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Marriage: The Challenge of Rebuilding Trust in Marriage

Betrayal in Marriage—The Challenge of Re-building Trust

Betrayal in marriage rolls through my office like semi-trucks into a weigh station. On the freeway of life, people experience incredible emotional wreckage when they find out that someone they trusted has lied to them. This type of unfaithfulness is sadly too common.

Here’s are some complicated situations that create broken trust in marriage. A man finds out for sure that his wife has been cheating on him for over two years despite her denying his suspicions earlier. A woman walks in on her man ‘preoccupied’ yet again with trashy images of pornography on his phone after he said he was over his habit. A husband finds a receipt that can only be explained one way – his wife’s demoralizing re-lapse into a shopping spree even though their financial crisis was discussed. How many times should a wife be disappointed before her spouse would do what he promised? Yet, his lack of follow-through on commitments made is so crushing to her. She just can’t trust him.

Like two people partnered in a flying trapeze act, relational connection in a marriage is when one fully trusts that the other will be there to catch them, will hold on tight and will never let them fall. There’s an deep understanding and steady grip that reflect this trust.

But what happens when it feels like you were just ‘dropped’?

The heart-breaking stories are as plentiful as the emotions that accompany them on this road of betrayal. Cheating. Lying. Confusion. Secrets. Anger. Denials. Investigation. Broken Promises. Tears. Half-truths. Suspicion. Fear. Manipulation. Rejection. Blaming. Disappointment.

As hard as it may be to believe, even when their story isn’t convincing, partners with suspicious actions somehow deny them when accused and still justify them when caught. How is that possible? What are they thinking? How can they do that?

This great inconsistency of life within a once-dedicated bond is so disheartening. The relationship is extremely fractured often irreparably. Can trust be rebuilt? Is it possible to restore faith in a person after such a breach of commitment?

It’s your worst nightmare when your most trustworthy partner has dropped you and you are left trying to absorb the horrible shock and painful impact of this relational slippage in the center ring of your world.

Understanding Trust

Let’s get on the same page. Trust is the deep and genuine confidence in the reliability and integrity of another person. It’s what we come to assume within our most important relationships. Great ones are built on this trust.

“I trust you” means that you operate under the conviction that what the person says is true. You believe they are whom they say they are, that they’ll do what they say they will do. You assume they are where they said they would be and with whom they said they’d be. Trust is a growing assurance of deep dependability of life and character.

For you to be and live trustworthy, you act in consistency with the other’s best interests and in keeping with your word. Your words are reliable. You keep your promises. You live by your word. That’s trust.

Then as a relationship deepens, I decide I can trust you. I start to feel safe with you. I am confident you have my best in mind. You have my back. I believe your words are truthful, your motives are positive and your interest is genuine.

‘I trust myself to you’ means that I risk opening up to you believing you care about me and will not misuse my vulnerability. When trust is present, we mutually feel fully secure.

Broken Trust is Betrayal in Marriage

That’s why betrayal is so hard. Trust and truth are ripped from the core of your being and are replaced by a twisted version of disloyalty and deception. The safe feeling is shattered. A once pure and uncompromising alliance is now broken. So much was riding on that trust.

“But you said it was behind you, how could you do go back again?” Broken trust.

“I believed you all this time.” Broken trust.

“You promised me.” Broken trust.

“That’s surely not what you conveyed to me”. Broken trust.

While the actual action of betrayal is hard enough, for some, it’s the repeated all out lies that cause the greatest hurt. The offended partner is saying, “Where do I go from here if I really can’t ever trust what you say to me?”

Betrayal, whether sudden or gradual, is worse than a hard relational punch in the gut. You’ve been winded. You are sucking air and can’t catch your breath. Your heart feels like it’s going to explode with disappointment. You gasp and cringe but the pain of infidelity and broken trust just won’t go away.

Rebuilding Trust

To rebuild trust is to re-establish life integrity over time. Renewing trust is achieved by living trustworthy. When fully restored, words are reliable, actions are consistent and the inner and outer life are congruent.

Remember – great relationships are built on the premise that the other person won’t lie to you. It’s anchored by the conviction that their words hold weight and are trustworthy. It’s secured in the promise that they wouldn’t convey you are their priority when you really are not.

The Core Principles of Rebuilding Trust

The truth is that the primary obligation for rebuilding trust lies with the person who broke the trust in the first place. Their role is central to the renewal of faith in the relationship. It will take both time and effort to restore what their careless and selfish actions have destroyed. What follows should help the offending spouse walk the journey of authentic recovery from their betrayal giving them the best chance to reconnect again with their spouse.

