Rebuilding trust after your spouse has betrayed you is hard — no matter the reason for the betrayal.
Maybe your spouse lied to you. Maybe they left you out of an important financial decision and now you’re both suffering because of it. Maybe they’re addicted to pornography. Maybe they cheated.
Whatever the circumstances, you’re left broken-hearted and more than a little disillusioned. You’re wondering if you can ever trust your spouse again. Is it possible to move past the hurt and rebuild the trust that was broken? Is it even worth the effort to try?
The answer to those questions is, “Yes.” It is possible to restore trust, and it’s definitely worth the work it will take.
I can tell you this with certainty because my husband, Mark, and I have navigated one of the most serious betrayals a married couple can face — infidelity.
It wasn’t easy, but we came through the other side of the hurt. Now our relationship is restored and is stronger than before.
You may think Mark and I are one couple in a million, but we aren’t. Research has shown that married couples who work to restore trust after a breach often achieve deeper levels of satisfaction than before trust was lost.
So, no matter the pain you’re feeling right now, you can move past the hurt and learn to trust again.
However, there is one caveat:
It Takes Two
Mark and I had been married for 28 years when I found out he was having an affair. Waves of emotion threatened to strangle me where I stood. Shock hit first, then disbelief, followed by grief, regret, sadness, and rage. The anguish was so deep that I was in physical agony.
Yet I wasn’t ready to walk away from the man I loved and the life we had together.
Instead, I wanted to channel my emotions into something constructive. I wanted to rebuild. I wanted Mark to recognize the hurt he’d caused, break off the affair, and recommit to our marriage immediately.
Sadly, Mark wasn’t ready for that yet. He half-heartedly broke off the other relationship, only to return to it within three weeks.
Mark went back and forth between his affair and our marriage six times over the next five months. Then he moved out of our home to pursue the other relationship.
During this months-long struggle, rebuilding trust was impossible because, no matter how much I wanted to rebuild trust and save our marriage, I couldn’t do it by myself.
However, God showed me there were things that I could do alone. I could choose to let go of bitterness. I could seek God, and with God’s help, I could forgive — whether Mark ever came home or not.
As I did these things, I kept the communication lines with Mark open. I expressed my desire to save our marriage and waited.
Finally, nine months after I had discovered his infidelity, Mark broke off the affair for good. Three months later, he recommitted himself to our marriage and came back home.
Of course, just because Mark was home didn’t mean the hard part was over. The journey toward rebuilding trust had only just begun.
Rebuilding Trust Takes Time
Unfortunately, there isn’t an overnight solution for moving forward after trust is broken. Trust can only be rebuilt by degrees and in stages.
Mark would have to prove to me, consistently over time, that his behavior had changed.
The problem was, in order for him to do that successfully, I would have to be vulnerable enough to let him. Rebuilding trust requires a level of risk.
You see, you can’t rebuild trust after you’ve been betrayed unless you’re willing to brave getting hurt again — and sometimes that’s absolutely terrifying.
Here’s something that is rarely talked about but important to understand: I also had to rebuild Mark’s trust during this time. While I didn’t cause the affair, I had contributed to the dysfunction in our marriage.
I had been critical of him and been so independent that I’d sent him an unintentional message that I didn’t need him. I had to change those things and rebuild his trust too.
Be Vulnerable Despite the Fear
The fear of being hurt again after a betrayal is intense. So allowing yourself to be vulnerable with your spouse may seem like a weak or even foolish thing to do at first.
As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” right?
Yet, ironically, if you want to rebuild a trusting relationship, you’ll have to open yourself up to the possibility of getting hurt again.
My heart had been shattered over and over during Mark’s nearly year-long affair. It was scary to think it might happen again. I wasn’t sure I could take it.
However, just as Mark had to let go of the other relationship completely in order to recommit to our marriage, I had to let go of my fear.
When I did, something amazing happened. As I fully opened my heart to Mark, he began to do the same.
Being vulnerable with one another allowed us to create a safe space to express our thoughts and feelings. It increased our intimacy and paved the way for honest, constructive communication.
Constructive Communication Is Key
Rebuilding trust takes communication — lots of it! So it’s important for you to understand that the way you say something matters as much as what you say.
