Emotional safety is an essential part of a healthy relationship. To trust another human being in an intimate relationship is a choice made when one feels emotionally safe. When this sense of safety has been compromised in a relationship, it can be very difficult to rebuild trust, but it can be done.

The first step to rebuilding trust is acknowledging the impact of the hurt that has been caused. For example, if there has been an affair. The partner who had the affair must fully understand and acknowledge the damage and pain this act has caused. Your partner must feel like you “get it”.

The next step is understanding why the betrayal occurred. There can be many reasons. I’ll site a few common examples. If a man is working overtime and is rarely home, his wife may feel neglected and unappreciated. She may then look for attention and affection elsewhere. This example shows a breakdown in communication. It does not excuse the behavior, but there must be understanding of what is going on in the relationship for the behavior to occur. The wife needs to communicate her needs to her husband and he needs to be responsive to those needs. (I am oversimplifying here just to illustrate the point.)

Another example may be of a husband who lies. When he tells the truth about a matter, he pays a high price. His wife may yell and criticize him so he deals with it by avoiding confrontation and continuing to lie. While you are not responsible for the choices your partner makes, it is important to reflect on your contribution to the dynamic of the marriage. Understanding where your communication with each other breaks down and your responsibility in that, is important to healing and rebuilding trust.

During the process of rebuilding trust, it is important not to do more damage. There is no room for punishment. This may feel better in the moment, but to use the incident as ammunition does nothing to heal and rebuild trust. For example: the wife whose husband had an affair, anytime he gets upset at her for something, she brings up the affair as retaliation. This continues to do damage to the marriage.

It is necessary to have open, honest, respectful communication with each other on a regular basis. It is important that you keep your word, follow through on commitments, and always treat each other with respect. If you are feeling pain, communicate your experience to your partner without attacking or blaming. For example: “whenever I think of the affair, it stirs up all the negative images and feelings and I am having a hard time dealing with it. Remembering the affair makes it so difficult to trust and believe this won’t happen again.” This is an example of sharing an experience without attacking or blaming. A responsive partner might say something like this: “I know I made a mistake and I am so sorry. I realize you are in a lot of pain right now. Is there anything I can say or do right that would help?”

These are just a few of the tools it takes to rebuild trust. Rebuilding safety in a relationship after a betrayal takes time, patience and committment. Counseling can be a helpful tool through the process. Having a third party to help you cope with the pain and not cause more damage can make for a smoother process. If you have experienced a trauma in your relationship and need help, call anytime. (865) 283-1777

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