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How to rebuild trust with your spouse
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Broken trust is like melted chocolate: No matter how hard you try, you cant return it to it original shape. But that doesnt mean it isnt good. You can make some beautiful things with melted chocolate, if you put some effort and love into it. - photo by Kim Giles
Question:

I just read your article on Spouses Who Cant Forgive, but when the same problem happens again after your spouse has promised that it has ended. What do you do? Trust is a huge issue, how do you ever gain trust back after the continued lies and deception? Each time, I get upset, we fight, I forgive and try to forget. But then it happens again. I'm really struggling with continuing to be a forgiving spouse, when he seems determined to repeat this pattern. How should I handle this? Continue forgiving?

Answer:

This is a tricky question to answer, because everyones situation is very different. Some marriages are struggling because of one spouses bad behavior, while the other spouse is doing their part to support and love. Others have an unsupportive or unaffectionate spouse, whose unloving behavior is part of the problem. I have no idea which situation you are in, but I believe that each person must check their own behavior first.

Make sure that you have honestly asked what you can do different to help your spouse to change. Are you showing them they are wanted, appreciated, admired and respected by you? I know it is difficult when they are behaving badly, but your ability to see their intrinsic value, despite their challenges, makes a HUGE difference. You can make the process of changing much easier if you are encouraging and loving. Having said that, if you have done all these things and the bad behavior continues without much effort to change it, it may be time to get realistic.

There is nothing heroic about staying with someone who is behaving badly and making no effort to change. Also remember, you are teaching your spouse how to behave by what you allow. If you continue to allow bad behavior with no real effort to change, you are going to get more of it. You are also teaching your children, by example, how to treat you and how to treat their future spouse. So if your relationship is setting a bad example and making everyone miserable, you may want to rethink staying in it.

I strongly believe you alone, though, are the only one entitled to know if you should stay with your spouse and keep fighting to make the relationship work or get out. If you listen to your heart, you will know if your perfect classroom journey is in this marriage, or if your perfect journey is elsewhere. Listen to your heart and act on it. Dont let me or anyone else tell you what you should do.

You will know what is right for you.

If you cant tell what your heart is saying because there is too much fear is in the way, you may need some professional help to work through the issues. If you decide to keep working on your marriage, remember that trust is like a building, which can be completely destroyed in a minute, but takes a long time to rebuild. Rebuilding takes courage, perseverance and patience. There is no quick fix.

Here are some Dos and Donts for this process:

  • Dont make your spouses infidelity or addiction problems about you. They are not personal and are not a reflection of your worth, attractiveness or value. You must understand that these problems are about them, their fears, their pain and their bad habits. They are not about you. If you take their behavior personally you will suffer unnecessarily and add drama to the situation, which wont help. You must detach yourself from the issue somewhat and let your spouse solve the problem. When someone has a relapse with a pornography addiction, for example, dont take it as a personal betrayal. You must not let your fear of not being good enough get triggered by this. This has nothing to do with you. There are many experts available who can help you understand the spouses side of addiction, and I strongly encourage you to seek one out, if you are in this situation.
  • Dont take on the role of their parent and create a child/parent dynamic in your marriage. It is not your job to check up on your spouse, monitor their actions or hold them accountable. You must make them responsible for their own behavior and expect them to handle it on their own. This will allow you to see them and communicate with them as an adult, which will create more respect and love in the relationship. Dont ever speak to your spouse like they are a child. Speak to them with the same level of respect you want to get back.
  • Dont accept words as proof of change, only consistent actions and deeds can earn back trust. Changing this kind of behavior almost always requires professional help and takes a long time. If your spouse refuses to get professional help or only goes for a little while, I would be skeptical about their commitment level. Someone who is really ready to change will be humble, honest and open, and their behavior will be consistent and committed. That doesnt mean they wont relapse. No one is perfect at overcoming addiction on their first try. But again, dont take a relapse personally. You must also create a safe space where your spouse can be honest about mistakes and keep working toward the goal. Again, your gut will know if the effort is honest or not genuine.
  • Dont hold back on trust when honest progress has been made. I see too many people who refuse to trust again, even when their spouse has earned it. Remember, if you decide to trust your spouse and they betray that trust, the bad is on them, but if you dont give trust, and your spouse is really trustworthy, the bad is on you. It would be better to error on the side of trusting too soon, than withholding trust from someone who has earned it.
Dos

  • Constantly work on communication skills and have mutually validating conversations often. Learning how to have mutually validating conversations is key to a good marriage. You must learn how to listen, understand and validate your spouse and do it often. Every married person should be a life-long student of communication skills. Read books, watch videos or attend seminars. There are even numerous articles about this on my website which will help.
  • Have healthy boundaries and enforce them with strength and love. This means deciding what kind of life and relationship you want (and what you arent willing to put up with) and letting your spouse know what your boundaries are. Your spouse gets to decide how they are going to behave and you get to decide if that works for you or not. For example: You may have a boundary to not allow people to tear you down verbally. If your spouse starts to do this, you will hang up, leave the room, or the house. If your spouse keeps doing this you will kindly leave the relationship. You may need to spend some time thinking about what your boundary rules need to be. What behaviors have allowed in the past and then resented your spouse for? You shouldnt allow those in the future.
  • Get professional help at the first sign of problems. Every expert agrees that if people would just get help sooner, most problems could be easily fixed. The problem is, most couples wait until the problem is so big and deep its terribly hard to fix. Dont wait. Get professional help now.
  • Be positive, encouraging and praise good behavior. Make sure your spouse feels appreciated for every good thing they do, respected for their good choices, admired for their good qualities and wanted despite their faults. If you do this, you can rest assured that you are doing your part.
  • Create a safe space for your spouse to be honest with you. If you want them to be honest, YOU must be able to handle the truth in trust and love. People lie to protect themselves or you. If you want total honesty, you must be someone who can handle hearing bad news without freaking out. If you have trouble with this, you may need some counseling or coaching to deal with your fears.
  • Check out Matt Townsends article on Rebuilding Trust After Pornography. Here is the link. It has some terrific advice on rebuilding trust.
Broken trust is like melted chocolate: No matter how hard you try, you cant return it to it original shape. But that doesnt mean it isnt good. You can make some beautiful things with melted chocolate, if you put some effort and love into it.

If you decide melted chocolate isnt for you and your heart says its time to move on, dont be afraid to make that decision. Sometimes it's better for everyone.

Follow your heart and you will know what to do.

You can do this.
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