I was talking with someone the other day and issue of dealing with broken trust came up. Now, they weren’t talking about marriage, but I think our conversation had some points that can definitely be applied to marriage. After all, marriages often have broken trust. Lies, pornography addiction, being caught masturbating, affairs, even missed anniversaries and special events, or even a laugh at the wrong time: they all come with broken trust.
So, how do you deal with broken trust in a marriage?
If you think trust can be reestablished there is really only one way to rebuild trust: by letting your spouse be trustworthy. This requires you being able to put them in a trustworthy position. In short, it means becoming vulnerable again to broken trust, in the hopes that they will be trustworthy, but knowing they may not. For spouses this often means becoming intimate again, either physically, emotionally or both.
That’s a very difficult thing to do: to open yourself up again. I’ve talked to so many spouses who are reeling from finding out about their spouse’s affair, porn addiction or masturbating habit wondering how they can ever have sex with them again, because sex is not just a physical act, it involves an emotional connection as well, and it’s hard to be vulnerable to someone in that way when they feel they can’t trust you.
In other cases, trust is broken less, but there are still consequences. If a spouse laughs at an attempt to share a fantasy, or recoils in disgust, trust is broken just the same, if not quite as deeply. Many spouses never share anything again, let alone any sexual fantasies. The memory of their spouse’s face, or voice, hurts too much to be put in that position again.
But, whatever the case, or circumstance, if you want to reestablish trust, at some point it will require extending trust and hoping it isn’t violated again.
When trust can’t be extended for a time
Sometimes trust can’t be given for a time. This can occur when the wounded spouse hasn’t extended forgiveness yet, or they have, but they haven’t quite recovered from the broken trust, or they’re still hurting. It can also occur when the one who broke trust hasn’t take any steps to change. For some issues this may just be asking for forgiveness, for others it may require counseling, or setting up accountability. If the betrayer (for lack of a better term) refuses to take the necessary steps, it becomes very hard for the betrayed spouse to extend trust again.
Sometimes this can take a while, and in those cases, life doesn’t need to end, nor the marriage. But, occasionally boundaries need to be set, or accountability put in place, to ensure there isn’t broken trust again while they are still healing.
Then, in time, trust can be extended again, so that they can begin rebuilding trust.
In marriage, there will always be little broken trusts. We are human and we make mistakes. We slip up, we react poorly, some may lie, or give in to worse temptations. Whatever the situation, trust can be reestablished. Don’t give up hope, but do take the time to trust again, to put boundaries and accountability in place so that you can learn to trust each other again. So long as both spouses are willing to rebuild, there’s no reason they can’t overcome any obstacle.
8 thoughts on “How to rebuild trust when it’s been broken?”
Setting up ways to trust again is so hard. Especially if it gets broke again and again. The biggest hurt comes from is when they act like they did nothing wrong. I always wonder is trust and forgiveness the same thing.
This is so like God…I am sitting here this morning trying to put the finishing touches on a sermon I have to preach this weekend, and of course it all starts running out like water, after I have struggled in the desert for the past couple of weeks; my s.o.a.p. devotional for this morning is about wisdom and how it is available for any and all who ask, so my prayer to close my devo was, “God give me wisdom today for the situations that I have to make decisions in”; then my wife texts me a line from her devo about when there seems to be distance between yourself and God, it is only a feeling, and feelings are not to be trusted; feelings are not to be confused with reality. And then you, JayDee post to your blog about trust issues, and how they are so critical in marriage; incidentally, my sermon is on Jonah and his reaction to the Ninevites reaction to the message from God, and how everyone deserves forgiveness regardless of their past or what they have done, and then God brings to mind Hosea, and God’s willingness to continually forgive over and over…and then…wait for it…why then do we allow divorce (and this is the trust issue that we started with) after only one instance of infidelity?
Now before you all light up your flaming arrows…my disclaimer…I have never been in the infidelity camp, either giving or receiving, however, I, like every other human being, have broken my wife’s trust in our relationship; it took her some time to get over it, but we are in a better place because of it; I sometimes think we have to experience the bad in order to understand and appreciate the good. I will admit that I do not understand the hurt (except by observing from the outside) that an affair can cause, but if one affair is all it takes to toss your marriage, then how are we supposed to interpret Hosea, Jesus command to forgive 70 x 7, and the “whosoever” of John 3:16 without conditions.
All of that to say that “grace” and “forgiveness” have become very central issues to my thinking lately. I think I have ranted enough this morning.
Sixteen months later, I read your rant and I am encouraged to renew my heart with God’s grace. I needed this reminder that I can be God’s grace to my spouse.
What if they refuse to change? What if your dealing with a narcissistic person. You forgive yes but do you trust again. Are the words interchangeable? I’m not just speaking of marriage either.
This is very timely for me as I am working to rebuild trust with one of my closest friends. It is going to be a long journey for sure.
I think it’s helpful to remember that forgiveness is unconditional, but trust has to be earned back. I like the saying Trust = Time + Consistency. I do agree that we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable again when we see consistency over time. I believe we hold ourselves hostage if we refuse to trust after it’s been earned back.
Many years ago I had an affair. As soon as it started, I told my wife what was going on. She was extremely hurt, but received good Christian counseling and adopted a “tough love” stance. The affair died fairly quickly – I chose to be with my wife and my wife decided that she was prepared to stay with me IF I changed.
I truly repented of the sin I had committed and the pain I had caused. I realized that my wife should not have to live in doubt and fear for the rest of her life. She should be able to have complete confidence in me. I swore complete faithfulness to her for the rest of my life (and I still repeat that to her frequently). I told her that she could ask me anything at any time and I would give her a true answer. I told her she could check my emails at any time, and that I would hide nothing from her. I also try to show my love for her all the time. I am very sorry for the pain I put her through.
In time, our relationship recovered, and we now both believe that our marriage is better than it ever could have been had we not gone through this (very wrong) experience and been forced to face deep issues in our relationship. That in no way makes what I did ok or right, but we do believe that God can bring good even out of our bad. Those who say a man who has cheated will never change are wrong. We all can change, that’s what living the Christian life is all about.
I say this to encourage any couples in this situation, and to say that your marriage may be recoverable if both people want it to and are prepared to change, recommit, and be honest with each other.
Thanks for sharing Kevin