.
Here are the steps to take when trust needs to be rebuilt.
Step 1: A Sincere Confession of Truth.
Let’s use an affair as an example. Regardless of how the spouse finds out, healing begins when the betrayer confesses the whole truth. The whole truth does not mean every intimate detail—that puts too much of a burden on the shoulders of the betrayed spouse. The rule of thumb on how much to confess is this: If I want to seriously rebuild trust with my spouse, I confess anything that, if it were to be found out later, would undermine the rebuilding of trust. It is better if the whole truth comes out at one time, not in dribs and drabs. Otherwise, each new revelation may feel like an additional wound to the offended spouse.
If you are dealing with a less painful betrayal, the principle is still the same. If information has been withheld in the form of a secret, or if one spouse has been lied to about anything, the need for a sincere confession of the truth always marks the starting point. Without it, the wronged spouse cannot move forward. Couples who try to sweep any kind of lie under the carpet risk lessening, or even losing the intimacy they long for.
Step 2: Complete Openness on the Part of the Betrayer.
This is an essential part of the healing process. The spouse who has had an affair has given up control of their life at least for as long as it takes to rebuild trust. He or she gives up control by becoming an open book to their spouse. No secrets allowed. Cell phones, passwords, email, travel itineraries, their whereabouts at any given point in time, complete accessibility—all of these are part of our becoming open to our spouse about all aspects of our life. Anything less than complete openness restricts the rebuilding of trust. The principle is one of complete openness. There can be nothing that remains hidden, or beyond reach, otherwise when it is found out, and it will be, it will destroy the trust that was reestablished. And the second time trust is breached is more serious. There is the old adage that says, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Few marriages can survive the “fool me twice” syndrome.
The offending spouse must be willing and prepared to discuss the betrayal as much as the offended spouse needs. Just because there has been a full confession of the truth, does not mean that the subject is closed. There must be an understanding that the betrayal is open for discussion as needed by the betrayed spouse. Such openness will help the wounded spouse to feel safe as he or she attempts to trust the other spouse again.
Step 3: There Must be Genuine Sorrow on the Part of the Betrayer.
This also is a key to rebuilding trust. Without it, it’s like building a brick wall without cement. The goal of rebuilding trust is that at some point there is genuine sorrow on the part of the one who lived the lie, and genuine forgiveness on the part of the one betrayed. Without both of these conditions, the marital reconciliation is going to be very superficial and very unsatisfying to both parties. Again, the principle is the same, even for the little lie of omission, or the little white lie.
When confronted by my spouse, I need to confess the truth, become completely open about the subject, and show genuine sorrow for the betrayal. Every lie in a marriage is a form of betrayal, and so regardless of the seriousness of the betrayal, the process is the same.
Step 4: Rebuilding Trust Takes Time and Patience.
The rebuilding of trust always takes time. The more serious the offense, the more time it will take for it to be repaired. A small lie of omission may take a couple of days, whereas an affair may take a year or two just to get to level ground again. So rebuilding means both the offender and offended need to be patient with the process. Both also need to realize that in the process, there will be good days and bad days, ups and downs. You should expect some setbacks along the way.
by Drs. Dave and Jan Stoop