Trust is the rock upon which all relationships exist. If that rock is chipped away by deceit, over time the foundation crumbles.
When something more serious happens such as infidelity in a marriage, the trust and foundation are broken in an instant. It is not easy to rebuild trust but it is possible.
Whether the trust is broken between a friendship or a marriage, the steps and formula for overcoming the broken trust are the same. In any relationship where trust is broken, both parties must be willing to work through the brokenness in order to heal the relationship. It is not a one sided process.
When the party who has been hurt does not want to reconcile because the hurt is too deep, then the relationship cannot be restored. Likewise, if the offending party does not want to own up to their wrong doing that broke the trust, then the relationship cannot be restored in that situation either.
Both sides must be willing to come to the table and be open, honest, and vulnerable. They must also care enough to want to put forth the effort that is required to make the relationship work again. It is not a one sided process.
In fact, it requires a great deal from both parties involved. There is a question to ask before you embark on restoration of the relationship: “Is the person and relationship you had worth the emotional effort?” It’s only a question you can answer for yourself.
If you answered yes, and the other party has also said yes, then the formula below will help both parties work through the broken trust so the relationship can be restored.
The good news is that when using this formula, both parties can become more emotionally healthy and the relationship can be strengthened.
When trust is broken and both parties are willing to do what it takes in this formula to make the relationship work, then that relationship is strengthened and enhanced.
Some of the enhancements may include greater closeness, improved transparency, sincere vulnerability, and open communications that create a better, longer lasting relationship.
How the COME FORTH Formula rebuild trust in a relationship
The COME FORTH formula is a process that couples can go through to regain trust in their relationship. This process works for marriages, romantic relationships, friendships, co-workers, family members, and more.
The goal of this method is to have healing, to restore the relationship, and for trust to be fully established once again.
The COME part of the formula is for the party that is the offender. This is the person who did something that broke the trust in the relationship.
The FORTH part of the formula is for the receiving end. The person who was hurt and whose trust was broken is to use the FORTH part of the formula to work through the hurt to learn to trust again.
The COME FORTH formula is for both parties to work through the broken trust to help heal the relationship and themselves.
It is not an easy or quick process for either party. It requires commitment, vulnerability, openness, and a willingness to communicate from both parties. When the COME FORTH formula is completed correctly, the relationship can be restored.
When reading the steps in the formula below, keep in mind that COME is for the offender and the FORTH is for the victim. Therefore, explanations are worded in a manner to address those specific parties under each letter.
For the offender: COME
C: Come clean
Now is the time to come clean about whatever it is that you have done to wrong your loved one, friend, co-worker, or someone else who you hurt by breaking their trust. It is better for you to admit your wrong doing and genuinely seek forgiveness before they find out from someone else.
Before you approach the individual to come clean, know what you are going to say.
Make sure your heart is in a state of seeking forgivness and wanting to heal the relationship by telling them. If you are angry and blaming them for your wrong doing in any way, then you are likely to cause more division rather than getting on the right path toward healing the relationship.
If the violation you are coming clean about is in regard to infidelity, then you should admit your wrongdoings without giving graphic details. Your loved one does not need to be hurt with details pertaining to the specific sexual encounter.
Once you provide those details they can not be erased from your loved ones mind and they will leave a lasting scar in their mind. This scar and those thoughts will make it harder for them to overcome the betrayal. Instead come clean with the basics and make the conversation more about your desire to change, and your commitment to never offend in this manner again (adopting a zero tolerance policy toward deception, deceit, and infidelity).
Do answer all of their questions. If they ask specific questions about the affair, answer openly and honestly. Your goal with this is to show that you are willing to be 100% honest and transparent for the sake of the relationship moving forward.
When you are coming clean, begin with letting the other person know how much you value them which is why you are coming clean.
Talk about your past, the value of the relationship for both of you, and the need to get through this to have a fresh start together.
Prefacing your talk on coming clean with this information should help put the other person in a better frame of mind for accepting the information and also a willingness to want to heal the relationship.
Simply blurting out “I cheated on you” is risky and likely to lead to yelling, screaming, and a verbal fight. Start the conversation with talk about your genuine care, love, affection, and/or care for the individual.
