Trust is essential for good relationships. But since human beings make mistakes, the bond of trust is often broken. Many people don’t know how to repair their relationship with someone once the trust level has been damaged.
Juliet’s situation is typical of what many people go through after a breach of trust. She has been struggling to restore her faith in her husband Brent ever since he had an affair several years ago. She ruminates about what really happened, as she still has suspicions about some of her husband’s story. Although their marriage is working much better now than it was then, Juliet has nagging doubts about just how secure their relationship really is.
For his part, Brent believes that he’s done everything he can to show his love for Juliet. He’s apologized profusely and offered prolific reassurance that he’s trustworthy now. But after all these years, he’s tired of talking about his infidelity. He believes that Juliet should be over it by now because he’s proven that he can be a good husband. Brent becomes frustrated when Juliet wants to bring up the past, and the ensuing conflict often ends up causing a rift in their relationship.
Relationships have a “trust bank.” When a bank account has a large balance that has been built up over time, those assets provide the security and support people need in their life. When partners stop making regular deposits or, worse, wipe out their account with a huge withdrawal, they destroy their ability get what they need.
There are three ways to make deposits to build a trusting relationship:
- integrity – develop a set of shared values and align your everyday actions with them
- dependability – do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it
- caring – demonstrate that you have the other person’s best interests in mind
Establishing trust begins when people develop positive expectations about each other’s behavior and intentions. This comes from discussing exactly what it is that they’ll each do to contribute to achieving a mutually satisfying and secure relationship.
When people see that their partnership is a sustained source of positivity, a self-fulfilling cycle is established whereby each deposit increases confidence that continued deposits in the emotional bank account will lead to good returns. But when people suffer an unexpected loss, they often withdraw all of their assets. They become guarded and vigilant about protecting themselves. Even though not making deposits precludes the possibility of getting what they want, they’re reluctant to reinvest because they fear having to suffer the horrible pain of betrayal again.
Rebuilding trust requires that both parties engage in an active effort to rebuild the balance in their trust account. The person who’s been burned, but still wants to make the relationship work, needs to be willing to take the risk of becoming vulnerable again. They must do more than sit back in a wait and see stance. They must clearly communicate how specific actions of the other individual have damaged the relationship, without accusing their partner of being a bad person.
The offending party needs to apologize by expressing sincere remorse and understanding of how their actions have hurt the relationship. In addition, it’s imperative that the person who has made the mistake give a detailed explanation of what lessons they’ve learned. This is the only way to know that the offender recognizes what went wrong, and how they intend to handle problems differently in the future.
The wounded party must learn to accept the apology. That includes stating their willingness to allow the other person to earn back their trust. Even though they’re scared, if they want to rebuild a better quality relationship they must begin exploring possibilities for recreating a positive connection rather than revisiting the past. The past cannot be changed, so it’s essential to engage in constructive conversations designed to clarify the small steps necessary for successfully rebuilding trust going forward.
If you need to re-establish trust with someone, you’ll need to overcome your fear of giving control away to someone who has hurt you. Your fear of suffering further pain in the future can be offset in two ways. One, learn about how people forgive in order to alleviate their hurt and re-establish trust. Ask yourself how you’ve earned someone’s trust back, or discover how other people have successfully replenished their trust. Two, pay more attention to how much progress has been achieved rather than to how many more deposits need to be made.