T R U S T–a simple five-letter word. Yet one that carries so much weight. Trust is the soul of any relationship. It is the super glue that binds it together. If you have it, it is the reason you can go to sleep at night next to your partner and feel at peace; the reason that the ding of a text, or the ring of a phone doesn’t shoot off alarm bells; the reason that your partner working late doesn’t cause an anxiety attack.
Lack of trust, however, creates just the opposite effect. It causes untold psychological distress. It turns you into a spy as you search for clues that will validate your suspicions. It pits you against your worst insecurities. It makes you sick and hypervigilant; it keeps you up at nights wondering, Am I not good enough? Is it my fault? Is everything we have a sham? What will people think?
If your trust has been shredded, you might feel hopeless. But, there is good news. A relationship that has been tarnished by a betrayal can be saved. As Jennice Vilhauer, Ph.D, writes in her article in Psychology Today:
“Relationships are very complex and, depending on the circumstances, betrayal doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the relationship.”
Like a masterful tapestry, relationships are colossally multiplex. Understand that trust was broken because something in the relationship was broken. Are you willing to invest the time and effort it takes to salvage what took you years to build? Are you willing to find the missing pieces that made the relationship crumble? If so, then it’s possible to put the pieces back together.
Let’s learn some of the ways to do that…
1. Get Clarity
When a betrayal occurs, it feels cataclysmic. Emotions are fragile, fingers are pointed, and a war of sorts ensues. But no event that big is born in a vacuum. Things happen for a reason. To gain clarity, you must dig deep. Was there something that should have been addressed, but ignored instead?
Talk to your partner. Find out what happened and why. You are going to be angry, no doubt, but if you want to reconcile, you must listen. The answers will often reveal the corrosion poisoning the relationship prior to The Event. The betrayal was the symptom, not the actual problem.
In her article, How to Regain Broken Trust in a Relationship, Dr. Magdalena Battles talks about “Coming Forth.” She writes,
“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.”
If this doesn’t happen, then the relationship will surely die in a heap of pain, regret, and resentment.
2. Discover the Motivation
People do things for different reasons. Usually, those reasons are significant and rational to the person doing them. They might feel hurt, lonely, and/or unappreciated. Sometimes, an outsider does the job that the other partner is failing to do.
For instance, in the film Thief of Hearts, Mickey Davis, played by Barbara Williams, is constantly ignored by her husband, Ray Davis, played by John Getz, whose main focus is writing. He’s always working against a deadline. His wife is nothing short of an accessory in his life. It doesn’t take long for an encounter with a handsome stranger, played by Steven Bauer, to open up her lonely heart and have her fall, heart first, into an affair. He pays her all the attention she isn’t getting from her husband. Of course, it helps that he’s a thief, has stolen all her diaries, and now knows her deepest, darkest wants and desires.
Motivation plays an important role on whether or not your relationship can be saved. Neglect, an unsatisfactory sex life, anger, lack of commitment–they can all lead to infidelity. You might blame yourself for what happened, maybe even had a part in it. Then again, you may have had nothing to do with it. In an article by A. Pawlowski, she states:
“You could be doing everything right and your partner could still be tempted to cheat for reasons that have nothing to do with you or the quality of feelings you share.”
3. Commit to Rebuilding the Relationship
How valuable is your relationship to you? Once the dust settles after the infidelity, ask yourself these questions:
Am I willing to commit to him/her despite what happened? Do I still love him/her? Will I be able to do what it takes to get through this crisis?
Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW, in her article in The Gottman Institute writes:
“Do you have enough admiration and respect left to salvage the relationship? Be honest and ask yourself: Do we still have fun together and enjoy each other’s company most of the time?”
If you answered yes to those questions, then despite the long road ahead, it will be a worthy endeavor. If you are committed to each other, willing to examine the situation, and work on rectifying it, it is possible to pull through and come out on the other side.
Once you commit, forge ahead. Don’t half-heartedly work on it. It’s got to be all or nothing. If you’re halfway in, that means you’re halfway out.
4. Consider Couple’s Therapy
In some instances, regaining trust and working through an affair might be too difficult a challenge. In that case, perhaps couple’s therapy is in order.
With a trained professional, you can address issues you might not otherwise be able to do sitting at home, talking over a bottle of wine, and asking, “Was she better than me? Tell me everything! I want all the details.” You actually don’t, but I won’t get into that here.
Outside help is an invaluable tool. You’ll learn how to navigate the rockiest of roads. And this is exactly what you need at a fragile juncture such as the one with which you are dealing.