Show your remorse.
You need to be apologetic and sincerely remorseful for your wrong doing. If you aren’t feeling remorseful, then you may need to do some soul searching and look at yourself honestly about your actions and how they affect others.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the person you have hurt. How would you feel if the situation was flipped and you were the one who had been hurt and whose trust was broken?
Find the courage to be remorseful and to show your remorse through your sincere, and thoughtfully worded, apology. Explain how you regret your actions and vow to never do it again. Mean what you say by doing what you say. Trust cannot be regained unless your words match your actions.
When you are coming clean, expect a reaction from the other person. The level of hurt you have inflicted will likely correlate with the level of the reaction. There may be crying, yelling, sobbing, and even harsh words. Prepare yourself emotionally to witness these emotions and not respond with anything other than empathy and care.
Do not make things worse by becoming heated emotionally and reacting with negative words and/or actions. Remain calm and keep a level head. Brace yourself for the emotions and words that may be coming. Know that they will eventually stop.
Be the calming force in the storm.
You want the relationship to work, so you need to be strong when you experience their reaction. Strong means having an empathetic and calm reaction. You can do this by expressing how sorry you are and how much you care for the person, which is why you are coming clean and want to make things right in the relationship.
If you are not willing to admit your wrong doing and apologize then the relationship cannot heal. The other steps in this formula and process hinge on the necessity of you, the offending party, to admit your wrong doing and ask for forgiveness.
You can’t merely state what you have done and make excuses for the behavior, or worse yet, blame the victim. You must take responsibility for your actions, admit your wrong doing, and ask for forgiveness in a sincere manner.
If you are not willing to come clean, withholding of the truth can be even more detrimental to the relationship than the actual violation. Keep this in mind, because not admitting to wrong doing may prevent the relationship from ever being restored. Know your priorities. Do you want a good relationship? Do you want things to be healed? If the answer is yes, then coming clean is foundational to this process.
O: Open yourself emotionally
Once you have completed the first step and have come clean about your offence, then the next step is to be open emotionally. What this really means is that you need to listen to the sincere thoughts and emotions from the person you have hurt.
Listen with empathy.
Avoid any knee-jerk reactions to defend yourself. They need to get these words off their chest to process their hurt.
Listen with a heart that is willing to see what you did wrong, a desire to never hurt them in this manner again, and a willingness to help them process their hurt by simply listening with empathy.
Ask for forgiveness.
It won’t be a one time thing to ask for forgiveness. Especially when the other person is talking about how you have hurt them. The necessity for more apologizing will correlate with the level of hurt you inflicted on the other person.
What you are apologizing for is the various ways you have caused the hurt. For example, your spouse may now realize that you weren’t actually going to late night business meetings and skipping family dinners, you were having an affair. The truth of the affair and infidelity is one hurt, it is another hurt that that you lied about skipping dinner.
Furthermore, it is a compounded hurt because you made this other person (the person with whom you cheated) more important than your own family. Apologizing and listening with empathy will help the healing process to begin.
This is also a time when you, the offending party, need to do some soul searching.
What was it that caused you to cheat? Resist the temptation to blame others. Seek understanding from within yourself. Look to your inner fears and you are likely to find some answers.
For example, if you cheated you may have done so out of fear of abandonment issues. Your fear of being alone caused you to seek out another relationship as a back up to your current relationship. Understanding your fear of abandonment and getting professional help for your own hurt is imperative in the healing process.
M: Make meaningful conversations
Meaningful conversations following the coming clean and asking of forgiveness is the next step in the process of healing the broken trust. When emotions have calmed and anger has begun to subside, the other party may be willing to sit down and hear why you did what you did.
Again, it is never appropriate to place blame back on the victim. Instead use what was revealed to you in your soul searching process as a starting point for making meaningful conversations.
If the other person cares for you and your relationship then they will want to help you process through whatever fears or emotional difficulties you are experiencing that caused you to violate their trust.
Talk openly about those fears and what caused you to do what you did to them.
It helps the other person realize that the issue was not with them. For example, you didn’t cheat on your spouse because you didn’t find them appealing anymore. It was because you have fear of abandonment issues.
