When we talk about trust, we use verbs like “build” and “break”. This is not a coincidence – trust is very much a structure that is built over time, and in some cases – gets broken. Like all other structures, however, it can always be rebuilt.
This potential for rebuilding is not obvious. If your trust was broken, understanding that its broken state doesn’t have to be its last is the ability to look through the dust, rubble, and scattered pieces, and still imagine how things can be reconstructed in the coming future.
It should not be taken for granted.
What’s more, it requires a decision to be made: is this structure worth rebuilding if it was broken so easily by my partner?
There is no one answer to this question. When it comes to relationships, trust can be broken in many different ways for many different reasons, and context very much matters.
Infidelity usually comes to mind, but lies, manipulation, going back on promises, and simply not being there in times of need all work against trust as well.
Regardless of the cause, how to rebuild trust in a relationship starts with a decision that can be made; a possibility to consider on an individual case basis.
Perhaps you are at a point in life when you are considering this decision, or perhaps you have already made your decision but are unsure how to rebuild trust in a relationship again. Perhaps you just have trust issues due to past relationships.
To some, simply surviving infidelity is already hard enough. To others, the trust breaking was their doing, and they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Asking themselves how to build trust in a relationship is simply the first step.
If any of those is true, you are probably going through a lot of pain right now. Healing from this pain will take time regardless of what you end up deciding, and we at DoMental are here to help. If nothing else, we are glad you see the importance of trust in a relationship.
If you do decide to rebuild trust in your relationship, there are certain steps both you and your partner can take. Some of them must be taken by the person who broke the trust while others by the person whose trust was broken. Others yet, by both.
Just like building trust in a new relationship, rebuilding trust in a relationship (after cheating, especially) is a two-person act.
This one cannot be stressed enough. If trust is like a house, communication is the mortar that keeps the bricks together. It is a foundational baseline without which nothing else in the relationship can be done. In the case of rebuilding trust in a relationship, communication can be quite challenging.
It is a lot like treating an open wound: necessary, but not without pain.
The circumstances of the breaking of trust must be dredged up and discussed openly by both sides, and it is important for both to be open and empathic, to listen attentively, and to be patient with one another, and with themselves.
If you are the one whose trust was broken, here is the type of questions that should be discussed:
- What exactly am I feeling about what happened?
- Why did I choose to rebuild trust instead of walking away?
- What can the other person do to help me rebuild my trust?
If, on the other hand, you are the one who broke the trust, openly and sincerely apologizing for what you did should go beyond saying. Past that, you should be discussing questions such as:
- What led me to having done what I did?
- What exactly am I feeling about what happened?
- How do I need to change to facilitate the rebuilding of my partner’s trust?
The goal of communicating at this level is to establish a stable base for the other steps to build upon. Your wants, needs, and values may have changed after the trust was broken, and it is important for both of you to be aware of what page each of you is on.
Be wary of assumptions, for they are the enemy of clarity, and accept that negative emotions such as anger may be more volatile than usual. In fact, opposition can be beneficial when dealing with serious relationship problems.
Anger and irritability, in particular, should not be shunned. Anger is a very natural emotion to feel if you feel betrayed, and it is important to release it rather than keep it inside until it bursts out uncontrollably.
2. Learn to forgive
There are many things forgiveness doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean whatever happened is now okay, or stops affecting you. It doesn’t mean the relationship resets in some way, and it doesn’t mean the pain you feel magically evaporates.
So what is forgiveness then? Rather than some sort of on/off button you eventually manage to switch, forgiveness is a gradual process, and a conscious, growth-minded attitude.
It is choosing to start putting what happened in the past, move forward, and allow the person who broke your trust to do the same.
In short, forgiveness is a journey.
It is important to note that forgiveness needs to happen on both sides: the side that got hurt needs to learn to forgive the side that hurt, but the latter also needs to learn to forgive themselves for doing what they did.
3. Leave the past behind you
It would be very difficult to walk forward on the path of forgiveness if one was constantly looking back.
