Steps for Rebuilding Trust

If your partner betrays your trust, it’s important to honestly talk about what happened and take the necessary steps to fix the damage done.

The key to rebuilding trust is learning how to discuss the issue in a way that prevents you and your partner from falling into a pattern of confrontations and denials. To help couples work through an intimate betrayal we’ve developed a research-based process for restoring broken trust.

STEP ONE: DISCUSS THE BETRAYAL

You and your partner need to discuss the betrayal that occurred without getting stuck in a never-ending cycle of confrontations and denials. You should be able to describe exactly how your partner’s actions caused you harm. It helps to describe what your partner did to betray your trust and explain how you’re feeling in a way that creates empathy. For example, “I’m so hurt” versus “You hurt me.” If you can describe your feelings in a way that creates concern rather than defensiveness, your partner is more likely to accept responsibility for his or her actions.

STEP TWO: CLARIFY THE FACTS

If your partner takes responsibility for what happened, the events and facts surrounding the incident need to be discussed. You probably have a lot of questions that need to be answered. Until you find out exactly what did and did not happen, feelings of uncertainty may linger, making it difficult for you to regain your peace of mind. As painful as it might be, all of the relevant facts need to be brought out into the open.

STEP THREE: MAKE/ACCEPT SINCERE APOLOGIES

The partner at fault needs to offer a simple, sincere apology, which admits wrongdoing and conveys remorse (“I’m sorry. I hurt you and I regret it.”). Apologies are less effective when they come with excuses (“I’m sorry, but…”) or promises never to do it again.

STEP FOUR: EXPLAIN THE REASON FOR THE BETRAYAL

In order to resolve the problem, you’re going to have to understand exactly why your partner betrayed your trust. Your partner is going to have to describe the circumstances that led him or her to betray you as well as the motivation underlying his or her behavior. This is the time for your partner to offer a detailed explanation of what happened. What exactly was your partner thinking and feeling when the betrayal occurred?

STEP FIVE: CREATE A PLAN

Once you and your partner understand why the betrayal occurred, couples need to develop a plan to prevent the betrayal from happening again. This plan should spell out how your partner will change his or her behavior to address the causes for the betrayal and take steps to prevent it from happening in the future. Perhaps your partner needs to avoid certain individuals and situations. Or deal with his or her feelings in more constructive ways. It helps to get this commitment in writing.

STEP SIX: STICK TO YOUR PLAN

In addition to creating a plan, you and your partner will need to develop strategies for making sure that commitments are being kept. The two of you should establish rules or practices that make it easy for you to monitor his or her behavior. Transparency is critical when trying to rebuild trust.

STEP SEVEN: ASSESS YOUR PROGRESS

It helps to schedule specific times where you can discuss with your partner any progress that’s being made and modify your plan if necessary. What’s working and what changes might need to be made? And if your partner is living up to his or promises, it helps to acknowledge the effort being made.

STEP EIGHT: BE PATIENT

Rebuilding trust takes time and it’s up to you to determine if and when forgiveness occurs. It helps if your partner doesn’t put pressure on you to forgive him or her before you’re ready to do so. Forgiveness is your decision to make and it occurs when you no longer hold negative feelings about your partner. You don’t condone your partner’s past behavior but see him or her in a positive light again.

For more detailed advice on rebuilding trust take a look inside Broken Trust.

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