Talk about that fear and open up to the person your hurt. They deserve to understand why it happened. This will also help to lift the burden of responsibility from them.
For example, if you took money from a family account that is used to care for your elderly parents and used it for personal reasons your siblings would want to know why. Your explanation may be that you don’t feel as successful as your siblings and you didn’t want to ask them for help.
Doing so, you feared that they would perceive you as a failure. Your siblings, who had their money stolen from the account may feel responsible in that they didn’t keep close enough tabs on the account and your activities.
Knowing that it happened, not because they trusted you too much, but because you had had other fears, problems, and emotional issues going on helps absolve their unfounded guilt. They trusted all family members who had access to the account and trust is a valuable asset.
There is nothing wrong with keeping tabs on the account, but there is also nothing wrong with simply trusting all parties involves, especially if there has never been an issue in the past.
Understand the root cause.
Finding out the real cause underneath of why the trust was violated helps those who have been victimized feel less burdened by any feelings of responsibility for the cause of the trust violation.
The goal is understanding the root cause and the underlying emotional issues, so that healing can happen in the relationships.
E: Engage in full transparency
The fourth step for the person who has violated trust in the relationship is to engage in full transparency. This should be something offered up before even asking. If you are the offending party, you should desire for them to trust you again.
Transparency will help bring back that trust.
For example, if you were part of a charity planning event and you took money from the event for personal use, then you need to be fully transparent with the accounts and paperwork with the other individuals working on the event.
Not only from the past, but moving forward so that everyone involves knows that trust can be regained. If you aren’t hiding anything then transparency should not be a problem.
If the situation involves infidelity then transparency with phone records, texts, social media accounts, and email accounts should be made transparent. This means the passwords are freely given and the other party can check on things whenever they choose.
This will help them regain a sense of trust because of your willingness to be transparent and provide any information that was previously unknown or hidden.
If you lack a willingness for transparency then you need to do some soul searching. What are you still hiding? What don’t you want the other person or party to know?
If you have something else you need to share with them, there is no better time than the present to share that information. Full transparency, means that you admitted to everything. If you are still hiding something it makes transparency very difficult.
For the Victim: FORTH
Forgiveness is the first step in healing the relationship on the end of the victim. Holding onto the hate, anger, and negative feelings will only make you feel worse.
Let those feelings go by allowing yourself to forgive.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences, which you will come to terms with while engaging in meaningful conversation with the other person.
For example, if it is a situation where infidelity has occurred, then the transparency with phone and email records and such moving forward would be a consequence of the violation of your trust.
Forgiveness means that you are willing to work through the wrong doings that occurred that broke the trust. You are willing to care for this person enough that you want to work with them emotionally to process through the pain to restore the relationship.
If you aren’t willing to forgive, then the relationship is forever changed and likely will never be on the level it once was. In most instances when there is lack of forgiveness, it is like a wall going up between the parties.
A true, healthy relationship can not occur because the wall remains in tact. Forgiving means you are willing to take down the wall and work through things to make the relationship healthy and possibly even better than it was before.
It is possible for it to be better because you have taken the step to forgive. This shows how much you care for the other person. This takes the relationship to a new depth.
The bigger to offence, the harder it will be to forgive, but it also makes the relationship that much deeper when forgiveness does occur.
If they haven’t admitted their wrong doing, give them a few days after you discuss the matter initially
There are many times that the person who broke the trust is found out before they admit what they did wrong. They should still get the chance to come clean and make things right. This means that there must be a willingness to forgive before they even admit their wrong doing.
However, the process still hinges on their willingness to admit their wrongs when it is brought to light. Sometimes they do not admit immediately, but give them a few days to make things right by admitting their wrong doing after you discuss the matter initially.
If someone has broken your trust and you have found out before they have admitted their wrong doing, then you need to go to them to discuss the matter.
How you present the topic is of great importance. If you approach them with self righteous anger, then the outcome of that conversation is not likely to produce good footing toward them admitting their wrongs, nor will it help to bring a start to the healing process.
When you decide to talk to the person about the issue, do it one on one. Do not involve a large group of people. It is best to talk to the individual with only them and do so in a manner that lets them know you want them to accept their wrong doing, admit to it (come clean), so that your relationship can be restored.
