How to rebuild trust after you’ve been betrayed: 16 key steps

We’ve all heard it.

“Trust is the foundation of any relationship.”

Nothing could be truer.

According to the Relationships Indicators Survey 2011, there are four main reasons why relationships fail:

  • lack of effective communication
  • financial problems
  • different inherent values and
  • lack of trust

Trust is so important that psychologist Les Parrott says:

“If you don’t have trust, you don’t have anything. There’s nothing to build on. It’s just sand that washes away.”

Establishing trust is already quite difficult for a lot of couples.

But do you know what’s even harder?

Rebuilding trust.

It’s like putting broken pieces of glass together—it will never be quite the same.

In truth, nothing is as challenging as repairing broken trust.

But it’s not impossible.

Picking up the pieces and rebuilding trust and faith in your partner requires a lot of time and conscious effort.

Salvaging the relationship is doable (and this important) if both people are willing to work on it. 

Exactly how?

Let’s take a deep dive into how to rebuild trust in a relationship.

Why does betrayal hurt us so badly?

how to rebuild trust

Once trust is lost, it’s hard to gain it back.

Betrayal causes a psychological pain so deep, it’s hard to ever forget it.

Psychologist and author Jennice Vilhauer explains:

“Betrayal can come in many forms, such as dishonesty, disloyalty, unfaithfulness, or withholding. Each of these feels like a moral violation that cuts to the core of your emotional soul and plunges you into a place of deep psychological distress.”

Betrayal by someone you love implies that this person doesn’t value your relationship. It creates a feeling that you’re not being valued. And that cuts a deep wound.

This is why trust is so fragile. The pain from a betrayal is something a person doesn’t just forget. It’s psychologically and emotionally damaging.

16 steps to rebuilding trust in your relationship

how to rebuild trust

You can’t change the past. You can’t change the situation that provoked the betrayal. But you can change how you react to it.

If you truly want to rebuild trust and fix your relationship, here are the 16 steps to do it.

1. The lying/cheating must stop

Relationship experts agree on one thing:

The cheating, lying, or manipulation absolutely has to stop. Pronto.

According to licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow:

“The person who cheated cannot see the person they cheated with again.”

If the reason why is still unclear to you—it’s because it’s counterproductive.

Certified Imago therapist Lena Derhally explains:

“I think it’s a waste of time if you’re working through an affair and the person is still seeing the other person, because there’s no trust there.”

This is the defining step to whether or not you can both move on.

If the betrayal continues, then you know that the perpetrator has no intention of rebuilding trust. For the victim, it’s a clear sign you need to move on.

2. Stop “minimizing”

A lot of couples don’t recover because they refuse to acknowledge the severity of the betrayal.

Whether you cheated, lied, or manipulated—what you did was a big issue.

According to licensed marriage and family therapist Anna Osborn, if you’re the perpetrator, you need to recognize the weight of your actions.

She says:

“Although all choices are made in the context of what is happening for you, that won’t help you when you’re asking for forgiveness.”

“Offering any sort of justification for your actions or minimizing them (i.e. ‘At least I didn’t do X’) will only make your spouse shut down and feel doubly hurt.”

On the other hand, the victim needs to acknowledge the depth of their pain. Minimizing or ignoring your wounds will only hinder your chances of healing.

Marriage consultant Sheri Stritof says:

“While it may be tempting to stuff all of the anger and emotions down, it is imperative that betrayed partners tune in and reflect on all the feelings that they have.

“Consider the impact of your partner’s betrayal on you and others. Reflect on how life has been disrupted and all the questions and doubts that are now emerging. Make your partner aware of all these feelings.”

3. Commit yourself to the process

how to rebuild trust

Before you can do anything else, you must first commit yourself to the process of rebuilding trust.

Because first of all, this is a process.

Some days there will be progress. While some days it will feel like you’re picking on a wound.

That’s just how it is. Every couple’s healing process is unique.

