How Couples Can Rebuild Trust in Marriage

What to Do if You Don’t Trust Each Other

How Couples Can Rebuild Trust in Marriage

Maura, 47, and Kevin, 49, sit on opposite ends of the couch during their first couples counseling session. When I ask them about some of the challenges they’ve faced in their four-year marriage, Maura opens up about why she requested to meet with me.

Kevin’s been giving me the cold shoulder and I feel his anger. He just can’t seem to get over his resentment toward me since he found out that I charged over $5,000 on credit cards over the last year.

At times, I told him about my purchases for my new business. Other times, I worried that he’d think I was being frivolous.

I guess I never saw myself as being dishonest until Kevin saw my Visa bill and got very upset.

Maura and Kevin, many of the couples that I work with in my practice have feelings of mistrust when it comes to facing day-to-day challenges. In The Science of Trust, Dr. John Gottman explores the milestones that all relationships have, particularly in the early stages. He writes, “As we shall see, most of these issues have to do with trust.”

Trust is an essential aspect of intimacy

Maura knows that her emotional sensitivities make it difficult for her to open up to Kevin and increase her fear of being hurt or left by him.

She strives to be transparent with Kevin about finances but struggles to do so because she doesn’t feel secure in her relationship with him.

After enduring a difficult divorce, Maura has trust issues and describes how she “walks on eggshells,” fearing she will lose Kevin.

In Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson explains that by being vulnerable, you can create a level of emotional safety with your partner. It’s the primary way to strengthen a marital bond and keep love alive.

Through vulnerability, you’ll be able to re-establish a secure emotional attachment and preserve intimacy in your marriage. Brené Brown also champions this idea in her popular TED talk, The power of vulnerability.

Even though Maura doesn’t believe she was overspending on her new business, she also realizes that withholding financial information is creating mistrust and damaging her marriage.

Johnson explains that you can tell when one of your “raw spots” has been hit because there is a sudden shift in the emotional tone of the conversation.

She writes, “You and your love were joking just a moment ago, but now one of you is upset or enraged, or, conversely, aloof or chilly. You are thrown off balance. It is as if the game changed and no one told you.

The hurt partner is sending out new signals and the other tries to make sense of the change.”

Kevin reflects.  

I don’t always to talk things through, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love Maura. She’s insecure and wants me to reassure her all the time that I’m there for her and she needs to realize that I am not going to leave her her ex did. When she gets mistrustful, her voice changes and she often threatens to leave me.

Maura responds thoughtfully.

Things don’t always go smoothly when we disagree. When we have conflict, Kevin doesn’t usually want to talk about it. And I have a problem because my ex also gave me the silent treatment and then left after sending me a text that he wanted a divorce. I feel rejected when Kevin goes into his shell, but I’m learning to let go of my old baggage and give him space.

So where do they go from here?

Learning to trust each other

One of the hardest things about trusting someone is learning to have confidence in your own judgment. Trust is about much more than finding signs that your partner has been unfaithful. It’s about believing that they have your best interests at heart.

Every person is born with the propensity to trust others but through life experiences, you may have become less trusting as a form of self-protection.

Falling in love and getting married can be invigorating and scary all at once.

An inability to trust a new partner may take several forms, from feeling they’re dishonest or secretive, to doubting they’re going to keep their promises or be dependable.

Take a moment to consider this: Your partner is not solely responsible for creating mistrustful feelings. In most cases, you must take equal responsibility for creating an atmosphere of safety and security in your relationship. In order to begin the process of overcoming mistrust, ask yourself:

  • What is the story I’m telling myself?
  • Does my fear of loss and abandonment cloud my perspective and cause me to overreact to my partner’s actions?
  • Is my mistrust coming from something that is actually happening in the present, or is it related to my past?
  • Do I feel comfortable asking for what I need and allowing myself to be vulnerable?
  • Do I bring my best self to my interactions with my partner?
  • Do I possess self-love and allow myself to be loved and respected?

Many relationships are sabotaged by self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe your partner will hurt you, you can unconsciously encourage hurts to emerge in your relationship. But day by day, if you learn to operate from a viewpoint that your partner loves you and wants the best for you, you can enjoy trust in your marriage.

Here are seven ways to proactively build trust in your relationship.

Acknowledge your feelings and practice being vulnerablein small steps Build confidence in being more open with your partner. Discussing minor issues (schedules or meals) is a great place to start before tackling bigger matters disciplining kids or finances.

Be honest and communicate about key issuesin your relationship
Be sure to be forthcoming about finances, your past, and concerns with a family member, co-workers, or children. Don’t sweep important issues under the rug because this can lead to resentment.

Challenge mistrustful thoughts
Ask yourself: is my lack of trust due to my partner’s actions, my own insecurities, or both? Be aware of unresolved issues from your past relationships that may be triggering mistrust in the present.