Approach the person with empathy.
You never know what kind of other issues they are dealing with in their heart, mind, and soul. Give them the courtesy of kind words and a calm tone of voice, for the sake of your relationship.
If you value the relationship, then you will place value on this conversation because it is one that could destroy it altogether, or it can work to heal the trust broken and make the relationship stronger.
If the person is not willing to admit their wrong doing, you should give them some time (days to a few weeks depending on the situation and severity of the offence).
Let them know this as you conclude your conversation. You can say “I can see you are not willing to admit to breaking the trust at this time, but I am willing to give you a few days to think things over and get back to me on this because I value our relationship and want to help us restore the broken trust together.”
Giving them grace and mercy is the right thing to do if you value this person and the relationship.
If after your chosen time period of allowing them to digest your conversation, they are still not willing to admit their wrong doing, you can take it to the next level.
This would be seeking someone of higher authority for counsel. This could, for example, be a marriage counselor in the case of infidelity.
If it is an offence between a co-worker, you can ask for a supervisor or boss to mediate the situation to get some resolution. If it is a friendship situation, you can seek counsel from an elder at the church, who may be willing to mediate a discussion.
The goal is to help the person see that you care and that them coming clean about their offence that violated the trust in the relationship is essential for the relationship to continue.
If the person is unwilling to come clean after these steps have been taken, then you may need to simply move forward.
There have been many marriages that have continued on for years in spite of such trust violations as infidelity, without the cheater admitting their wrong doings.
The relationship is never the same though. There will always be a lack of true intimacy because of this violation of trust. Sometimes the failure for the offending party to not admit their wrong doing can be even more harmful that the actual violation that broke the trust.
You can have forgiveness in your heart for the person and their wrong doing even if there is no apology. This allows you to move forward without harboring any resentment and pain.
It unburdens you to forgive them, whether they chose to apologize and admit their wrongdoings, or not.
There are consequences to them not admitting their wrong. Usually is it is broken relationship or one that is very damaged, it all depends on the depth of the wrong doing or level of deception.
However, you are doing yourself a favor when you forgive. You are unburdening any feelings of ill will or hurt that have come from that person violating your trust.
O: Open conversations
This is the time when you need to share with the person who hurt you, how they hurt you.
You need to express yourself using “I feel” statements.
Expressing yourself with statements that begin with “I feel” approaches them with your personal emotions rather attacking them with what they have done.
If the other person feels attacked, then there is likely not going to be productive healing happening in the conversation.
Take the time to process what you are feeling and decide your words, phases, and thoughts to express before you even enter into the conversation.
Know what you are going to say before you say it. Make sure that what you are going to say is not going to alienate the person and end the conversation.
If you goal is restoration of the relationship, then use a calm tone of voice and the “I feel” statements to convey your emotions and how you were hurt by their actions that violated your trust.
For example, if you are dealing with a friend who threw a party and you were not invited you can begin by saying “I saw the photos of your party on social media and I feel hurt that I wasn’t invited”. You can then follow it up with something that can open the conversation to a deeper level by asking “Is there something that I did that hurt you or our relationship and that was perhaps why I wasn’t invited?”
Allow the other person to respond. If they care about you and your friendship they will want to explain and apologize if necessary. It could be a simple explanation such as the party was only friends from her college years.
You never know the answer unless you ask, but ask with kindness, grace, and understanding so that you can have a better relationship moving forward.
A word to the wise: do not begin the blame game.
If you start blaming them rather than using “I feel statements” then they are going to get on the defensive. The conversation will not likely be productive in producing a positive result if you start with “you did this” or “you said that.”
Avoid the temptation to fall into blaming and pointing fingers as this is not helpful in the overall process of healing the trust in the relationship.
Write down the specific “I feel” statements before you go to the person in conversation.
Again, do not approach the person with a group. Rather, the conversation is to be one on one. If you take multiple people or even one other person, they will feel that you are ganged up on them.
Ask for a private conversation and use your “I feel” statements to get the conversation going on the right foot.
R: Request what you need to get back to a healthy relationship
This step goes hand-in-hand with the “O: Open conversations”. Now is the time to discuss what happened and how things can be resolved.
