20 Ways to Rebuild Trust in a Relationship
The good news is that even after a devastating betrayal like cheating, trust can be rebuilt.5 Not only that, but betrayal is also often the catalyst for reviving a relationship that was in serious trouble long before the betrayal occurred. Healing is a journey, but when two people are deeply committed to understanding, making amends, and recommitting, magic can happen.
Here are twenty ways to rebuild trust in a relationship:
1. Make a Commitment
Both partners need to commit 100% to doing the work involved in healing after a betrayal. It is a long-term investment, depending on the type of betrayal, but feeling the relationship is worth fighting for is the commitment both partners need to make.
2. Both Partners Take Responsibility
Commitment from the betrayer means proving to your partner that you are truly sorry and willing to work on earning back trust, no matter what it takes. Commitment from the betrayed involves active listening to the betrayer as well as exploring any of their own behaviors that may have contributed to distress in the relationship prior to the betrayal.5
3. Refine Your Communication Style
Asking your partner open-ended questions is a great way to increase emotional closeness and rebuild trust. It fosters intimate dialogue since these questions can’t be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.” How you choose to communicate grievances is what matters. Learning how to self-soothe can allow both the speaker and the listener to withstand the tension to process the betrayal.
4. Accept Repair Attempts
Rebuilding trust largely comes down to deciding whether you want revenge or a relationship. After a sincere apology is issued, international marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, says that when betrayed partners don’t accept these repair attempts, there is an increased risk of divorce.6
5. Set a Time to Talk About the Betrayal
It’s important to set a daily time (15-20 minutes) to talk about the betrayal; otherwise, it may be a 24/7 discussion. This allows each partner to prepare for a productive discussion as well as gain control of any emotions that may arise unexpectedly. Evaluate progress weekly to know when to decrease the frequency of the meetings.
6. Set Time for a Non-Negotiable Weekly Marriage Meeting
A weekly marriage meeting is a great ritual to strengthen a partnership. This is a dedicated time to be honest and communicate about key issues in the relationship. Good topics to discuss include appreciation, things that did/did not go well over the course of the week (in a non-critical and non-defensive way), chores, finances, external commitments, date nights, etc.
7. Redefine New Marriage Rules
Having self-imposed rules can help the betrayed partner to feel a sense of control while rebuilding trust. Self-imposed rules are freeing since they are non-negotiable and developed together. These can involve setting boundaries and daily check-ins to limit problems from escalating.
8. Create a Culture of Appreciation
Couples who find ways to express appreciation for each other often have a greater chance at repairing broken trust. This is about sharing a “we-ness” or togetherness vs. a separateness.8
9. Glorify the Struggle
Glorifying the struggle means expressing pride that you’ve survived major hardships in your relationship. Actively talking about your commitment to one another vs. questioning whether you made the right choice is instrumental in rebuilding trust.8
10. Stop All Contact with the Affair Partner
If there is still contact with the affair partner, recovery will be greatly delayed. This means ending all physical, emotional, and verbal intimacy. If the affair partner is a co-worker, the contact must be strictly business.4
11. Share Any Necessary or Unplanned Encounters with the Affair Partner
This means there is an environment of full transparency if unavoidable contact with the affair partner has to be made. This comes along with a willingness to openly answer any questions your partner may have.
12. Don’t Gossip About or Trash Talk Your Partner to Others
Gossiping and trash talking create an added layer of stress, especially when the goal is to work on your relationship. It can be tempting to vent or want to vent, but it boils down to knowing that what you focus on expands, so choose who you talk to and how you talk about your partner wisely.
13. Tell the True Story of the Betrayal
Telling the story of the affair isn’t easy for either partner, but it will give you and your partner an opportunity to understand what happened and why. It’s important that the injured partner doesn’t engage in a destructive process of interrogation and defensiveness, which never promotes healing, even if the answers are truthful. Instead, begin with addressing the simple facts.7
14. Create an Environment of Proactive Transparency
Our emotions can get in the way of telling the truth and hearing the truth. Transparency keeps everything out in the open to facilitate trust and limit overthinking in the relationship. Proactive transparency involves making the additional effort to highlight important things about the betrayal without waiting to be probed or asked. This builds trust and displays a readiness to be held accountable.8
15. Understand the Power of Vulnerability
In being vulnerable, you can create a level of emotional safety with your partner. It’s the primary way to strengthen a marital bond and keep love alive. It’s how you’ll be able to re-establish a secure emotional attachment and preserve intimacy in your marriage. This goes hand-in-hand with proactive transparency.
16. Evaluate Your Questions
In order to ask constructive questions, the betrayed partner needs to pause and consider. According to infidelity expert, Dr. Talal H. Alsaleem, PsyD, LMFT, good questions involve considering how your question will help to understand what happened and why it happened. The goal is to ask thoughtful questions that prompt constructive responses.9
Potential questions to ask yourself before asking your partner:
Is the answer something I really need to know?
Is the answer something that will help in my recovery?
Is this question something that won’t be helpful?
Will it fuel intrusive thoughts and triggers?
17. Evaluate Your Answers
The betrayer needs to answer any questions truthfully, but also with the lowest level of detail possible. The goal is to avoid any disturbing images the betrayed may have to deal with later on. Cheating has been associated with symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), so too many graphic details may put a burden on the healing process.
18. Take Time to Forgive
It takes time to truly understand why a betrayal took place, so cutting the healing process short will not allow for effective recovery to take place. In other words, avoidance is never a strategy for healing, nor is forgiving too soon. Building a secure attachment to your partner means taking as much time as possible to fully process and work on better coping strategies to rebuild the relationship.10
19. Seek Professional Help
Often, a couple is so overwhelmed that they don’t know where to begin. This is where a couple’s counselor can be instrumental. They can guide both the betrayed and the betrayer to ask and answer questions in a way that facilitates recovery. They can guide couples with structure and a plan of action to slow down the process of healing to a constructive pace.
20. Plan, Plan, Plan
Work together to develop a plan to prevent further breaches of trust. Be open to identifying areas that may have created mistrust (withholding financial information, not sharing information in your daily living, spending too much time outside of the relationship, etc). Plan to increase friendship, create rituals of connection, and build a new relationship together.