Trust your intuition and instincts
Have confidence in your own perceptions and pay attention to red flags. Be vulnerable and ask for reassurance if you feel mistrustful.

Assume your partner has good intentions
If he or she lets you down, it may just bea failure in competence–sometimes people simply make a mistake.

Listen to your partner’s side of the story
Believe that there are honest people in the world. Unless you have a strong reason to mistrust him or her, have faith in your partner.

Practice having a recovery conversation after an argument
Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded and set a time to process what happened. This will give you both time to calm down and collect your thoughts so you can have a more meaningful dialogue with your partner.

According to Dan Wile, author of After the Fight, after a disagreement your focus needs to be on listening to your partner’s perspective, collaborating, building intimacy, and restoring safety and goodwill.

In The Science of Trust, John Gottman explains that practicing emotional attunement while relaxing together can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means turning toward one another by showing empathy, responding appropriately to bids for connection, and not being defensive.

Asking your partner open-ended questions is also a great way to increase emotional closeness and build trust. If you ask questions that require a yes or no answer, you’re closing the door to intimate dialogue. In other words, take your time and make love to your partner with words.

For a relationship to succeed in the long run, you must be able to trust each other. Building trust with a partner is really about the small moments of connection that allow you to feel safe and to truly believe that your partner will show up for you. It’s the bedrock of a happy, long term partnership.

How to rebuild trust when it’s been broken

In their new book Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, John and Julie Gottman suggest that if you break any agreements about trust with your partner, there are steps to fix what’s been broken.

These steps include setting a time to talk, naming the feelings you experienced due to the breach of trust without blame or criticism, listening to your partner without judgment, and each partner describing their perspective and discussing any feelings that were triggered by the incident.

The final three steps essential for rebuilding trust, according to the Gottmans in Eight Dates, are both partners assessing how they contributed to the incident and holding themselves accountable, each person apologizing and accepting an apology, and developing a plan to prevent further breaches of trust from occurring.

An important part of my work with Maura and Kevin focused on facilitating conversations between them that helped to rebuild trust and affirm their commitment to one another over time. Specifically, they worked through the steps in Eight Dates and were eventually able to apologize to each other for their part in the issues they were struggling with.

For instance, Kevin was able to be vulnerable and apologize for giving Maura the silent treatment, which triggered her feelings of mistrust and insecurity.

Instead of telling her she was  “too needy,” he began responding to her bids for connection more often.

Fortunately, Maura gave Kevin a sincere apology for her financial infidelity related to expenditures for her new business, and she promised to practice full disclosure in the future.

Maura put it this.

It was unexpected when Kevin was willing to listen to my side of the story and not dish out blame. I made a mistake and was willing to accept responsibility for my actions but he didn’t rub it in or make me feel worse than I already did. It feels we can start fresh now that I’ve apologized and made a promise to be more open with Kevin. I know that I’m lucky he forgave me.

You have the power to break free from the hold that mistrust has on your relationship and create the kind of intimacy you deserve.

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Rebuilding Trust In a Marriage — Love and Trust

How Couples Can Rebuild Trust in Marriage

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We may enter a relationship with high hopes and rose-colored glasses, but nobody's perfect. Most couples will run into a trust issue of some sort over the course of their relationship. The most common? «Cheating,» says M. Gary Neuman, LMHC, creator of the Neuman Method.

But that doesn't necessarily mean catching your husband in bed with another woman is the only thing that can cause a rift between you and your partner. «Trust is broken whenever there is lying that creates a shift in the couple's life,» says Neuman.

«Gambling, drug use, and even emotional and online infidelity often lead to severe trust issues.»

The fact is, all of the phones, laptops, and social networks we're glued to 24/7 provide ample opportunity for foul play.

«It's more common now for affairs to be emotional—on social media, reconnecting with a high school sweetheart—or using office chat apps or email accounts to carry on a flirtation,» says Dr.

Vagdevi Meunier, PsyD, a Gottman Institute master therapist. «As Shirley Glass, author of Not Just Friends, has said, affairs are about access and opportunity.»

If trust has been broken between you and your partner, whether it was a physical affair, an emotional affair, or a gambling or drug habit, we've asked relationship experts to outline the exact steps you need to take if you want to work on rebuilding your relationship.

Step One: Confrontation

First things first (and no, we're not talking about yelling and screaming): Have the confrontation in person. «Once you've discovered the infidelity, you need to evaluate your partner's response,» says Neuman.

«Is he apologetic and remorseful, or confused and 'in love' with this other person?» Don't assume anything, fight via text or email, or make decisions about your future before having a face-to-face conversation.