Cutting remarks and biting tones will only cause more distrust to form between you and your spouse.
Although you’ve been deeply wounded, it’s never OK to use your words as weapons. You can be honest without being mean.
Even though anger and pain played tug-of-war with my heart during many of our conversations, I was intentional about keeping my emotions in check as Mark and I spoke to one another.
In the beginning, I needed to ask Mark a lot of questions about his infidelity — not to shame him, but to better understand him and what happened.
Thankfully, because he was operating out of humility, Mark always answered honestly without being standoffish or defensive. This proved to me that he wanted to reestablish the trust he had lost.
If he would have reacted defensively to my questions, our communication would have shut down, and rebuilding trust wouldn’t have been possible.
By the same merit, if I hadn’t listened to Mark’s answers without blowing up at him, he wouldn’t have felt safe enough to answer any more of my questions.
As you start to reconnect, you and your spouse will need to work hard to communicate with respect and learn not to react out of hurt or anger. Sometimes marriage coaching can be helpful for establishing healthy communication.
Actively listen to one another. Apologize to one another and forgive.
Forgive a Million Times Over
As you and your spouse have open and honest conversations around the breach of trust, you may uncover transgressions that you hadn’t known about before.
The only way to move past them is to forgive each and every one.
On our journey toward healing, I asked Mark many questions about his affair. As he answered openly, details began to surface. He had kept a hidden email account. He had used our family’s money to pay for secret excursions. He had shared time with the other person at one of our special places.
With each newfound offense, Mark would apologize, and I would seek God until I could push through the pain and anger to forgive him.
I felt like I had to forgive Mark a million times over as we fought to rebuild trust in our marriage.
But I wasn’t the only one who had to forgive. As we began to open up to each other, Mark revealed ways that I had hurt him, too.
We soon began to realize there were negative behaviors derailing our marriage long before Mark’s affair.
Most of these issues had seemed small and insignificant. Yet they had been eroding our trust in one another for years.
Don’t Ignore “Small” Issues as You Work on the “Big” One
As you and your spouse work to rebuild trust, pay attention to the little issues that come up.
Some of them may seem like they aren’t worth your consideration, but if you ignore them, they can become huge barriers to trust.
Here are some examples of “small” offenses that erode trust over time:
- Constant criticism
- Unwillingness to openly share feelings
- Being manipulative or controlling
- Parenting-type behaviors
- Not “being there” during times of need
- Breaking promises
- Leaving conflicts unresolved
Likely, each of you have more than one of these destructive behavior patterns lurking in the background, undermining the trust you have in each other.
Once you recognize these “small” issues, you can begin to weed out the negative behaviors that are detrimental to building trust.
Of course, it can be difficult to look objectively at yourself and your marriage. It’s wise to bring in a couples therapist, marriage counselor, or marriage coach.
Seek Wise Counsel
You and your spouse will need someone in your corner helping you to gain perspective and learn the skills to make lasting changes.
Seek out a Godly couples therapist, marriage counselor, or marriage coach to help you on your journey. This is also a time when a marriage intensive might be helpful.
Our marriage counselor helped us overcome roadblocks we couldn’t break through on our own. He helped us do the hard work without giving up.
The Hard Work Pays Off
No matter how long it takes to rebuild trust in a marriage, it’s worth it.
The years of hard work that Mark and I put into rebuilding trust has paid in dividends.
Our family is still together. We get to play with our grandchildren together. We host family dinners together. We have now celebrated 38 years of marriage together.
Staying together and working toward change has allowed us to make wonderful new memories to replace the old memories of hurt and shame.
God has enabled us to pick up the shattered pieces of our lives and rearrange them into something new, better, stronger.
We now understand how to peacefully resolve conflicts instead of arguing. We respect our differences instead of resenting them, and we enjoy one another’s company. We have the kind of marriage we’d only dreamed of before.
The road to healing was difficult to travel, but we are better for having gone down it.
If you would like to learn more about how to get past painful memories so you can stop hurting and rebuild trust, read more in this Marriage Monday post.
If you’d like to dig deeper into the specific steps Mark and I used to rebuild trust, so you can apply them to your own marriage, download the free Rebuilding Trust Roadmap.