You need to discuss how the trust was broken, what is required to heal the relationship, and how your relationship will work moving forward.
It is important that your requirements and expectation for the other party are reasonable. If you set the bar too high and expect to much, you are setting the person and relationship up for failure.
For example, if it was a situation of infidelity, you can’t expect them to never talk to someone of the opposite sex ever again. Setting that rule or expectation is unreasonable. It is also likely to be broken the first day, which means you will feel further violated and the trust undermined once again.
Set reasonable expectations to regain trust.
Things such as transparency with phone records, text, and emails going forward is a reasonable expectation.
Discuss these matters without making demands. Talk about what would make you feel comfortable and help to rebuild the trust.
If the other party cares enough, they will be willing to meet your reasonable requests.
T: Talk about the betrayal to a confidant or professional
Talk to wise counsel on the matter of your trust being broken.
Talking with someone else will help you gain better understanding of the situation and your own feelings.
It will also help you process the emotions you have on this matter.
Allow yourself to open up to someone who can help you through this situation. Using a professional such as a counselor is a always a wise choice when seeking help about deeply personal matters.
Don’t keep your feelings inside.
Trust broken can bring up all sort of feelings, emotions, and even past unresolved issues. When you keep these things inside and never unburden yourself emotionally by talking through things, you allow the emotions to fester.
Don’t allow the pain to become an even more painful wound by allowing it to fester because of your unwillingness to open up.
Find someone who you trust and open up to them about what has happened. Let yourself process the emotions so that you can move on.
H: Heal yourself to heal the relationship
Depending on the level of the pain inflicted and the sort of trust that was broken will determine how much healing you need.
If for example, you found out that your spouse has cheated on you with your best friend, you are going to need some serious healing.
This won’t happen overnight. It involves time, patience with yourself, and professional help when needed.
A counselor is definitely recommended in situations of infidelity. Not only for couple’s counseling, but also for individual therapy for each party. The person who has been victimized has a lot to overcome emotionally.
Here are some ways that you can help yourself in the healing process:
Find a support group for the particular experience you are going through.
Though there may not be support groups for all kinds of trust violations, there are for the major violations such as infidelity.
Seek individual counseling from a professional.
As mentioned before, seeking professional help is good for both you and your partner.
Journal about your experience.
Journal about your current feelings, and where you want yourself and the relationship to be in the future.
Avoid bashing the person who broke your trust.
Do not go behind their back and begin bashing them or talking bad about them because this will prevent you from having a heart and mind of forgiveness.
It’s okay to talk about what happened to a confidant in order to process your feelings.
It’s not okay to talk to someone about it for the purposes of bashing the other party or gossiping.
Get all your questions answered.
Make sure you ask all the questions you want answered from the person who violated your trust.
If you are working together to make the relationship work, they should be willing to answer your questions. Having unanswered questions can prevent you from healing.
For example, if it was a situation of infidelity, you may be wondering where and how it began. You want to know these specifics so that you aren’t wondering if it was at the gym and should you be concerned every time they leave the house to go to do a workout.
Having those types of questions answered gives you peace of mind, especially if you can equip the relationship with transparency expectations moving forward.
For example, you find out that the affair did begin at the gym. Then a solution would be to change gyms and you workout together.
It can be a new way to spend more time together and it will also solve your problem of fearing they will meet someone else every time they go to the gym.
The goal in this final “H: Heal” stage of the COME FORTH formula is to help you, the victim, see that the relationship cannot be healed unless you are healed.
If you have underlying anger, resentments, and hostility still bottled up, then your relationship with the other person will not likely heal either.
You must pursue ways to healing yourself emotionally and mentally, that way your relationship can also move on to a deeper and healthy state.
Hitting the reset button on the relationship
When both parties have resolved to work through the broken trust to save the relationship then you can hit the reset button together. What this means is that you are both willing to work through the COME FORTH method to heal yourselves and the relationship.
You can’t just say “let’s start over” because that won’t solve any of the problems or heal the emotional issues.
You need to apply the COME FORTH method to work through it together and individually. Doing this will indeed reset the relationship and set it up for greater success.
You will also find that at the completion of the COME FORTH process you will both be better people, in a better relationship together.
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