How To Rebuild Trust In A Relationship After It's Been Broken
Imagine you’re in an committed, monogamous relationship. Your partner is going out with their friends, and you are not worried about them cheating. They get a text message from an attractive person, and you have peace of mind. They go to lunch with an old friend, and you believe they are truly only going to lunch. You share a secret with your partner, and you know they will not tell a soul. They get a DM from someone, and you know they are not flirting behind your back.
Think about it. Without trust between partners, every moment would become anxiety-provoking and filled with uncertainty.
What is trust?
In relationships, trust is the faith you have in your partner that they will remain loyal to you. You can depend on them, and they make you feel safe and comfortable in any situation. Therefore, trust is one of the most important things to have in a relationship. If you do not have trust, you really don’t have anything.
Many times, when we think of trust being broken, we automatically think of cheating on our partner. However, trust can be broken in many ways: not picking up the kids on time from school, spending more money than you stated you would, not keeping your word with paying the bills on time, and more. It isn’t always the “big” things that can break trust, but it can be an accumulation of small things that build up over time.
The interesting thing about trust is that it goes both ways. To be fully trusting of your partner, you have to be trustworthy. It is completely unfair for you to be doing all the dirt—lying, cheating, and sneaking—and then expect for your partner to trust you fully. Trust is reciprocal. Trust cannot be demanded.
Let’s dive into some signs that you or your partner may have issues with trust in your relationship.
Signs of lack of trust in a relationship.
- Assuming the worst about each other
- Having unrealistic expectations of each other
- Having a need to be in control
- Lack of forgiveness of small mistakes
- Inability to maintain adequate eye contact with each other
- Close-ended conversations
- Feeling uncomfortable or anxious around each other
- Lack of emotional or physical intimacy
- Unwillingness to share your whereabouts with each other
- Lack of transparency around spending habits
- Lack of communication or surface-level communication
- Lack of active listening
- Unwillingness to apologize or accept each other’s apologies
- Unwillingness to admit mistakes
- Inconsistency between words and actions
- No desire to resolve conflicts
- Unkept promises
How to rebuild trust.
One of the biggest questions I often get from couples, “Can my relationship work if my partner has broken my trust?”
The bottom line is, building trust is a two-way process. Both partners must be willing and ready to put in the work after there has been a major breach of trust in the relationship. If one partner is not ready to change and do better, the likelihood of the relationship surviving is minimal.
If you are willing to make the necessary changes, then let’s discuss how to do that from both perspectives.
For the offender:
- Realize you made a mistake and own it. Do not make excuses for your actions. Be honest with yourself and your partner about the breach in your relationship.
- Secure your partner’s insecurities. Let’s face it. You messed up. In the area you messed up in, you are going to have to over-communicate and be extra cautious to show your partner you are making progress. For example, if you were cheating while your partner thought you were at the gym after work, your partner may have their fears triggered when you make personal plans for the weeks and months to come. On your way home daily, you may have to call your partner and update them on your whereabouts to help them feel more secured. If you are going to be late coming home, you need to communicate that in advance and check-in. In this situation, it is not keeping tabs on a person—it’s being respectful.
- Know your partner’s apology language. Like with love languages, each person has a specific way they like receiving apologies. Knowing your partner’s apology language can help you understand how to best convey an apology to your partner and can truly help in conflict resolution while rebuilding trust.
- Accept that this may be a long road. Rebuilding trust may be one of the hardest (and most time-consuming) things you will ever do in your relationship. It will not happen overnight. Remember to stick in there and continue to work towards your goal of rebuilding your partner’s trust even when you don’t feel like it.
For the person who got hurt:
- Analyze your feelings of hurt. As the person who was betrayed, you need to understand your feelings. Do not deny or dismiss your hurt. So, be introspective on things such as, “How deeply am I hurt?” “Have I been holding on to this hurt for too long? “What do I want from this relationship moving forward?”
- Forgive, but don’t forget. If you plan on staying in this relationship and making it work, you must forgive. Yes, your partner hurt you, and right now you probably don’t see how you will ever get over it. But if you are choosing to stay, you need to let go of the offense and work towards reconciliation. It won’t be easy or overnight, but if you ever want a healthy relationship, it is necessary.
- Know that you don’t have to know all the details. Contrary to popular belief, knowing all the details of why your partner betrayed you does not help in the healing process. You do not need to know every detail about the person your partner cheated with or every detail about why they chose to lie. Believe me, even if they told you the truth, it would never be sufficient—so don’t worry about giving yourself the additional stress.
- Don’t blame yourself. It is not always about you, so cut yourself some slack. You did not force or drive your partner to do anything. They are in control of their own actions. Nine times out of 10, the offense had more to do with your partner than you. Unresolved trauma, attachment styles, upbringing, character flaws, and so on are things to consider.
The bottom line.
I’ll be honest. Rebuilding trust after it has been broken is difficult, and depending on the severity of the breach of trust, it often requires some additional help. I have seen people try to handle it all on their own, and often it ends up more like a band aid without actually addressing the deep wound. Consider looking into individual and/or couples therapy to address cheating and trust issues, reading books on building a healthy relationship, and even listening to relationship podcasts.
No matter where you are on this journey—whether the betrayal just happened or you have been holding on to this issue for years—know that if you want healing bad enough, it is available for you.
Kiaundra Jackson, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, TV personality, award-winning speaker, and the author of Hard Work Or Harmony?. She has appeared on OWN's hit TV show Love Goals and as a recurring expert on The Doctors, and her work has been featured in The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, Essence, VICE, and elsewhere. She was recently featured in HuffPost as one of the "10 Black Female Therapists You Should Know." She has a master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Azusa Pacific University.
As a relationship therapist in private practice at KW Couples Therapy, Jackson helps couples heal their relationship, prevent divorce, and keep families together while increasing sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy. She has helped countless couples increase their intimacy, learn effective two-way communication, and heal after affairs.