Find out more about this here: Is Relationship Counselling for You? Find Your Answer Here
You’ve fought hard for your relationship; worked tirelessly to get beyond what happened. Your relationship is still tender, but at least you’re still together, and working to keep it that way. Sometimes, however, even though you’re still together and you think you made it through the crisis, anger and resentment linger. All is not forgiven.
The victim can start using that to their advantage. “You have nothing to say about (blah, blah, blah), especially after what you did!” The hurt party can hang the betrayal over their partner’s head, reminding them continuously that they better tow the line, or else. Because of what happened, the hurt party feels entitled, and maybe even becomes a little punishing.
In order to really get beyond The Event, there has to be forgiveness. On both sides. The betrayer may be feel so guilty that they can barely stand themselves. In fact, they may start acquiescing on things that they shouldn’t.
Forgiveness, while not easy, is key to the survival of the relationship.
6. Give it Time
My son required jaw surgery when he was 19 years old. It was quite a painful ordeal. After the surgeon broke his jaw and put it back together, my son’s jaw was wired shut for six weeks in order for the proper healing to take place. He could only eat soft foods through a little syringe in his mouth. It took a good month and a half before his jaw was healed.
Unfortunately, betrayal is not like jaw surgery. It’s much worse. To mend a broken heart requires the skill of a surgeon and lots of time. You’re looking at about 18 months to three years, depending on how long you’ve been together.
If you’re committed to making your relationship work, patience is crucial. You’re going to be nursing anger, sadness, disbelief, insecurity, maybe some even shame. That’s a full plate.
Take it one loving step at a time. Talk things out when necessary. Eventually, if you keep taking those tiny steps, you’ll get to the Healing!
7. Be Transparent
…like a perfectly see-through glass window! In order to regain trust, the guilty party needs to be absolutely transparent. The betrayed cannot think for a minute that there are any secrets. Secrecy will create further distrust.
For instance, when the phone rings, don’t say, “I’ve got to take this,” and walk into another room. As a trust trasher, there is a lot of mending to do. Put aside the fact that you feel like your privacy is being invaded. You haven’t earned it at this point. You will need to re-earn their trust, so be open.
8. Cut Ties Completely
If you are the person who has betrayed your partner, you must cut all ties with the interloper. That means no phone calls, no texts, no emails, no coffee dates. No last meeting for “closure.”
No contact means no contact. If it’s over, then let it be over. Your partner deserves that. You may have had your reasons for doing what you did, but have a better reason for rebuilding your relationship. That can’t happen if you maintain contact with the “Other” person.
Your partner will not be able to rebuild trust if they know you’re still seeing and talking to the person that nearly destroyed your lives together.
9. Don’t Keep Bringing up the Event!
When you arrive at the point where you’ve picked up most of the debris, rebuilt your lives, and feel like you can move on, move on. That means, do not keep bringing up what happened. That will only serve to re-open the wound.
Imagine severely cutting yourself. You get multiple stitches, and get it bandaged up. Instead of letting it heal, you keep taking off the bandage, and ripping off the stitches, just to look at the damage. Ouch!
If you truly want your relationship to become solid again, put the affair in the past, and leave it there. Learn from what happened, make the necessary adjustments, then proceed onward. Talking about it ad nauseam will only keep the pain alive.
10. Do What You Say You’re Going to Do!
If you’re the betrayer, then this one is very important: Don’t lie! Say what you mean and mean what you say. Even the smallest lie, a “white” lie, if you will, could cause doubt to sprout, and result in your relationship taking another hit. At this point, irreversible damage can be done. Be consistent, reliable, and honest.
11. Do Things That Brought You Comfort and Joy before “the Event”
After the Event, it is easy to get buried in the rubble; difficult to pull yourselves out. But here’s the encouraging news: your relationship is not defined by what happened. There were good years prior to the betrayal, right? Now, it is time to pull from that reserve.
Sit with your partner. Talk about all the things you used to do when you were both happy; about all the places you used to go to that made you feel warm and cozy. It’s time to revisit them again. Start dating. This will psychologically take you back to the good times. Build on those. Then create new moments.
Betrayal always creates a big mess, leaving in its wake incalculable emotional detritus. Betrayal has sharp claws. It takes a lot of work to heal the scars. But they can be healed. Sometimes things have to be torn down in order to rebuild them better and stronger.
Express your remorse. Be genuine. This goes a long way to start repairing the damage. Do what it takes to let your partner know how truly sorry you are.
The suggestions listed above can work. But there has to be a willingness to try, a commitment to do what it takes, and a decision that the relationship is worth saving.
But that’s a decision only you can make. So what’s it going to be?
Featured photo credit: Svyatoslav Romanov via unsplash.com