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How Couples Can Rebuild Trust in a Relationship With Therapy

Trust in an intimate relationship is rooted in feeling safe with another person. Infidelity, lies, or broken promises can severely damage the trust between partners. That, however, does not necessarily mean that a relationship can't be salvaged. Although rebuilding trust can be challenging when there is a significant breach, it is, in fact, possible if both partners are committed to the process.

Picking up the Pieces

It takes much time and effort to re-establish the sense of safety you need for a relationship to thrive and continue to grow. Recovery from the trauma caused by a break in the trust is where many couples who want to get back on track can get stuck.

Research has shown that couples must address the following five sticking points to effectively move past a breach of trust:

  • Knowing the details

  • Releasing the anger

  • Showing commitment

  • Rebuilding trust

  • Rebuilding the relationship

Whether you were the offending partner or the betrayed, to rebuild the trust in your relationship, both of you must renew your commitment to your relationship and one another.

Know the Details

Even in seemingly clear-cut cases of betrayal, there are always two sides. The offending partner should be upfront and honest with information, in addition to giving clear answers to any questions from their partner.

This will give the betrayed party a broader understanding of the situation. What happened, when, and where? What feelings or problems may have contributed to this situation? What were the mitigating circumstances?

Release the Anger

Even minor breaches of trust can lead to mental, emotional, and physical health problems. Partners may have trouble sleeping or diminished appetite. They may become irritable over small things or be quick to trigger.

While it may be tempting to stuff all of the anger and emotions down, betrayed partners must tune in and reflect on all the feelings that they have. Consider the impact of your partner's betrayal on you and others.

Reflect on how life has been disrupted including thinking about all the questions and doubts that are now emerging. Make your partner aware of all these feelings.

Even the offending partner is encouraged to express any feelings of resentment and anger they may have been harbouring since before the incident.

Show Commitment

Both parties, especially the betrayed, may be questioning their commitment to the relationship and wondering if the relationship is still right for them or even salvageable.

Acts of empathy—sharing pain, frustration, and anger; showing remorse and regret; and allowing space for the acknowledgement and validation of hurt feelings—can be healing to both parties.

Building off of this, defining what both sides require from the relationship can help give partners the understanding that proceeding with the relationship comes with clear expectations that each person, in moving ahead, has agreed to fulfil. Both parties must work to define what is required to stay committed to making the relationship work.

In communicating this, avoid using words that can trigger conflict (e.g., always, must, never, should) in describing what you see, expect, or want from your partner. Instead, choose words that facilitate open conversation and use non-blaming "I" statements. For example, favour "I need to feel like a priority in your life" over "You never put me first."

Rebuilding Trust

Together, you must set specific goals and realistic timelines for getting your relationship back on track. Recognize that rebuilding trust takes time and requires the following:

  • Decide to forgive or to be forgiven. Make a conscious decision to love by trying to let go of the past. While achieving this goal fully may take some time, committing to it is what's key.

  • Be open to self-growth and improvement. You can't repair broken trust with just promises and statements of forgiveness. The underlying causes for the betrayal need to be identified, examined and worked on by both partners for the issues to stay dormant.

  • Be aware of your innermost feelings and share your thoughts. Leaving one side to obsess about the situation or action that broke the trust is not going to solve anything. Instead, it is important to openly discuss the details and express all feelings of anger and hurt.

  • Want it to work. There is no place in the process for lip service or more lies. Be honest about and true to your wishes.

Once the above points have been taken to heart by both sides, talk openly about your goals and check in regularly to make sure you are on track.

For the Offender

As the person who compromised the relationship, it may be hard or even painful to be reminded of your wrongdoings. Remember, though, that the above steps are essential to the process of repair and recovery. As you work on them:

  • Show that the errant behaviour is gone by changing your behaviour if you are the one in your relationship who lied, cheated, or broke the trust. That means no more secrets, lies, infidelity, or anything else of the sort. Be completely transparent, open, and forthcoming from now on.

  • Be honest and work to understand and state why the bad behaviour occurred. Statements such as "I don't know" don't instil confidence or help you get to the root of the issue.

