Infidelity is most often cited as the reason for divorce in over 150 cultures.1 This shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. All relationships, whether personal or professional, are finally built on trust. And a betrayal of trust can shatter not just the foundation of the relationship but also our self-esteem, sense of identity, our judgment of people, and our view of their basic goodness. This betrayal can be particularly devastating in an intimate relationship such as between a couple.
The effects of a betrayal are not limited to the person who is betrayed. A person who betrays a loved one also feels shame, guilt, and a loss of self-esteem. In many cases, it breaks down a relationship irretrievably. But it is possible to rebuild trust and save a relationship after trust is broken. This may not be an easy or quick task, but definitely one that can be done.
1. Accept Responsibility
Don’t make excuses for an act of betrayal. No matter how bad the circumstances were, you made a wrong choice when you betrayed your partner’s trust. If you blame circumstances or your partner for your choices, it will be harder for them to forgive or trust you.
2. Apologize And Make Amends
While we can’t all write a song to express regret for infidelity like JAY-Z, it’s important to apologize sincerely if you betray a relationship. Your apology should accept responsibility for what you did as well as express remorse for the hurt or harm that you’ve caused. Your remorse shows that not only do you understand the consequence of your action but that you feel bad about it. Also, describe the circumstances which led to your actions so that your partner can understand what happened. But be careful not to use this as a justification or excuse.
3. Back Up Your Words With Actions
Substantiate your words with action. Depending on your situation, this can mean anything from letting your partner know when you meet an old drinking buddy if you have a drinking problem to changing jobs if you had an affair with a colleague. Your actions need to demonstrate that you are committed to rebuilding trust and saving your relationship.
4. Be Sincere
Once trust has been violated, your partner will be scrutinizing your intentions and actions closely. It’s imperative to be honest and act in good faith. Don’t just say what you think the other person wants to hear. Be sincere and make an effort. Take actions on your own that show that you want to earn back trust. For instance, if you used to bet on basketball games, stop watching the sport of your own volition.
5. Be Consistent
Relationships are built and eroded through small things that we do every day. While a significant betrayal, like having an affair, can bring things to a head, small actions on a day-to-day basis can also just as easily chip away and violate trust. So don’t just fixate on the big things in a relationship. Honor trust on a daily basis – if you promise to do the laundry, do it; if you’ve committed to quitting cigarettes, don’t try to sneak a smoke.
6. Reconfirm Your Commitment To Your Relationship
When trust is broken, your partner may question your commitment to your relationship. You need to reaffirm that you continue to have shared interests and goals and that you value the relationship and your emotional bond. When your partner sees that the relationship is important to you and that you prioritize it over your self-interest, it’ll make it easier for them to trust you.
7. Give It Time
Even when you make a sincere effort to repair your relationship, it will take your partner some time to get over the hurt and begin to heal. Your own feelings of shame, guilt, or humiliation over the hurt that you caused may make you eager to move on and uncomfortable when the topic of your betrayal is raised. But you should be prepared for a “probation” period before your partner trusts you again. And you might need to engage in ongoing conversations about the betrayal during this period. However, your partner should be free to decide when he or she can start trusting you again.
8. Show Understanding And Empathy
Understand the hurt and trauma that your partner is experiencing and put your partner’s feelings first. A willingness to weather out feelings of remorse, guilt, or fear of losing the relationship without shutting down painful conversations or throwing the blame elsewhere is an expression of concern and care for your partner.4
9. Respect The Necessity For New Rules Or Limits
Your partner has a reason to be more mistrustful of you than he or she was before the betrayal. They may need more transparency or new limits in the relationship. This may involve new behaviors such as not meeting your gambling buddies if you gambled away your savings or not keeping your email private if you had an affair. Accepting these new rules without being defensive can help re-establish trust.
If you have faced betrayal, it is important to5:
Forgiving a betrayal is easier said than done. However, it’s a necessary step even if you’re not interested in rebuilding the relationship. But do keep in mind that forgiveness does not mean excusing, condoning, denying, or forgetting the betrayal. What it essentially means is that the hurt caused by the betrayal doesn’t dominate your relationships. So, forgiveness is important for the healing and well-being of the person who has been betrayed.
Taking this step might require you to devote some energy and time to understand your partner and why he or she betrayed you. And you might need to develop some degree of compassion and empathy for them.6
2. Don’t Humiliate Your Partner
It’s natural to want to make your partner suffer when he or she betrays you. But if you do get “revenge,” it’ll often be at the cost of your relationship. Allowing your partner to make amends and move forward is necessary to save the relationship. Shame, criticism, and humiliation are counterproductive because they make the other person retreat or shut down.
Don’t characterize flaws that your partner has in absolute in terms. For instance, it is easier to recover from a betrayal that’s a “mistake” rather than something you feel is a “permanent character problem.” If, on the other hand, your partner is suffering from a personality disorder like anti-social personality disorder, it may be better to let go of the relationship than remain in a situation that makes both of you miserable.
3. Set Aside A Time To Talk About The Trust Violation
It can be tempting to make a hurtful betrayal the topic of conversation 24/7. But this can damage your relationship. Don’t underrate the power of positive experiences in rebuilding your relationship and creating a happy life. Set aside a time to discuss the topic every day and reduce the frequency of discussions as you rebuild your relationship.
4. Consider Your Relationship As A Whole And Make Changes If Necessary
Every betrayal is not due to a problem in the relationship. However, you can use a betrayal to better your understanding of your partner and relationship and, therefore, reduce the chances of it happening again. This involves figuring out if you can do something to improve the relationship. And while this can be a difficult thing to do especially when you’ve been betrayed, it also gives you a sense of control. You now get to play an active part in rebuilding your relationship and establishing trust.
|↑1, ↑4||When Cheating’s the Issue, Remorse Helps. The New York Times.|
|↑2||Trust and Trust Building. University of Colorado.|
|↑3, ↑5||Surviving Betrayal. University of California.|
|↑6||Parker, Robyn, and Rosalie Pattenden. Strengthening and repairing relationships: Addressing forgiveness and sacrifice in couples education and counselling. Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2009.|