Rebuilding a relationship in the wake of infidelity — whether romantic, emotional or financial — is one of the biggest hurdles in maintaining a marriage. Dishonesty breeds distrust, and in a recent article for The Good Men Project, writer Matthew Fray recounts his first-hand experience of repairing a relationship after a pattern of lies and betrayals had taken their toll.
In his honest and revealing article, Fray admits his faults and assumes responsibility for a relationship that ended up on the rocks. But, against the odds, he was able to rebuild trust despite “normal things couples do during times like this.” He writes that he and his partner “went to counseling, we read more books, and we talked about it. And got nowhere.”
However, through diligent self-examination and 7 not-so-simple steps, Fray found love again. He describes the process not as just hard, but as “the hardest… most challenging thing” he has ever done.
Through his 7 steps, he found himself and could come to live with the hurt and pain he had sown. First, he had to achieve “consistency.” In other words, anything he “committed to do” he “had to see it through.” Next, Fray had to commit to “proactivity.” That is, he had to take initiative in his relationship, assuming responsibility for their relationship and taking necessary action, rather than being passive.
Additionally, he has to make “meeting [the] needs” of his partner a priority, devoted himself to “openness,” learning that “openness and honesty are two sides of the same coin.” Along with being open, he learned the virtues of embracing his “vulnerability,” the 5th step in his path back to a functioning relationship.
The 6th step saw Fray pledging to take “ownership” of his words and actions to understanding how they impacted his partner. Finally, he opened his eyes to the many “blind spots” that had led to many of these problems in the first place. Gaining an awareness of the aspects of his personality that he “needs help to see.” This final step is a two-way street, as much an exercise in self-reflection as a practice of hearing his spouse when they confronted his problematic behavior, meeting that constructive criticism with “humility and a willingness to learn.”
Ultimately, while the road back to a solid foundation in a relationship may seem impossible, Fray has outlined, steps by step, the key elements that allowed him to rebuild trust, regain happiness with his partner, and reimagine a relationship that was healthy, happy, and filled with hope for a lasting future.
As much as I admire Fray’s self-reflection and the thoughtfulness that went into developing his 7 steps, I’ve created my own 7 wise ways of rebuilding trust after infidelity. I believe that they can actually compliment his and benefit most couples.
7 wise ways to rebuild trust in relationships:
- Challenge mistrustful thoughts. Ask yourself: is your lack of trust due to your partner’s actions or your own issues, or both?
- Gain confidence in your own perceptions by paying attention to your doubts and instincts. Ask yourself: is there congruence between my partner’s words and actions? Does he or she keep important promises and agreements?
- Gain awareness about how your reactions may be having a destructive impact on your relationship and take responsibility for them. For instance, using “You Statements” such as “You never tell the truth” can make it harder for your partner to be transparent. It’s much more productive to use an “I Statement” such as “I’m having trouble believing you have my best interests at heart right now.”
- Don’t always assume that your partner’s behavior is intentional – sometimes people simply make a mistake.
- Be open to your partner’s perspective. Listen more than you talk and make sure your words and tone of voice are consistent with your goal of building trust.
- Practice attunement with your partner. In his book What Makes Love Last? relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman defines attunement as the desire and the ability to understand and respect your intimate partner’s inner world. He writes: “Attunement offers a blueprint for building and reviving trust in a long-term committed relationship.”
- Keep in mind that learning to trust is a skill that can be nurtured over time. It can be a slow process. With courage and persistence, you can turn hurts from past betrayals into lessons.
In his book, The Science of Trust, Dr. John Gottman challenges the way most of us define trust. He says that trust is an action rather than an idea or belief – more about what our partner does than what you or I do. I agree that there is a lot of wisdom in the age-old expression “Actions speak louder than words.”
Truth be told, trust is more of an acquired ability than a feeling. You can learn to trust your instincts and your judgment when you honestly deal with your fears. If you are able to come to a place of self-awareness and understand the decisions that were made that led up to trust being severed, you can start to approach others with faith and optimism.
While learning to trust can be one of our biggest challenges for couples who have experienced infidelity, it’s important to realize that doubts are common in all relationships. Practicing being vulnerable in small steps will encourage open and honest communication – a crucial step to restoring faith in love after betrayal. Trust is essential to helping both partners feel secure and building a happy relationship that endures the test of time.
Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry