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Broken Promises: How to Recover and Trust Again

By eHarmony Marriage Published 06/12/2007 | Marriage

Trust is the cornerstone of any healthy marriage. So when a couple faces a serious violation of trust, this inevitably hurls the relationship into crisis mode. But take heart. What seems like an irreparable wound can become a catalyst for strengthening your commitment in ways you never imagined. After all, crisis in Greek translates as decisive moment. You should look at this as a pivotal moment in your story as a couple a moment when you both must take decisive action and commit to doing some of the hardest work youve ever done.

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Trust Equals Truth

Trust grows in a marriage from the accumulation of truths we tell each other. Compromised trust can involve repeated incidents of not keeping our word, not following through on things we said wed do, or creating a consistent pattern of little white lies. Broken trust is not any more devastating but can feel that way, because it often occurs in one fell swoop. Note that while we usually think of broken trust as involving an extramarital affair, its not limited to infidelity. It can include other deceitful acts (mishandling money, relapsing into addiction, etc.) perceived as major betrayals by ones partner.

When dealing with trust issues in your marriage, its important to develop a plan of action focused on truth-telling. It will be vital to pry open the doors of communication if you want your marriage to recover. Here are the first five steps youll need to take:

  • First, each of you as an individual should pledge to yourself that youre done with the habit of compromising the truth. Theres no room for even little white lies after trust has wreaked havoc on your relationship. First promise to yourself that youll do your best to be honest and forthcoming in all your future interactions with your spouse.
  • Second, talk to each other about where things stand. You both need to get all your feelings out on the table. This may not be pleasant for either of you, but its extremely important. You must each clearly communicate to the other how you are feeling in the moment. Express what hurts the most and describe whatever is going on inside you, whether its anger, betrayal, bitterness, fear, guilt, shame, a desire for reconciliation, etc.

    Remember, forgiveness can start only when a person is in touch with his/her own feelings, especially the hurt. You must both feel the pain and process it. Repressed pain has a way of tying you to the past in ways that dont allow progress. It is critical to own and express your feelings.

  • Third, accept responsibility for your part in the betrayal of trust. Own your piece of the pie. Commit to talking honestly all the time, on big issues and small details.

    It is also crucial to examine as a couple the underlying reasons that led to the trust compromise in the first place, and ensure that those needs get met. In other words, if one of you looked outside the marriage for something you felt you werent getting from your spouse, figure out how you can make sure that you both feel youre receiving what you need from each other, so that neither of you feels compelled to look elsewhere.

  • Fourth, discuss what each of you needs most in this moment. One of you may need to have the other prove that he or she is trustworthy, and it will likely be necessary to prove this over and over again. Or one of you may need support in your efforts to overcome whatever temptation caused the trust to be damaged. Discuss personal needs, drives, vulnerabilities, and the avoidance of choices that lower the ability to maintain commitments and trustworthiness (such as the use of drugs or alcohol and exposing oneself to their temptation). This is the time to be open and honest and ask for each others help.
  • And finally, discuss what you want the future to hold for the two of you. Create a vision of where you want to be a month from now, then a year from now, then five years down the line. Identify what you will need to do day in and day out to be a couple who has strengthened their commitment to trust. Pinpoint how you want to deal with big marital issues, like how to stay connected, how to prioritize each other, how to deal with setbacks, and how to honor your marriage vows. Creating a shared vision will give you a crucial ingredient on the road to recovery: hope. People too often dismiss its power. Dont make that mistake. Forgiveness: Giving and Receiving

    Experts agree that failure to give or receive forgiveness is typically the reason behind a marriage ending as a result of broken trust. It is also clear that forgiveness can come only once the situation has been thoroughly addressed. This means the offender has apologized, accepted blame, offered an explanation, expressed regret, and attempted to compensate for the offense that compromised the trust. And it means that the offended person has accepted his or her spouses apology and has offeredor is working toward offeringreal forgiveness

    Forgiveness isnt a feeling; its a decision. Recognize that, while forgiveness can occur as soon as you make the decision to forgive, trust sometimes takes a long time to reestablish in a relationship. Be patient. Be vigilant. Real forgiveness involves deciding you wont hold the offense over your partners head, or bring it up in subsequent unrelated conflicts, or fling barbs at your partner either in public or in private, or display ongoing anger or animosity. This doesnt mean you might not have strong feelings even years later about what happened. But it does mean you will try to manage those emotions.

    Finally, one point often overlooked is how hard it can be to truly accept forgiveness. Many individuals feel so guilty that they wallow in self-punishment, self-rejection, self-shame. This sabotages the ability to empathize to objectively understand their mates perspective and see the world from his or her point of view. Guilt clouds empathy and can cause withdrawal. This is devastating to the healing process.

    Instead, those who have broken the trust will need to actively communicate trust with both words and actions. Say what youll do, and do what you say. Not just the big promises, but the little ones as well. Continually ask your partner: What can I do to make it right? After all, every situation is different and requires different demonstrations of remorse and trustworthiness. These could be words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, or physical touch.

    A broken promise shakes the very foundation of a marriage. Recovering stable footing will require healing and major work. Remember that giving and receiving forgiveness is a daily intentional act. Communication and honesty will be at the core of the healing process. And lastly, it will take time. Do all you can to be patient with each other. An ancient philosopher said it best: Time heals what reason cannot.