How does a couple regain trust when an incident has seriously damaged it?
It’s not easy.
Trust Builds over Time. Research shows that deep trust only comes from seeing that your partner is there for you over time. A wife, for example, can only slowly regain her trust in her once unfaithful husband. The best thing that can happen is for a considerable amount of time to go by without a serious breach of trust. That takes commitment and new ways of living together. They cannot afford to let the same kind of distance build up again. And if a husband has another affair, it will probably be impossible for his wife to trust him again.
Each Partner Takes Appropriate Responsibility. The best thing a man can do to regain his wife’s trust is to take full responsibility for his actions. If the wife sees her husband doing all he can to bring about serious change without her prodding and demanding, her trust will grow; she will gain confidence that things can get better—not perfect, but better. It is easier to trust when you can see your partner’s dedication.
A wife can also help to rebuild her husband’s trust. For one thing, he will need to see that she does not plan to hold the affair over his head forever. Can she really forgive him? If she reminds him about the affair, especially during arguments, he may grow hopeless and give up.
Recognize That You Can Do More to Further Damage Trust Than to Regain It. It takes a long time to regain trust but only a moment to crush it. If the husband comes home on time each night to be with his wife, she will gain a little more trust. If he comes home two hours late without a good reason, her trust will take a step backward. Mistakes will happen, but the commitment to change must remain clear. The commitment says that you have the time and motivation to rebuild trust.
Surveillance Does Not Increase Trust. You cannot regain trust by following your partner around every moment of the day to make sure he or she does not do anything wrong. It will not add to a wife’s trust to call his friends and ask what he has been up to.
The exception to this is when you both agree that some checking up is okay. A wife and husband can agree that for a time, he will call frequently or she will touch base more often than usual. But long-term, she will have to come to trust her husband for both of them to relax in their relationship.
Let us hope that her trust will not be misplaced. To trust is a risk. Your partner could let you down again, and there is no way to be sure that will not happen.
As with forgiveness, it involves letting go. —Mike Benson, Oxford, Alabama (Research: Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, Susan L. Blumberg, “Forgiveness and the Restoration of Intimacy,” Fighting for Your Marriage, 224–225)