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How to Trust Again After Being Betrayed

Updated on June 19, 2017

When trust gets breached in a relationship, how do we move forward... or should we move forward? These are the questions to ask whether you've been the victim of a betrayal or the victimizer. If you decide to stay and make it work, what steps should you take to make sure the relationship grows better and stronger? How can you build trust in the relationship once again?

Rebuilding Trust Takes Time, Effort, and Commitment

Is it worth the effort or should you move forward?
Is it worth the effort or should you move forward? | Source

Who Can I Trust?

Kerri, 46, starts to tear up when recalling how her mother breached her trust 23 years ago. At the time, Kerri was a shy, sensitive young woman battling low self-esteem. When she decided to have breast augmentation, she confided in her mother but asked her to keep it private. But Kerri's mom immediately turned around and blabbed the news to a man she had just started dating. Kerri, shaken by the betrayal, wondered: If I can't trust my mother, who can I trust?

Is This Person Worthy of Trusting Again?

When we hear that someone has breached trust in a relationship, we typically envision a man who has done something dramatic such as having an affair, gambling, or seeing prostitutes. However, destroying trust is often accomplished in less spectacular ways – slowly over time as someone becomes less open, honest, giving, loving, communicative, or sexual. It's not always done by a romantic partner. Anyone in our lives can destroy trust including friends, business associates, and even family members as was the case with Kerri.

If you're the one who has broken trust – whether by suddenly having a one-time affair or gradually pulling away – you have caused damage and must work hard to repair it. If you're the one betrayed, you have a difficult decision to make: Is this person worthy of trusting again? In the end, whether you're the one who broke the trust or the one who got hurt, your reward could be a relationship that's better than it ever was if you're willing to put in the time and effort.

Being in a Relationship Without Trust Makes Us Self-Protective

This couple's body language tells the story. They're closed off from each other, afraid of getting hurt.
This couple's body language tells the story. They're closed off from each other, afraid of getting hurt. | Source

Be Patient – Rebuilding Trust Takes Time

If you're the offender, you may want to rebuild trust instantly. Forget it! Fill up your tank. Buckle your seat belt and get ready for a long ride with no shortcuts. Remember you're the guilty party and, therefore, must show patience, humility, dependability, perseverance, and commitment. Your actions must become transparent: you are where you say you are, you phone when you say you'll phone, you do what you promise to do.

When results don't come fast enough, you may want to give up – frustrated that you're not being forgiven. You may start to wonder if the two of you will ever get back to what you once had. Hang in there! It may take weeks, months, and even years before trust is fully restored. You can't rush it. You're on your partner's timeline now, not your own.

When you've shown over time that you're honest and faithful, she'll finally let down her guard and feel safe with you once again. Just keep in mind she's an injured bird – frail and vulnerable – and doesn't want to get hurt again. You've done great damage to her self-concept, and it will take time and effort to bolster it back up to where it once was.

Cautionary note: There are instances when a person uses their victim status as a way to hold you at arm's length. There's nothing you can say or do that improves the situation because she's consciously or subconsciously embracing the martyr role. You're stuck in the bad guy role no matter what you do to shake it. When this happens, you'll probably need to move on from the relationship because it's not going to change. There's too much insecurity on her part for the union to succeed.

There Are No Shortcuts to Rebuilding Trust

Get ready for a long journey with many bumps along the way.
Get ready for a long journey with many bumps along the way. | Source

Acknowledge Your Wrongdoing and Say You're Sorry

In order to start the process of healing and rebuilding, you must acknowledge your failure and say you're sorry...again and again. Saying sorry once isn't enough. Admit the pain you caused. Tell her that you know she's scared. Hold her tight. Convince her you'll get through this tough patch together.

Some people would rather get hit by a speeding locomotive than admit their mistakes and apologize. Admitting they're wrong is a blow to their ego – a sign of weakness. In truth, however, it shows strength of character and a willingness to change. Giving a sincere “I'm sorry” is crucial to the healing process. Here are some tips for making an apology that will help you move forward:

  • Own what you did wrong. Admit that it negatively affected the relationship. Be specific: “I'm sorry I betrayed your trust in me by lying about working late when I was really at the bar” or “I'm sorry I disappointed you again when I didn't show up to the parent-teacher conferences like I promised I would” or “I'm sorry I damaged our friendship by revealing that secret you asked me to keep.”

  • Explain that your egregious behavior was not meant to hurt the person even though it did. The injured party needs to know you weren't intentionally trying to hurt her. This reassurance will help her feel safer with you. Once again be specific: “I lied to you about being at work because I'm embarrassed about my drinking problem” or “I skipped the parent-teacher conferences because my performance at work has been poor and I wanted to compensate for that” or “I revealed your secret because I wanted to have something juicy to share at the party.”

  • Express that you, too, are hurting because of your behavior. Explain how you're feeling guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed about your behavior and are suffering the consequences. This way the injured party feels that you're remorseful and appreciate the seriousness of your offense. Communicate regret that the incident ever took place.

Cautionary note: A bad apology makes things even worse. After betraying Kerri's trust, her mother attempted a half-baked apology by saying, “I'm sorry you were hurt by what I did.” Fail! Her apology was not an apology at all. Her mother took no responsibility for her wrongdoing but simply shifted the blame to Kerri as if to say: “If you're weren't so sensitive about the whole thing, there would be no problem at all.”

According to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a radio talk show host who gives advice on relationships, the Four R's need to happen before forgiveness takes place. They are: 1) Responsibility The person acknowledges what they've done. 2) Remorse The person hurts for the pain they've caused. 3) Repair The person takes actions to make it better and 4) Repetition The person takes steps to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Dr. Laura Explains the 4 R's of Forgiveness

This Book Helps You Deal With Betrayal and Move Forward With Your Life

This Book Helped Me Deal With Betrayal and Get Back My Life

Three years ago, a long-time friend of mine betrayed my trust and placed me in a dangerous situation. I waited and waited for an apology to arrive (along with an enormous bouquet of flowers), but it didn't. In fact, I never heard from her again, leaving me feeling used, dismissed, and unlovable. I became cynical and suspicious of others, isolating myself in my home. Dr. Laura's book was the only thing that helped me return to normal. Because she talks about her own experience with betrayal, I realized I wasn't alone. We all deal with this at one time or another. I had just been fortunate enough that I hadn't met with it until I was middle-aged. This book gave me perspective and courage to get back into life – a little wounded, yes, but stronger and wiser.

Final Thoughts

While possible to build trust in a relationship again, it's not an easy task. It takes time, effort, and commitment but, in the end, you can wind up with a connection that's better and stronger than it ever was. Unfortunately, in Kerri's situation, her mother could never muster a sincere apology – could never accept how much hurt she caused – so the mother-daughter relationship limped along, reduced to shallow chit-chat and superficial pleasantries. Kerri never confided in her mom again. Her mother's betrayal was never as harmful to their relationship as was her unwillingness to admit her wrongdoing. We all make mistakes – both big and small – but it takes a true hero to admit to her shortcomings, swallow her pride, and right a wrong. Yet, this is crucial to start the healing process.

A Sincere Apology Starts the Healing Process

Why do you think it's so hard for people to say they're sorry?

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© 2016 McKenna Meyers


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