Relationship expert Jan Day explains how to rebuild a relationship once trust has been broken
Very often, the things we find challenging can actually help us learn more about ourselves and our relationships. There are many ways in which a partnership can be severely affected by dishonesty and yet the resulting shake-up can sometimes create a lot of soul-searching, discussion and real communication, so that ultimately a couple may end up stronger.
In my experience, dishonesty usually starts from a lack of connection and communication. For example, a man tells his wife that he met a female colleague after work and she gets very angry. She may have actually felt hurt or scared when she heard this, but instead of sharing her feelings and talking to her husband, they both shut down to avoid the uncomfortableness of it all. The issue doesn’t go away, and the man continues to do what he wants and doesn’t tell his wife about it. He realises that he can live a secret and more peaceful life by not telling her and this results in the couple becoming distant and the relationship suffering. Eventually she finds out and feels betrayed by his dishonesty.
Understand each other
To regain trust and heal a relationship, the communication that was first missing will need to be re-established. That means both people have to be willing to open up to what they are feeling at that moment, however uncomfortable that might be. And it means each of them have to be open to listening, understanding and empathising with each other. In other words, they need to find a way to see the world through the other person’s eyes.
In the example above, the man avoided telling his wife about something he wanted to do because he didn’t want to hear her anger and didn’t trust that he would be listened to. She too didn’t want to hear her husband’s needs or reveal her own insecurity or vulnerability because she didn’t believe that he would listen to her or take her worries seriously.
In this way, building trust means seeing that you both play a part in doing so and understanding that you need to find a way to hear each other and come to an agreement that you can both stand behind.
To trust each other, you need to be honest about what is important for you and keep listening and understanding each other. Whatever agreement you come to, both people in the relationship need to feel happy – neither of you can feel like you’ve agreed to something you don’t want. Inevitably, if you feel forced to say yes to something that you don’t really agree with, you will break the agreement, and that is fertile ground for dishonesty.
In order for this to happen, you need to be willing to talk about issues that fall into areas where you disagree. Agreements, therefore, aren’t just about getting your own way – they are arrived at by listening carefully to what is behind each other’s needs. When you’ve really understood each other, you can usually find a way to a solution that works for both of you.
For the woman in the example, that means being able to express her sadness, jealousy, insecurity and probably anger too, but without going into blame. She needs him to see, sense, feel and hear her but without either of them pointing their finger in anger.
She also needs to see, sense and feel her partner, without defending herself or closing down. He’ll have to reveal his shame, his fear of telling her what was happening, and the reasons that led to his dishonesty in the first place. It is only when both parties are showing up and revealing themselves that they can see each other clearly and real trust can be established.
Don’t shy away from vulnerability
Rebuilding trust means seeing each other fully – especially in your most vulnerable places. Each of us have places that hurt inside and these tend to lead to us being incredibly sensitive in relationships, especially in regard to being rejected or being engulfed. When you explore those needs and what is behind them, you can understand your own and the sensitivities of others much better. Sharing the stories behind your fears allows you to understand each other at a heart level. That is much deeper that understanding with your heads. When you touch each other’s hearts with your vulnerability, you have a level of understanding that results in trust growing and you can make agreements because you care and empathise.
Now that you understand each other and have revealed yourselves, you can start to regain trust again. By building a sense of what it is like to be in the other one’s shoes you can truly start to believe in each other and you’ll also have the resource of this newfound communication to support you in the future.
When not to trust anymore
It’s important to recognise when trust is unlikely to be regained. Here are some examples of when it may be difficult to rebuild a relationship
1. If your partner is struggling with an addiction and is either in denial about it or is not seeking appropriate support such as from NA or AA
2. If one of you is in denial of what happened or how you feel about it (or is playing it down as normal
3. If one of you is determined to make the other wrong and use that as a power play
4. If either of you is unwilling to feel and understand the underlying issues
5. If the same issues of dishonesty keep coming up again and again 6. If there is a power imbalance, for example if one partner will tolerate anything to try to get love
Jan Day is a relationship expert. For more information visit janday.com
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