It can be very tempting, oddly enough, to continuously mull over those painful memories and experiences, reminding yourself that yes, that did happen, and allowing that mindset to fester in your daily life through rumination.
But doing so would be akin to getting wet in the rain, deciding that you should find shelter to dry up, and then standing still in the downpour. To leave the past behind you is to continue walking towards that shelter, and taking the time to dry up once you are there. Then, you can finally take a hot shower and change into something warm and comfortable.
This does not, and cannot, erase the fact that you got completely soaked, but what would continue to dwell on that yield?
However, this is not easy to do, as the mind naturally gravitates towards negativity, as though it has a stronger cognitive and emotional pull than positivity. To pull ourselves away from that negativity requires conscious effort.
Leaving the past behind you also means that you do now allow it to invade and take over all present and future interactions with your partner. Bringing it up in every argument, automatically assuming your partner is lying, and continuously reminding them of what they did is not going to be helpful.
4. Let needs guide you
The needs of people whose trust was broken, and emotional needs in particular, are what ought to guide the actions of the person who broke the trust. For that reason, they must be very clearly communicated.
For example, they may need more time and space (physical or otherwise) than before, or they may need to establish stricter boundaries until they start feeling comfortable again. They may not be willing to have intimacy just yet, or they may be extra clingy and attention-seeking.
They may require communication to be more open and intentions to be more transparent, and in the case of infidelity, they also may, understandably, want to have some amount of veto power over what people of the opposite sex the one who broke the trust interacts with.
These needs are not them being vindictive and controlling – it is them saying that in order to rebuild trust in their relationship and their partner, and for them to feel respected again after being betrayed, their needs must be a high priority, and must be met.
When these needs are expressed, they come from a place of vulnerability – one that must be accepted and respected.
5. Create new memories
This part is less difficult and overall more fun. Have you ever had a really bad day, and going for ice cream with a friend cheered you up just enough that you went to sleep not feeling terrible? While this is not representative of having broken trust in a relationship (although ice cream won’t do any harm even then), the same core idea still applies.
In the process of rebuilding trust, the associations our brain has with our partner are still related to what they did, how they made us feel, and how our pain is the result of their decisions and actions.
Creating new memories is a way to “rewire” those associations with new, positive experiences that we have with them. When you smile and laugh with someone, your brain starts perceiving them as a source of joy, not pain.
This could mean a variety of different things that can be done together. Going to the movies, going on vacation, having a special, romantic dinner, being playful and whimsical, engaging with new activities, and yes, going out for ice cream.
It is important to note that this is not tricking yourself to avoid a painful truth or sweeping it under the rug. This is a form of moving on – of living life and having positive experiences in spite of, not instead of, the negative ones you went through.
6. Couples therapy
In relationship therapy, be it in-person or online counseling, an impartial third party is there to help you and serves multiple functions. One of them is to observe the particulars of the communication between you and your partner, and to notice and point out things you wouldn’t normally notice but are of high relevance.
Another is acting as a guide: knowing when it is time to stop, rest, and evaluate, and when it is time to delve back into the topic, and how deeply is it safe to go at any given point.
Relationship therapy is known to be effective. But for this to be true, it is necessary for both sides of the relationship to be willing to have it and for both to be willing to work on their relationship. This is because, like any other form of rebuilding, it takes work.
Importantly, relationship therapy should not be seen as a last resort. It is not something you should try when all other things fail, but rather something you should try in order to help those other things succeed.
Most couples wait 6 unhappy years before deciding to give therapy a try. You should not be part of that statistic.
These days, online therapy is a way for you to start rebuilding trust in a relationship, even from home. With online therapy, you can start rebuilding trust in relationships easily, comfortably, and affordably.
If you are interested in trying out relationship online therapy for rebuilding trust, our therapists at DoMental will be more than happy to help. Click the button below to take our quiz, which will help us learn more about your relationship and match you with a suitable couples therapist. You could then start talking with them straight away!