One of the most common things I see in my work with couples is a breach of trust. This breach can take the form of an affair, a hidden addiction, repetitive lies, misrepresentations of the facts (over and over again), broken promises etc. The fact that this occurs frequently may not be a surprise to anyone; people make mistakes and do things they regret all the time. As long as we are not repeating the same mistakes and are doing our best to repair them, then it’s just part of being human.
What is surprising to me however, is the expectation by the offending partner, that as soon as s/he apologizes, everything should go back to normal. This is crazy…especially if the damage s/he did was big (i.e. affair, addiction, repetitive lies and broken promises). In some cases, there isn’t even an apology and the offending partner feels entitled to forgiveness. This is even crazier!
The reality is: Trust can take a moment to break and a lifetime to get back.
The length of the road is largely determined by the offending partner and how s/he goes about repairing the damage done. If you do everything right, it may take only a couple years. If you don’t do everything right, you’re looking at a very long road.
Typically, if you’re genuinely remorseful for what you did, you have taken full responsibility for your actions, you don’t do it or anything like it again, and you are present to hear what the impact of your behavior has been on your partner, then the healing will steadily occur and trust is possible again.
There are times however, when the other partner just can’t get past the breach of trust–even with the offending partner doing all the right things. If this is the case, there’s not much you can do. Give your partner time and work your end of it. If there’s no change, seek outside help.
If, on the other hand, you make light of your actions, don’t accept full responsibility and clearly apologize for the pain you caused your partner, or become defensive whenever your partner says s/he is having a difficult time trusting you, then it’s likely your relationship will not heal. If this is the case, don’t blame your partner–look instead at you.
In summary, just remember that if you do something to break your partner’s trust in you, and you’d like to gain that trust back, then you need to know that you’re in for a long haul because as I said before “Trust can take a moment to break and a lifetime to get back.”
CHALLENGE: If you’ve done something to break the trust in your relationship and you want the relationship, take accountability for your actions, apologize from your heart, and do what ever you need to do to repair it–for as long as your partner needs you to do it. Know that it takes a long time to repair broken trust…often over a year.