Trust is a vital part of marriage. It can be shattered by broken promises, addictions, or infidelity. Unfortunately, as a therapist, I’ve had a lot of experience helping couples rebuild trust in my therapy practice. At one point, around 75% of my clients were working on affair recovery issues.
The world around us seeks to live in the moment and have instant gratification, but many don’t see the ripple effect of their actions and how they can demolish trust. Relationships are hard; we have to understand that when we love we are opening ourselves up to the risk of pain. Marriage can bring some of the greatest highs and lowest lows. It isn’t always a “happily ever after” story.
Here are 6 ways to work on building trust in your marriage:
1. Do what you say you’re going to do.
It sounds simple, right? If you say you are going to take out the trash, do it. If you are meeting someone at a specific time, show up at that time. If you tell your spouse you are going to change, show them evidence of your change. Keeping your promises and commitments will tell your spouse that you are trustworthy.
Keeping your promises and commitments will tell your spouse that you are trustworthy.
2. Own your part.
If you have trouble following through or keeping your commitments, you need to own it. Admitting when you forgot or messed up can have a big impact on someone trusting you. Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame someone else. Look at your part and admit what happened. This vulnerability will help your spouse not feel as upset about what happened.
3. Don’t wait until confronted to share.
If you know you messed up, don’t try to cover it up. Yes, it could bring up conflict, but lying about it or hiding it will bring more intense conflict in the long run. When you wait until you get caught, your spouse will start to wonder if you ever would have come clean if they hadn’t confronted you. This will tear apart any trust left. Being the first to start the conversation and confessing what happened to your spouse will be one step towards rebuilding trust.
4. Don’t keep secrets.
We teach our kids we don’t keep secrets in our family, we only keep surprises. Secrets can devastate your spouse. Part of loving someone is the feeling and belief that you “really know” someone in a way that others don’t. It is that level of emotional intimacy that bonds a relationship beyond any other relationship in their life. When people keep secrets from their spouse, they can feel like a fool. Like they have been conned. Being open and transparent with your spouse has a big impact on the level of trust you can get to as a couple. Read here for why honesty in a marriage is non-negotiable in marriage.
5. Have empathy instead of getting defensive.
When trust has been broken, remember it’s not all about you. The person you betrayed is having a strong emotional experience too. Meet them with empathy. Step into their shoes and be with them in the pain. I know this can be very hard for most people due to the shame of what has happened. But doing this can have a huge impact on whether or not trust will come back. When you get defensive and reactive, your partner will feel even more alone.
6. Be patient. It takes time.
Building trust doesn’t happen quickly. It takes consistent long-term evidence for someone to believe it is safe to trust again. Remember that any time trust is rebroken or new information about the event has come out, the trust goes back to square one. When this happens, it’s like going back trust wise to the first day when your spouse found out.
Also, remember that your spouse will have triggers about the event and need reassurance from you. This can last for years depending on how intense the betrayal is. So be patient in this process. It can take just one mess up to destroy the trust and years to rebuild it.
When you’ve been betrayed, what helped you know it was safer to trust again?