Trust gets broken sometimes.
It doesn’t have to be a big, horrible betrayal either. It can happen when we’ve been emotionally abandoned or when a loyalty we thought was rock solid turned out to be false.
One of my biggest gut punches happened when I found out a particularly close friend had been talking about me behind my back. I was completely shocked and terribly hurt. One minute, I would have trusted her with any vulnerable thing from my life. In the next, she didn’t feel safe anymore.
If trust is fractured in a relationship we care about, we have a few choices. Dive right back in and risk getting hurt again. Hold back and settle for a less-intimate version to keep ourselves safe. Get to the hard work of rebuilding.
If the relationship is really important to you, I hope you’ll pick the last one. The question is…how? Wait for a year? Five years? Ten? Until they haven’t screwed up for a while and then it magically returns?
Not exactly. You need specific actions, small things you can incorporate into your communication to build it up little by little. That’s why communication is important. It will do the heavy lifting for you.
For the person who broke trust…
Have one-side conversations
When your partner comes with hurt feelings, just listen. Don’t defend yourself with explanations or rationalizations, and don’t bring up your own hurt feelings. Give them the gift of being completely seen and heard without inserting your own agenda. You can have a turn later.
Apologize without hesitation
If you’ve hurt someone’s feelings, acknowledge it. Not in a dismissive way to just make the conversation stop but by genuinely listening to what they’re saying. Take immediate ownership of what you’re responsible for and sincerely say you’re sorry for hurting them.
Promise to come back, and keep your word
When we’re triggered, we need space to calm our nervous system and process what’s going on. Pausing for a while is usually the best choice but it can cause a lot of anxiety, so let them know in very clear terms when you’ll return to the conversation and be there on time.
What happens in the conversation stays in the conversation
Partners need to feel like their name is safe in the other person’s mouth. Keep their secrets and the vulnerable things they share to yourself. Lock those in the vault and do it without them having to make you pinky swear.
Tell the truth, the whole truth
Nothing feels more suspicious than being given partial details and nobody likes having to pull information out of a reluctant partner. Make it easy on them and lay it all out from the beginning. Be transparent. Be vulnerable. Be honest and authentic.
For the person learning to trust again…
Reinforce the behaviors you appreciate
Say thank you for what they’re doing well. When you feel seen and heard, tell them. That will inspire them to show up like that again. Don’t talk yourself out of gratitude because they’re not yet meeting your standard. Use appreciation to help them rise to your expectation.
Don’t give up when you fail
Building trust is a process. It takes time. It takes repeated attempts. It takes figuring out what works and what doesn’t. The failures are information, too. If what you tried didn’t work, revise your strategy and keep trying.
Tell them what role you need them to play
Our partners can’t read our minds. They will default to their comfort zone. The problem-solver will try to solve your problem. They cheerleader will cheer you on. If you need them to listen silently or answer your questions or validate you, tell them. Help them help you.
Start with the small things
When it’s safe to talk about the smaller hurts, we learn it’s safe to bring up the bigger things, too. If you’re not ready to get really vulnerable, look for the baby vulnerability step you can take to let them prove they can honor that with care.
Leave the past behind you
Whatever broke your trust, hurt you deeply. Believe me, your partner knows. When you bring up past hurt, you trigger their shame for hurting you. Most of the time, they’ll end up in a fight-flight-freeze response which will shut down all communication. Stay with the situation that is happening in the present.
I’ve been on both sides of this coin. Neither is easy. The good news is that, in a healthy relationship, you can recover from broken trust if both people are willing to act with loving intention toward each other. Sometimes, the betrayal is a deal-breaker. That’s okay, too. But if you’re gonna hang in there, make sure to put some strategies into action.
Rebuilding trust means you’re gonna have some tough conversations and conflict is gonna come up. If you need more tips, grab this pdf…Top Ten Strategies for Successful Arguments.