  • Take responsibility for your actions and decisions; apologize for the hurt you caused and avoid defensiveness, which will only perpetuate the conflict or crisis. Justifying your behaviour based on what your partner is doing or has done in the past is also not productive.

For the Betrayed

While moving forward hinges a lot on what your partner can show you, remember that work that you do also have a lot to do with your potential success. As you proceed, day by day:

  • Work on understanding why and what went awry in the relationship before the betrayal took place. While this won't help you forget what happened, it may help you get some answers you need to move on.

  • Provide positive responses and reinforcement to help give your partner consistent feedback on things that please you or make you happy once you have committed to giving your partner a second chance.

  • Know that it's also OK if you do not want to continue the relationship after considering the above steps or beginning them. Just be honest with yourself, and your partner and don't go through the motions just because you feel that is what is expected of you as a devoted partner.

For the Couple

While there's independent work to do, remember to listen completely to one another. Remind one another that you each deserve open and honest answers to your questions about the betrayal.

Rebuilding the Relationship

Once trust has been broken, an apology may not be sufficient to rectify damage to the relationship. Explanations and excuses can make matters worse. Seven components are important to rebuild trust:

  1. Listen to the other person’s anger and hurt feelings.

  2. Empathize with them.

  3. Ask what is needed to prevent a recurrence.

  4. Be conscientious to do all the things listed that show trustworthiness.

  5. Take full responsibility for your actions. Don’t sidestep the issue or try to shift blame to the other person.

  6. Make a heartfelt apology expressing your regret.

  7. Continue to have open and honest communication.

Open and honest communication about what happened is essential. Ask the hurt partner what he or she needs from you and any suggestions about what’s needed to avoid repetition of the behaviour. These questions show respect for the person’s feelings and needs and will be appreciated. They go much further than a simple apology. If it’s a serious betrayal, you can expand the conversation to include the relationship as a whole and discuss how you both can help the relationship.

If you’re unable to rebuild trust by talking to each other, if the problem reoccurs, or if the violation of trust involves infidelity, you may need the assistance of a professional therapist to help you communicate as a couple and also uncover the causes that led to the problem. Usually, infidelity can be a sign of relationship problems as well as an individual issue.

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When addiction is involved, the help of a 12-step program can be very beneficial. Seeking support outside the relationship isn’t a sign of weakness. It shows commitment to the relationship and reassures the injured person that his or her partner is taking the problem seriously and willing to make an effort to change.

The last step is very important because once trust has been broken, although it may seem as if all is forgiven and back to normal, doubts and hurt often continue to linger in the aggrieved person’s mind and heart. It may take months or even years for a serious wound to heal. Note that rebuilding trust may not be possible when the dishonesty is part of a larger pattern of abuse and possible personality disorder, such as gaslighting and narcissism, that is resistant to change.

Once couples have committed to rebuilding trust, they must work on treating the relationship like it is a completely new one. Both sides must ask for what they need and not expect their partner to simply know what it is they want.

Do not withhold trust in this new relationship, even though it is with the same person.

Withholding trust out of fear or anger will prevent you from emotionally reconnecting with your partner. This keeps your relationship from moving forward healthily.

Instead, work toward rebuilding the relationship by doing the work required in building trust and rebuilding a mutually supportive connection. Agree about what a healthy relationship looks like to you both.

Some examples include establishing date nights, working on a five-year, ten-year and even 20-year plan together, finding your love languages, and checking in with your partner about how you feel the relationship is doing or if it is living up to your expectations.

Remember that all relationships require work. Even the closest couples have to work hard at renewing the spark while working to grow in the same direction together, year after year.

Hypnotherapy is a powerful tool for change and can help us understand why we feel and behave the way we do and support us to develop new ways of thinking. Cognitive Hypnotherapy can be beneficial for clients who want to release negative or limiting beliefs by identifying the triggers that started. We do this using one or more of a variety of techniques that are tailored to your specific issue and best suited to help eliminate stress triggers The integration of hypnotherapy is more effective than using NLP alone. The self-awareness that the integrative approach offers renders it a highly successful way to quickly eliminate negative thoughts, emotions and limiting beliefs allowing you to generate a more positive future, improve your self-image and increase determination.


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