In addition to talking to your partner, «you'll feel a need to tell some people what happened because you'll need to vent,» says Neuman. «But try to limit this sharing to those who will really be there for you and give you a safe space to share—NOT a lot of advice.

» The idea is to get support without being swayed one way or another. You also don't want to be sitting around the Thanksgiving table a year from now knowing that everyone in your family knows your dirty laundry. So be careful about who you tell, and how much you tell them.

Finally, watch out for urges to «even the score» or make some questionable decisions of your own.

«Don't create a toxic relationship by taking revenge, being vindictive, or bringing other people in,» warns Meunier.

In other words, reconnecting with your own high school sweetheart for comfort is not the best idea, nor is recruiting your in-laws to chastise your partner about what he did.

Getty Images

Step Two: Atonement

This is a time for full transparency: «The person who made the choice to commit the act of betrayal should take time to understand the impact of his or her actions, tell the full story of the betrayal, and answer any questions their partner has,» says Meunier. «Your spouse has to want to make this relationship work, be apologetic and—in the case of an affair—be willing to completely end it with the other woman,» stresses Neuman.

It's also a time for emotional support.

It's not uncommon to lose sleep, stop eating, or even have trouble functioning after discovering an infidelity, so Meunier encourages the offending partner to «be available to support and comfort the hurt partner.» Translation: He needs to be patient and kind and cater to you for a bit, not pop off angrily every time you want to talk about the issue.

You also need to give yourself some extra love right now: «Practicing meditation, daily gratitude, reading books on affair recovery (the ones scientific research are best) yoga, and journaling are all good techniques,» says Meunier.

«I also encourage both partners to engage in light and easy activities that preserves a sense of continuity, fun, and a feeling of family. This can be as simple as having breakfast or dinner, watching a show on the couch together, or going grocery shopping.

If there are children present, this is even more important.»

Step Three: Reconnecting

Once you've talked through all the details of the betrayal and have decided to recommit to one another, it's time to start limiting how often you bring up the infidelity.

«I encourage couples to only talk about the betrayal in the counselor's office, or to set a scheduled meeting, lunch, to do this,» says Meunier. «Avoid talking about it in closed intense environments such as the car or in the bedroom.

Instead, go out on the porch—the fear of neighbors hearing will make both of you behave better.»

After you eliminate the constant «threat» environment that comes with discussing the issue, you can begin to learn how to be more connected and emotionally present with each other. How do you do that, exactly? «Once broken, trust has to be earned by small things each person does every day,» says Meunier.

It's about consistency and kindness: Be home when you say you will, avoid that work event where you know the affair partner might be, and give regular, sincere compliments to build back your partner's self-esteem.

It may take time, but if your partner is willing to show you he is committed and consistent in his actions, he'll slowly earn back your trust. This isn't always easy—the betraying partner has more of a burden during this time, explains Meunier—but if he sticks it out, you'll see results.

And remember, the effort shouldn't feel one-sided: «Eventually both people need to be making small gestures of kindness,» adds Meunier.

Step Four: Building a New Relationship

At this point, you're building a brand new emotional, physical, and social contract for the relationship. You're connecting in a more honest way, asking for what you really need, and, «Doing whatever is necessary to affair-proof your relationship going forward,» says Meunier.

The key here on out is positive responses: «We use a term developed by Dr. Gottman called turning towards,» says Meunier. «Intimacy is built by repeated experiences of one partner bidding for their partner's attention or affection and receiving a positive response,» says Meunier.

When you receive consistent, positive reactions from one another in everyday life, trust returns.

Here's an example: «If the betraying spouse says 'Will you watch Real Housewives with me?' I want the hurt partner to say 'yes' not because they suddenly forgive their partner or love the show, but because they recognize that it costs nothing to sit quietly next to someone and watch a television show, and that doing so gives them points in the emotional bank account. Similarly, if the hurt spouse calls while you're apart and says 'Can you turn on Facetime and show me who is in the room with you?' I encourage the betraying partner to do that whenever possible. Not ignoring your partner, not rejecting each other, and being kind are all ways we build a sense of normalcy and safety, which in turn builds trust.»

For further reading, check out:

The Gottman Institute

The Center for Relationships in Austin, Texas

The Neuman Method

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How to Rebuild Trust in Marriage

How Couples Can Rebuild Trust in Marriage

When trust is broken within a marriage, rebuilding it cannot automatically be assumed. Many times you can rebuild trust if both parties are willing to do the work necessary to restore it, though. David Horsager, author of The Trust Edge says, “(trust) is a confident belief in someone or something.

It’s the confident belief in an entity to do what’s right and to deliver on what is promised and to be the same every time, whatever the circumstances.

” Whether it’s due to infidelity, lies, withholding information, or betrayal, the ability to believe the offender will genuinely act in the best interest of the marriage is severely compromised.


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