Restoring trust

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Let’s immediately let go of the illusion that if you are attentive, responsible, and understand people well then you will never encounter betrayal in your life. No. People are not perfect, not at all! They can hurt you, cause emotional pain, choose other people, etc. This is why we are not going to set a goal to always avoid emotional pain. Instead, we need to learn to accept all possible risks and not to try to avoid any possibility of betrayal. 

To be vulnerable and defenseless is very scary – it means leading your life at the junction of joy and possible pain. But only this approach allows you to find someone who really deserves your trust. 

Very often we talk about restoring trust when we talk about relationships with someone very close – your friends or your loved ones. Any relationship has a set of unspoken rules – not to cheat, not to lie. But often, in addition to common standards, people add demands that are not that obvious for their partner.

Lillian was very mad when her boyfriend Greg danced at a party with another woman. She said that she lost her trust forever, it will not be possible to restore it. Greg was quite puzzled and annoyed – “Have we ever discussed that I cannot dance with other women? It’s not like I slept with her!”

When Kathy noticed that her new boyfriend Steve is “looking too closely” at a waitress, she immediately concluded that “he is unreliable and cannot be trusted”. But Steve simply has eyes, and this is his only fault. 

Any potential rules need to be discussed with your partner. Otherwise, you are risking to lose a relationship that has a good chance. We are all different. Your expectations are not written on your forehead. Your partner cannot read your mind.

If the trust is really lost (this may happen due to many reasons) it is not easy to restore it. But it is possible – only if the party who was hurt will not take on the role of a judge condescendingly watching the attempts of the “guilty one”.

When the trust is lost – it is a two-way street. You can only restore it by combining mutual efforts. There is no other way.

Therefore, it makes sense to start by changing the context from “how do we restore trust” to “what should we do with our relationship where trust no longer exists”.

This is very important: if one party will continue blaming the other, even if there are good reasons for it, there is no chance of restoring trust. In this case, the relationship will turn into a tug of war: on one side – “you are not trying hard enough”, while on the other – “what else do you need, I already said sorry a hundred times”.

Isabelle and Matthew are experiencing a big crisis. They have been married for ten years. During this time they lost close contact and stopped listening to each other. You could say they lived good but separate lives. Matthew was working, building a house, and spending his free time away from home. Isabelle also worked a lot. During the last two years, sex almost disappeared, they stopped paying attention to each other, having dinners together, and all other things that made them a husband and wife. Isabelle felt sad and tried to return the things that they’ve lost, but Matthew didn’t reciprocate. Then, at work, Isabelle met a new colleague Andrew who started paying attention to her. She didn’t notice how she fell in love with him. A new relationship started where she felt things that were long gone from her life – that she was needed, that someone was interested in her and her desires. Isabelle and Matthew split. They lived apart for half a year. Then, they decided to get back together and try again. Matthew said that he understood many things, and Isabelle missed her loved one. But he just could not let go of the fact that Isabelle had a relationship with another man. At every opportunity, he would remind her that he “forgave” her, but she “doesn’t feel enough remorse”. Isabelle tried to remind him that they decided to begin everything “from scratch”, but Matthew could only stay quiet for a couple of days. Isabelle got tired of justifying herself and this is how the couple decided to see a psychologist.

Can you return the trust that has been lost? Yes, if you are patient and if both partners are ready to work on it equally.

  • You need to talk. A lot. Talk about the pain that you experience. Share your feelings. Do not try to “silence your feelings” or to pretend that you are not experiencing them. It will make matters only worse.
  • Refrain from blaming the other party. Do not turn every conversation into a battlefield.
  • Evaluate the situation. If you definitely want to keep this relationship, try asking yourself these questions:
    • Did this happen just once, or this is their style of life?
    • Will I be able to trust them after what has happened? Am I ready to try hard to fix it?
    • How important is this relationship to me?

If you are the “guilty party” – do not expect and definitely do not demand immediate forgiveness. It is absolutely impossible. You need to listen to what your partner wants (or doesn’t want) and give them time to deal with their pain. The pain needs to go through its cycle and disappear. Possibly, there will be some emotional moments – do not try to devalue or stop them. They must take place.

Take responsibility for your actions. Yes, very often both parties “contribute” to infidelity. But you should begin with the fact that you are ready to see and take on responsibility for what has happened.

But what if the lost trust affects your whole life?

In this case, the first thing you need to do is to acknowledge what we mentioned earlier – life has no guarantees. However, total mistrust and a thick armor will not make your life any better. If you realize that your past negative experience affects your current behavior in your new relationship – then you need to look closely at your old wounds and analyze them. Sometimes it is best done with the help of a psychologist.

Try to determine: where is the problem and the “block” in your subsequent relationship with people. Why are you putting on an armor? Why there is constant mistrust and suspicions? Why do you hide your feelings and don’t open up?

In her previous relationship, Angela experienced a double betrayal: her husband and her best girlfriend. It has been two years and she now has a new relationship that seems to be going well. But her new man, Craig, tells her that she is always “closed” – she doesn’t share anything. And Angela understands that sharing is scary for her. What if again? But wait… she no longer has girlfriends…

It is important to start opening up to your partner. Little by little… You can tell them about your thoughts, your feelings, your experiences. For those who are close to us, and for ourselves, it has a big significance. This is how people recognize that they matter to us. You need to remind yourself that this is a DIFFERENT person and this is a DIFFERENT relationship.

Take interest in the life of the person who is next to you. This is how you will learn about each other and it is extremely valuable for building relationships. It is important to be able to see the difference between having an interest in each other and an obsessive desire to get into your partner’s thoughts, phone records, or their life to get illusory peace of mind. 

And the most important thing. Perhaps, it is hard to believe but there is no formula to determine who will betray you and who won’t. You should not count on any algorithms. 

Trust should not die just because someone somewhere caused your pain. Otherwise, we all will live in protective bubbles keeping us away from other people. Would you be happy living a life like this?