The wounded partner has a journey as well. An understandable guarded skepticism will have to be replaced over time by a gradual, renewed faith. And yes, it will take time and effort to risk again. What follows should also help the offended spouse mitigate the gamble of reconnection by being intentional about what they want and need before welcoming their spouse back into their heart and life.

The Offender: Steps to Rebuilding After You Have Broken Trust

Naïve offenders say foolish things like, “you’re just going to have to trust me.” The truth is, you are going to have to give them good reason to trust you again. Though there are no guarantees, you’d be wise to follow these steps to have your best shot at genuinely getting your spouse back. The principles are aimed to a full recovery from one of the most challenging betrayals – an affair – but can easily be applied to every type. Here’s what rebuilding trust looks like.

  1. Pursue third party mediation. Go to a marriage counselor or pastor to help bring support and accountability and to establish the needed direction for the recovery. They can guide you in rebuilding the trust and restoring the relationship. Their presence brings a level of objectivity and clarity as to the issues at hand and hopefully a Godly perspective.
  1. Take initiative at every turn. Be willing to do whatever it takes to regain your spouse’s trust. Don’t hold back, sit back or fall back. Ask your spouse what they need from you and listen with the intent of trying to address all that is requested. You have to humbly be “all in”. Your actions, even when under the counsel of others, need to be authentically self-initiated and genuinely your choice. Your mate will see and sense your sincerity.
  1. Soften your heart toward God. There’s no doubt you will need God at every turn. Ask Him to change your heart. Embrace His promise of forgiveness. Ask for strength to make the needed changes in your life. Ask that He help you rekindle a God-honouring love toward your spouse. Pray for your spouse, your marriage and the damage you have done beyond the two of you. Live to honor God with your life and lips. Desire integrity before God above all else. Maintain a daily deep and consistent commitment to grow closer to the Lord.
  1. Display heartfelt repentance. Own your wrong before God. Then, admit the wrong with your spouse. See your betrayal for what it is – pure selfishness. Saying you’re sorry is right and good but is often not heard by your spouse in the early days. Set up a time to work through the hurt when they are ready. Admit your faults in detail. Answer any question they ask. Apologize specifically. Ask for forgiveness and also what can you do to make things right. Make no excuses; when you defend or justify, you damage your cause and are not thinking about their perspective. Be remorseful, regretful and fully recommitted. Pray together if your spouse is willing. Remember, their forgiveness is a series of steps, not one act. The start is an initial step of willingness to let go of the wrong committed. It is wise to apologize to others in the family who have been affected – children, parents and other close family and friends who are aware.
  1. Show genuine empathy for hurts caused. Own your mistakes for the hurts caused and the breach of trust that you have committed. Seek to identify with them how your behavior has wounded them. Listen to their pain. Ask God to help you see things from their perspective in so doing cultivate a genuine brokenness for wrongdoings. Empathize with the pain you have caused. Allow your spouse to find a few trusted confidantes to share their hurt and journey with. Don’t let your pride restrict them to walk this recovery road alone. Let them seek support.
  1. Come clean with complete honesty. The bottom line is that you have to be willing to disclose all your wrongdoings. You can’t rebuild a marriage on a foundation of half-truths in an attempt to either protect them or make it easier on you. Volunteer what they need to know. Answer any of their questions. Full disclosure of your unfaithfulness is best. Moving forward, there can be no more secrets, no internal inconsistency and no external incongruence. You must stop living a lie. No more games or manipulation of facts to convey a safer more acceptable message. And as time goes by, if you realize you have in any way misrepresented the truth on either past or present issues, disclose this slip up as soon as possible, for sure within 24 hours. Don’t wait to be asked but make a humble, quick recovery if truth is breached.
  1. Block access to the temptation. Whether it’s porn, a person or another distraction, let go of any right to maintain connection. Agree to break all ties and remove all triggers. Install filtering and accountability software to remove all access to porn on any internet-empowered devices. Cut off every means of communication with the person you had the affair with in a way that your spouse and the 3rd party approve. Beyond this, whether gambling, shopping or any other temptation – agree on ways to fully prevent a repeated failure.
  1. Agree to be accountable to someone beyond your mate. This could be a pastor, a counselor or a good friend, but it has to be someone with teeth, someone who your spouse trusts to ask the hard questions. Welcome this accountability. Request full accountability for your actions – where you are, who you are with, what you are doing? Invite them to call you to a God-honouring greatness on behalf of your spouse – to push you toward integrity.
  1. Volunteer your whereabouts daily. Don’t wait to be asked. Allow complete access to your schedule. Disclose all the details of the who, why, when, where and how long in all your activities. Inform willingly and frequently about your world and what you are doing. Sincerely want to create an environment of openness and transparency. Volunteer all your comings and goings like this until your mate says it’s enough. Then, agree on the level of awareness you both will maintain as a couple moving forward.
  1. Provide complete accessibility to all electronics. Your spouse has a right look through your phones, iPads, and computers and every app or program on them especially the social media ones. Give the passwords and access to all digital devices since they should be able to spot check anytime they like. After all, you no longer have anything to hide.
  1. Agree to healthy relational boundaries. Discuss what relational faithfulness will look like. What are the restrictions you will put on your outside opposite sex friendships? Create wise interpersonal limits that convey complete respect and uniqueness. Initiate weekly recovery discussions about how you are doing. Ask if there is anything that you are doing that puts them in a tailspin. Willingly listen to remove triggers to break the cycle of distrust.
  1. Stay the course in recovery. Be patient. Healing from the betrayal will take time. Don’t hound them, crowd them or pressure them back into the relationship. Genuinely commit to do the hard work and commitment over time to make the changes needed. Yes, time heals but your genuine heart and life change demonstrated consistently over months will speed the healing.

