Ten Tasks for Rebuilding Marital Trust

Perhaps the most devastating thing that can take place in a marriage is when trust becomes significantly damaged between husband and wife.  Restoring this trust is generally a difficult thing to do.  It is an undertaking that does not come naturally or instinctively, so it is something we must learn.  Below, ten tasks for rebuilding trust in marriage are briefly described.  These tasks or steps are not necessarily listed in a specific order.  Nor are the explanations exhaustive as much more could be said about each one.  But, all of these ten tasks are certainly essential components to reestablish marital trust.

1.  Acknowledgement

As with many things, acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step to recovery.  In the case of rebuilding the marriage relationship, the process must start with getting to the core of the problem and acknowledging that trust is the real issue at stake.  Hurt is an issue, feelings are an issue, the offense is an issue – but it must be recognized and verbalized that the primary issue is that trust has been broken and in need of restoration.

2.  Commitment

If a broken marriage is to be restored it will ultimately be because the husband and wife have committed (and recommitted) themselves to one another and to the process of rebuilding the relationship.  This is critical step that cannot be casually passed over.  Often a wounded spouse may not honestly know if he/she is at a point of fully committing to rebuilding the relationship after a significant betrayal.  This is understandable and such a critical decision may require time and patience.  However, for trust to be rebuilt and the relationship to be mended a genuine commitment is needed before much real progress can be made.

3.  Honesty

Trust is destroyed because of secrets, lies, and broken promises.  The only possible way to even attempt to rebuild trust is through absolute and complete honesty.  Any effort to continue hiding details or information will continue to undermine trust and make the hurt of betrayal even worse.  The offending spouse must be forthcoming with any details that are asked, even though the truth may cause pain.  Moving forward, both husband and wife must be completely open and honest in their communication – even in areas that seem to have no connection with the problems at hand.  Honesty must become the new norm for the relationship.  Open communication will, with time, build a mutual bond that leads to the growth of trust.

4.  Repentance

For a betrayed marriage to have any chance at all, an offending spouse must feel and communicate a sincere repentance for his/her wrong doing.  This is more than a feeling of sorrow and/or admission of guilt.  It is even more than an apology or request for forgiveness.  Earnest repentance requires a complete turning away from any and all issues and circumstances that contributed to breaking the trust in the beginning.  Earnest repentance also requires a heartfelt effort at reparation (to the extent possible) of what has been lost due to the betrayal.  Without this undertaking no real progress can be achieved because the issues that threaten the relationship will continue to exist and thwart the rebuilding of trust.

5.  Responsibility

This is a tough one.  It is a rare case, indeed, in which only one spouse is completely responsible for the problems that exist in the marriage.  Even in cases in which one person is clearly at fault in committing an egregious betrayal it is generally true that both spouses share in the blame for negative circumstances that existed in the marriage prior to that betrayal.  Often the betrayal itself is not the only problem.  The issues and dynamics that preceded (and sometimes contributed to) the betrayal also need to be considered and rectified.  Certainly the offending spouse needs to own up to his/her own faults and failures and take responsibility for decisions and actions.  But, the wounded spouse must also acknowledge and take responsibility for his/her role in the issues that negatively impact the relationship – both now and in the past.  This is not an excuse of justification for betrayal.  It is an acknowledgment that the relationship needs to be rebuilt on a stronger foundation if can be expected to survive.

6.  Change

Restoring a marriage after a breach of trust will require change.  Remorse, apology, and even repentance are all good and necessary.  But all of these components – and others – are ultimately worthless in the absence of real change.  There must be a transformation in many areas that affect the marriage relationship including: attitude, behavior, communication, and priorities.  These modifications must be noticeable and permanent.

7.  Expressing Pain

Emotional pain results when trust is compromised in a marriage.  Denying, ignoring, or repressing this pain is counterproductive if the goal is to restore trust in the relationship.  Bottled up emotional pain will only lead to bitterness and resentment that is not helpful to anyone including oneself.  The best way to deal with and work through the pain is to verbally express it.  The goal is to find a positive outlet of expression that does not further threaten or hinder the relationship.  Sometimes writing down some notes helps keep one on track.  Thoughts, feelings, concerns about the present and future, and so forth all need to be expressed or it will be virtually impossible to move forward.

8.  Accountability

It is always best for accountability to be present within a marriage at all times – not only after something negative has occurred.  However, after a betrayal has taken place or trust has been violated accountability becomes even more crucial.  Privacy from children, extended family, friends, and others is a normal and necessary way to live.  However, so-called privacy in marriage is nothing more than keeping secrets – which is always a bad practice.  Married couples should be entitled to complete, unfettered access into all areas of one another’s lives.  After all, when you marry you are no longer two, but one.  True accountability will involve everything: financial, social, personal, work, free time, and so forth.

9.  Forgiveness

There is a lot of confusion about what constitutes forgiveness.  Forgiveness does not mean denying reality, ignoring/excusing an offense, or remaining a victim.  It is not a trick to avoid pain, gain power, or manipulate a situation.  Forgiveness is about giving up on getting even.  It involves releasing oneself of the destructive desires for punishment or revenge.  It is about trusting God to take care of matters.  Forgiveness can be manifested in different ways that are appropriate to the offense and circumstances.  However, in the case of restoring a marriage after trust has been compromised, forgiveness must be both verbally expressed and reflected in one’s behavior.  It involves a daily decision for grace and mercy to be manifest in our attitude and conduct.

10.  Letting Go

Healing can only take place – both personally/internally and within the relationship – when one is able to let go of hurt, resentment, bitterness, negativity, and so forth.  This is the emotional aspect of genuine forgiveness.  It is normal for painful memories to occasionally be triggered from time to time.  When thoughts of past hurts occur, it's what we do with them that matters.  The absolute best thing one can do is continually release the pain and doubt to God and allow Him to help us overcome it and trust again.  Letting go is a process, not an event.

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