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How to Rebuild Trust: A Simple Formula

Updated on April 4, 2012

How to Rebuild Trust: A Simple Formula

Let’s suppose someone has hurt you. Maybe your partner had an affair, or maybe you’ve been living with someone with an addiction and you’ve suffered from it. Maybe you were abused (sexually, physically, emotionally) by a member of your family or maybe you were betrayed by a coworker who lied about you. Maybe a friend or your son or daughter stole from you. Now let’s suppose that person still wants a relationship with you. They ask you for a second (third, fourth…) chance and promise you things will be different. Let’s suppose you love them, forgive them, want to believe them, and decide to try to save the relationship. How can you ever trust them again?

Here is a simple trust formula: Proof + Time + Choice – Pressure = Trust.

The components of the formula can be broken down this way:

Proof: You need to know that things will indeed be different and not just because the person says so and has apologized. People can say anything to convince you and themselves, prhaps because they are afraid of losing you. That’s not proof. Chances are you’ve heard it all before. Solid proof is based on three things: Evidence, Empathy, and Insight.

Evidence: You need evidence that things are different and will stay different. Is that person acting differently? Are they checking in more? Are they more open about their lives? Is their hurtful behaviour gone and is it replaced with healthy loving behaviour?

Empathy: Do you believe that the person who hurt you really understands how they have hurt you? Have they taken as much time as you need to listen to you and try to feel how you have felt? If they really do empathize, and your pain hurts them, then they are much less likely to hurt you again.

Insight: Does the person who hurt you understand what led to their hurtful behaviour? Have they taken full responsibility for it, and really soul searched (reading, going to counselling, talking openly to others) why they did what they did? If they can understand the root causes of it they are more likely to be able to change.

Time and Choice: You need to see proof over time to be able to trust again. It is true that trust is something that is earned. But, and this is really important, ultimately you will need to make a conscious choice to open yourself up to the possibility of being hurt again. Your relationship with the person who hurt you won’t sustain the pressure of it being proven every day for the rest of your time together. Never ending earning will exhaust the relationship. Ultimately, true trust is a choice.

Pressure: The more you are pressured to trust the less you will. If you’re the person who hurt someone, you need to resist the temptation to push them to “let go”, “forgive”, or “move on”. It may be true that you’ve changed. It may also be true that you’re tired of earning trust. But the best thing you can do is focus on evidence, empathy, and insight. If you do that, you have the best chance of saving the relationship, and creating a new and improved one based on what you both have gone through and learned.

A relationship isn’t worth having without trust. People often hurt each other and themselves in relationships. Sometimes it’s worth saving those relationships. Following the trust formula will guide you in healing from hurt and rebuilding trust.

If you found this article interesting or even helpful, I'd appreciate it if you thanked me by clicking onto the Google ads on this page which will give me a tiny tip!

For more assistance, visit or call Theo Selles, M.Sc. 647-686-0116. Straightforward solutions for complex problems.


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    • Theo Selles profile image

      Theo Selles 5 years ago

      You are welcome!

      All the best.


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      Rob M 5 years ago

      So clear and to the point. The pressure is the hardest component once you feel real change when you so badly want your friend to believe. In my case it's not pressure to accept or move on so much, happy to prove that day by day and I want that to be their genuine experience based purely on my change and actions, just the pressure to 'try' because of the fear its already too late.

      Thanks Theo.

    • Theo Selles profile image

      Theo Selles 5 years ago

      You are welcome. It takes a complex issue and breaks it up into clearly defined components.

      Take care and thanks for reading.


    • traslochimilano profile image

      traslochimilano 5 years ago from USA

      I like very much this formula - Proof + Time + Choice – Pressure = Trust.


    • Theo Selles profile image

      Theo Selles 6 years ago

      I hope it works out for you, James.

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      James 6 years ago

      Well spoken. In that semi situation at the moment. Not a bad plan to execute.

    • profile image

      Janet 6 years ago

      Well said.