The Wounded: Steps to Reconnecting After Being Betrayed

While the onus for a rebuild lies primarily on the offender, the betrayed partner has some real work to do too. Here’s what reconstructing trust looks like from your end.

  1. Look for God-honouring changes in heart and life. While they do the initial groundwork toward the rebuilding of the relationship, you, much like a building inspector, will begin to scrutinize their efforts in the re-construction and the quality of the work. You are looking to see if their steps are real and sincere. Their decisions and the resulting directions they are taking have to be more than managing “fall out” of the betrayal or creating the optics of recovery. You are watching for consistency of behaviour in a good direction. Keep observing them in a variety of circumstances for greater indication that their change is genuine. Don’t live to trap them. Just ask the honest questions and listen to their heart in the answer.
  1. Let God anchor you through this restoration. He is our hope. He can give strength and perspective when we cannot find any. The Lord, more than anyone else knows the hurt and confusion you are going through. Listen to His prompting. Stay in His Word. Get some good people around you praying for you, your heart, your responses and your healing. Ask God daily to help bring healing to you both as you move toward integrity and recovery in the relationship.
  1. Learn to walk in forgiveness. Bitterness will kill you and any chance at a recovered relationship in the future. If you are governed by resentment, you will have a hard time even seeing positive signs of real change if they are there. It takes great strength to reconcile. Ask God to help you move toward forgiveness. You know you will have to get there some day – it’s His plan for us all. Forgiveness is a gift to your own soul; it’s part of your healing too. Even if you do forgive, it doesn’t remove the need for boundaries and accountability. It just begins the journey toward well-being between you again.
  1. Risk loving again. Make room in your heart for your mate. Act out your recommitment to the marriage. Give genuine reassurance that you are trying when you can. It will seem like a long road for them to regain your trust. It is. Commitment in marriage always has its risks. Recommitment after betrayal is even harder. Be calculated and intentional with eyes-wide open as you look for genuine changes in them. Yet you must at some point go beyond your fear and insecurity and start loving in return. Deeply seek the Lord in the matter. Even as trust is regained over time, reconnection and closeness is equally a journey.
  1. Face any of your baggage. Be sure you have looked in the mirror and began to face any of your issues. What are the problems within the marriage that you are responsible for? What shortcomings may have (sorry to be so direct) contributed to any void or vulnerability in your mote’s life? This doesn’t give any justification for the betrayal but it needs to be considered.
  1. Agree to go for help. Whether is the initial 3rd party mediator or a counselor or pastor in days following, agree to seek balanced and God-honouring guidance from a trusted source. Work through both the betrayal and the struggles in the marriage that are also there. Be sure to go for help if are can’t get to forgiveness or if the inability to trust persists.

There you have it. As clear as these steps may be and as constructive as they are for rebuilding trust, there is a lot of hard work ahead of you. Braid God into the recovery at every turn.

Someone you know is stuck in a state of broken trust. Love them enough to pass this along to them. If you are in this journey, share with me where things are breaking down for you in the recovery. Contact me with your questions or comments or let me connect you to one of our counseling staff to help you in rebuilding trust. Go to for all the help you will need.

Also listen to Podcast 97: The Challenge of Rebuilding Trust in Marriage

© Dr. Dave Currie – February 2017

Image used with permission by©fabianaponzi