Rebuilding trust in your relationship can be difficult after it has been broken or compromised. Depending on the nature of the offense, convincing your partner that you can be trusted again may even feel impossible. The good news is it’s not. Trust can, in fact, be rebuilt if both partners are willing to put in the time and work.
Any healthy relationship is built on a foundation of mutual trust. Depending on the circumstances surrounding a breach of trust, the steps for reparation may vary. Certainly, there is a difference between a “little white lie” and an emotional or physical affair. If your relationship has experienced the latter, you may benefit from couples counseling.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all guide to restoring trust in a relationship, the steps below serve as a basic outline for reparation.
1. Own Up to Your Role
If you have offended or hurt someone by breaking trust, it’s critical to reflect on your actions and acknowledge and own your role. Dismissing, deflecting, minimizing, or casting blame will not help you in your efforts to come to grips with what happened and work toward repair. You must own your part to yourself before you can convince your partner you have taken ownership.
2. Make an Apology Plan
For many people, apologizing doesn’t come easily. It can make a person feel vulnerable, bringing up feelings of anxiety or fear. Be intentional about moving forward with your apology despite your discomfort. Gather your thoughts in advance. Writing down your thoughts can be helpful. Rehearsing what you want to say by standing in front of a mirror and practicing may help put you at ease. If you do rehearse, though, it’s important to mean what you intend to say. Don’t plan to simply say what you think the other person wants to hear in the hopes you’ll be forgiven and the offense forgotten. It doesn’t work that way.
3. Ask for a Good Time to Talk
The adage “timing is everything” can make a difference when apologizing. Ask your partner when a good time to talk would be. Let them know you have something important you would like to discuss. Let them dictate the timing of that discussion so they can give it, and you, their full attention.
4. Accept Responsibility
You have already owned up to yourself. Now it’s time to show your partner that you accept responsibility. Be sincere and use “I” messages: “I am so sorry to have hurt you,” “I really care about you and feel terrible that I have let you down.” Be specific, when possible, regarding what you are sorry about: “I am so sorry I told you that I went to the store when I was actually somewhere else,” “I feel awful that I lied to you about how I spent that money.” Communicate that you want to make things right. Let your partner know you recognize that you broke their trust and you are willing to work hard to regain it.
5. Actively Listen
After apologizing, hear your partner out. You’ve spoken; now it’s time to listen. Use active listening techniques. This means being receptive not only verbally but with your body language as well. Lean in and look your partner in the eye rather than folding your arms in a defensive posture. Be aware emotions may be heightened, yours included. Stay calm and validate your partner’s feelings; they have a right to them.
6. Back Up Your Words with Actions
A genuine apology is worth its weight in gold. However, in the absence of follow-through, your words become meaningless and future attempts at repair may be rejected. If your apology is accepted, it is up to you to demonstrate a pattern of dependable behavior over time. Go the distance and commit to being your best self: be humble, be kind, be affectionate, be appreciative, be loyal, be loving, and be trustworthy.
7. Be Patient
It takes time to rebuild trust. Be patient with the process and with your partner. Also, recognize that being remorseful doesn’t mean beating yourself up. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. Take responsibility but be kind to yourself. It is normal to experience some guilt, shame, or self-loathing; just don’t let it overwhelm you. Look at this as an opportunity to grow and make your relationship stronger.
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