Rebuilding Damaged Trust

White Woman SeriousNo saying is more on point than the one that goes, “Trust takes years to build and only a moment to destroy.”

Life is unpredictable and we all want to know with some degree of certainty that the ones we love can be depended upon. When a significant other engages in behaviors that destroy the faith you’ve placed in them—including selfishness, broken promises, chronic irresponsibility, deception or infidelity—trust erodes.

Can a relationship rebound from such severe breaches? The answer is a resounding yes, but only with a sincere commitment by both parties to rebuild what has been damaged.



I. Admission and Acknowledgment
The offending party has to own up to his or her transgression and sincerely apologize for the harm caused by it: “I am guilty of this, and from here on I am committed to doing the opposite of that.” Warning: Don’t insist on a play-by-play retelling of the events with all the gory details. The condensed version of the offense will be more than enough.

II. Assessment
It’s crucial that neither of you become so focused on the erring partner’s crime that you never get around to an honest look at what factors may have led to it. Certainly the selfishness and lack of discipline of the one who messed up play a part—that’s seldom the whole story. Both of you will have to explore all the possible ways in which the behaviors that led up to the incident—inattentiveness, unavailability, poor communication and conflict-resolution skills, misplaced priorities, inadequate checks and balances—may have contributed to the fallout.

III. Assistance
Enlist some supportive help as early in the trust rebuilding process as possible. Seek the support of qualified counseling professionals, your spiritual leaders and one or two trusted friends who can remain objective. Compassionate third parties can help the two of you stay focused on your goal of reconciliation and not become overcome by your urge to punish or your mate’s urge to rebel.

IV. Accountability
When it comes to establishing trust, talk is cheap unless it results in action. Start by spelling out your expectations. For example, insist that he cease all visits to X-rated websites, that she cut off all contact with the other man, that she enter rehab, or that he make no credit card purchases over $50 without mutual agreement.

You, too, should be held accountable, by making clear the behaviors your mate should expect of you during the reconciliation process and beyond it. For example, “I will faithfully and honestly participate in our counseling process for the next six months, unless I find that you have re-offended.” Mutual accountability reinforces your commitment to developing a stable future together–in spite of the rotten thing that happened.

Moving on means accepting that neither of you can go back and change the past. It also means that you and your mate refuse to be permanently shackled to what happened.

In the end, it’s important to take your and your mate’s entire history into account—before their big failure and after it; not merely one single dark chapter in your story.


Commenting area

  1. Terri Littleton February 5, 2011 at 9:37 pm · · Reply

    Thanks Dr. Ronn for all you do!!!
    Thi is so true. I love it!

  2. Dr. Elmore,

    I have just discovered your site and this is healing for me. Thank you!

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