Healing Your Broken Relationship, Part 4

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Rebuild Relationship Trust

In their book, Out of the Doghouse for Christian Men: A Redemptive Guide for Men Caught Cheating, authors Robert Weiss and Marnie Ferree list eight specific things that men (or women) who’ve engaged in sexual infidelity (with or without the presence of sex addiction/compulsivity) can do to help mend their damaged relationship.

Although this advice comes from a book written for a Christian audience, we believe that the information given is useful regardless of your spiritual belief system. According to Weiss and Ferree, the eight actions you can take to repair your connection with your significant other include:

  • Develop empathy for your partner.
  • Learn to disagree in healthy and productive ways.
  • Instead of telling your partner you care, show it.
  • Always keep the need to rebuild relationship trust in mind.
  • Anticipate and deal with potential hazards before they happen.
  • Don’t forget about self-care.
  • Express gratitude to your partner.
  • View love as a verb.

In this post, we will examine the fourth item on this list: rebuilding relationship trust.

This is one of the most difficult yet important things you can do after cheating if you want to save your relationship. If your partner can’t trust you, that undermines every aspect of your partnership. However, you should not expect your partner to just automatically trust you again after you say, “I’m sorry, it will never happen again.” What you should expect is that your partner will mistrust you about not only your sexual behavior but everything else in life. You should expect your partner to think, “If he/she would lie to me about something as important as sex, what else would he/she lie to me about? Can I trust anything that he/she has ever done?”

The good news is relationship trust can be repaired over time. To this end, you can implement the following tactics:

  • Make rigorous honesty a way of life not just with your partner, but with everyone. When your partner sees you being honest with every person you encounter, he or she is more likely to believe that you’re also being honest at home. This means honesty in simple things, like correcting the amount when you’ve been given too much change, and big things, like owning up with your boss that you failed to return an urgent phone call in a timely manner.
  • Keep your commitments. Suit up and show up when and where you say you will.Keep your promises to your partner (and everyone else) no matter what, even if doing so is wildly inconvenient. If your partner sees you keeping your daily commitments, he or she is more likely to trust that you’re also keeping your commitment to fidelity.
  • Be patient. You can’t rebuild relationship trust overnight. It’s a process, and it takes both time and a considerable amount of conscious effort. Even worse, it’s usually a two-steps-forward, one-step-backward process. You’ll think you’re doing great and your partner is finally coming around, but then something will upset him or her—you probably won’t even know what—and it will suddenly feel as if you are back at ground zero. This is normal. Don’t get angry about it, and don’t point it out to your partner, either. Just let it happen.
  • Understand that the new version of relationship trust that you are building won’t be as unconditionally accepting as the old version. As such, you’ll need to maintain much tighter boundaries than before: calling if you’re running late, admitting when you’re wrong, and fessing up if you tell a lie or keep a secret. And you might need to maintain these new boundaries for a very long time. (Try viewing them as part of your basic human integrity.)

Yes, it is hard to accept your partner’s continuing distrust when you know that you’re finally being rigorously honest in all aspects of your life. However, doing so is part of the healing process for you both. Over time, as you continually work to re-earn your partner’s trust, he or she will come around. One day you’ll wake up and realize that your partner hasn’t questioned you in weeks. And that will feel incredible. Better still, because you had to work so hard to re-establish relationship trust, you’re much less likely to break it again in the future.