Rebuild Trust After An Affair
By Roy Milam, President, Cornerstone Marriage & Family Ministries
Janet, like many spouses who’ve been devastated by an affair, told me that her husband , Bob had also been terribly dishonest with her and told her countless lies. In fact he had gotten quite good at it. When it was revealed to her that he had been having an affair, not only was Janet devastated by Bob’s infidelity, but she could no longer believe that he would be honest with her and tell the truth. His betrayal of her caused her severe trauma and consequently a breakdown of her trust in him. The trust Janet once had in Bob was gone the very moment she discovered what he had done. The question she was asking me to answer for her was “could her trust in him ever be regained?”
That’s the biggest question I hear from spouses dealing with an affair: “Will I ever be able to trust my spouse again?” My answer to Janet, after 17 years of working with others like her was, YES, it is possible for spouses to rebuild their trust in each other. I know it’s possible because I’ve seen it happen many times. I’ve worked with couples who tell me that they’ve come to a more transparent, honest relationship than they ever had before. No, it’s not easy to rebuild trust after something as devastating as an affair, but it is do-able if both spouses are willing to work at it.
The next question couples want to know is “How do we go about rebuilding trust after an affair?” To rebuild trust we need to understand just what trust is. Websters dictionary defines trust: to believe that someone or something is reliable, honest, trustworthy;. to have confidence in (someone or something). Trust is a sense of feeling safe and secure. The idea is to have belief in, confidence in; to be persuaded that someone will do what they say they will do and that we can feel safe and secure in that.
For Bob and Janet, to rebuild trust meant that Janet would have to find a way back to believing, with confidence that Bob would consistently do right by her so that she could feel safe to trust him again. When we say we trust someone, we are saying that we are confident that we can believe in them.
When we sit down in a chair, we do so because we trust it will hold our weight. That’s what a chair is supposed to do. When we trust our spouse, we believe and feel confident he or she will do what they say they’ll do, and that they will not do what they say they won’t do. Once an affair has been revealed, that is no longer the case. When trust is broken, there is a loss of confidence and belief of the person who broke trust, a loss of feeling safe and secure in the relationship. It also meant she would eventually have to put herself in a vulnerable position where Bob could, again, let her fall and be deeply hurt again. She wondered how that could ever be possible, and she just wasn’t sure she could ever do that again.
C. S. Lewis explains beautifully why we work to rebuild trust:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.… The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers … of love is Hell.”
In the process of restoring a marital relationship and rebuilding trust, the first priority is for the spouse who was cheated on to start working through the process of forgiveness. This will likely take some time before a devastated spouse is ready to start work on. Granting forgiveness for something so devastating and painful as betrayal will take time. Yet, without forgiveness it is impossible to rebuild trust. Trying to rebuild trust before you have worked through the process of forgiveness is like putting the cart before the horse.
I have heard many spouses who’ve had an affair say that if only their spouse would forgive them, they could move past the adultery. What they are really saying is “If my spouse would trust me, we could move past the adultery.” Trust and forgiveness are two different things. It is imperative that we understand that forgiveness is not the same thing as trust.
For anyone to forgive their spouse is usually not something they are ready to do until they’ve had adequate time to process the trauma associated with the infidelity. If you are the one who was cheated on, before you can move past the adultery you must make sure that you have made significant progress on forgiveness before you can expect to take the next step in rebuilding trust. As you work through the process to rebuild trust, began asking God to help you forgive your spouse for all the hurts and wrongs committed against you.
Trust in God is the single most important factor in how both parties recover.Anything blocking an open relationship with God must be dealt with. This includes: (1) facing and turning from one’s own sins and personal shortcomings, (2) confessing these sins to God, and (3) asking forgiveness. Jesus reminds us to remove the log from our own eye before noticing the speck in another’s (Matthew 7:3-5) .
Trust in God will be the foundation upon which you begin to develop trust in your spouse. Before trust can be restored in the relationship, there must be sense of confidence that you are secure. Your sense of confidence, and security is ultimately tied to your confidence in God. Psalm 112:7-8 says,
He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.
There are six steps you must take to rebuild trust that has been broken in your marriage:
1. The spouse who was unfaithful must immediately break all ties with the affair partner, or, in the case of pornography or sexual addiction, put all necessary boundaries in place. The spouse who was unfaithful might protest that this step is unreasonable, especially if they see their ex-lover at work or if running into each other is practically unavoidable. But, the temptation to resume the affair can be too strong, no matter how well-intentioned a the reforming spouse may be. Besides, your spouse will never be comfortable knowing that your ex is still in, or even near the picture. So, the spouse who was unfaithful must do whatever it takes to distance from and avoid the affair person, even if that means changing jobs or moving to a new area.
2. Disclose lies and secrets that have occurred. These will block trust, progress and intimacy with your spouse. This may need to be done in the presence of a pastor or counselor.
3. Agree to the assistance of spiritual mentors and/or accountability partners.
4. Commit to Christian counseling including sorting through the issues leading up to the crisis and making necessary changes.
5. The partner who was unfaithful needs to take personal responsibility for the damage done to the spouse and family, without shifting blame.
6. The partner who was unfaithful needs to allow your spouse the time necessary to heal without applying guilt or added stress.
7. Create an environment of trustworthiness with your partner. Be transparent in all your activities. Share with your spouse important ways you will be faithful.
These steps are necessary to establish trust, re-connect emotionally and to grow together again. Dedication, transparency, and honesty will serve as vital ingredients. In time, trust will grow again.
As you go forward in the healing process, know that you’ll have good days and bad days. You’ll experience progress as well as setbacks. This process is never easy for either partner. But it will be the most worthwhile process you have ever undertaken in your marriage and family.
Remember, God is for you and He wants to work within you to rebuild trust. He can see beyond the present situation, when you cannot. He is good all the time, even when your marriage and your life seem to be falling apart. Trust and obey Him and He will make a way for you.
Pray frequently, and ask Him to help you see your spouse and your relationship through His eyes. Ask Him for wisdom and He will provide it to you.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him” James 1:5: (RSV).
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