However, according to a study published in the Contemporary Family Therapy journal, there are 5 steps to overcoming betrayal in relationships:

  1. Knowing and discussing the details
  2. Releasing the anger
  3. Expressing commitment
  4. Rebuilding trust
  5. Rebuilding the relationship

If you’re committed to your relationship, you should equally be as committed to rebuilding the trust between the two of you.

If that means going through these five harrowing rituals, then you better get down to it.

4. Learn to trust yourself again

According to bestselling author and psychologist, Margaret Paul, there are two parts to rebuilding trust:

  1. Rebuilding Inner Trust
  2. Rebuilding Relationship Trust

So it’s clear that you first need to deal with your emotions and resentment before you can start to heal and trust again.

Dr. Paul explains:

“Before you can even begin to trust your partner again, you first need to trust yourself — your inner knowledge of what’s right and wrong for you.

“We have all been blessed with two sources of knowing — our feelings and the wisdom that pops into our mind from our higher guidance.

“When you learn to trust your feelings about your partner and learn to trust the wisdom that is always here for you, then you become truly trustworthy of yourself. This means that you stop ignoring that inner whisper and start listening to what you know in your heart and soul.”

Put your emotional needs first and listen to what your instincts tell you.

5. Forgive yourself

Next, you need to forgive yourself.

At one point, you’re going to start questioning your worth. Perhaps you already have.

It’s normal to want to take some of the blame yourself, but not if you weren’t the cause of the betrayal.

Vilhauer adds:

“Self-forgiveness requires self-compassion and learning that, even with your flaws and vulnerabilities, you still have tremendous self-worth and deserve to be treated well. It is important to know that the behavior of the other person was his or her choice and reflects who they are, not who you are.”

Key phrase:

You are worthy.

You deserve to be treated with respect. Breaking that respect is a clear violation to which you are not at all at fault.

6. Work on it

how to rebuild trust

Dr. Paul believes trust can be regained through conscious effort, saying:

“Broken trust can definitely be healed, but it takes deep work. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you can repair broken trust with a quick statement of forgiveness and a warm embrace. The underlying causes for betrayal need to be identified, examined and worked on in order for betrayal not to resurface again.”

The next step is to communicate and try to figure out the root of the betrayal. Talk through every detail of what happened. Be open and honest about everything.

It won’t be easy to go through this process, but it is absolutely crucial to be honest, to listen, and to empathize.

Hash out these deep questions and underlying issues with your partner. Only then can you truly start over and move forward.

(Are you worried your partner is having an emotional affair? Check out our epic guide explaining the key signs to look out for.)

7. Work on yourselves as well

You can’t fix the whole if you ignore the small parts of it, which means you need to work on individual issues, too.

Dr. Paul suggests that both partners will have to focus on a self-healing journey before they can start forgiving each other.

“Both partners need to learn to love (and trust) themselves enough to be able to approach the relationship from individual places of self-respect and personal integrity. When you make a commitment to treat yourself with love and compassion and authentically trust your needs, you will not harm yourself or your partner by lying or cheating.

“You will listen properly to yourself so that you can welcome honest communication into the relationship with open arms.”

It all comes down to being healthy as an individual before you can be healthy as a couple.

8. Put everything on the table

As painful as it may be, you need to let everything out.

According to Parrot:

“The only way to overcome a breakdown in trust is to just be completely honest and put it out there, whatever the issue is, so you both know what you’re dealing with.”

He goes on to say that couples tend to hold things back, but that will only make things worse. Hash out every detail, if necessary.

Answer every question. No matter how trivial.

Deal with any emotions. Don’t leave any stone unturned.

Therapist Dr. Linda Mintle advises:

“Once trust is broken, the person you betrayed should be free to ask questions in order to better understand what happened. The betrayer cannot complain about having to answer questions that might be uncomfortable.”

It may sound excessive, but both of you need to do it.

9. Whoever broke the trust has to apologize

how to rebuild trust

…Genuinely apologize.

Not just empty words. Whoever broke the trust truly has to mean it.

That means admitting accountability for their actions and feeling remorseful of the pain they caused. 

According to clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona:

“Accountability and apologies only have the power to help repair trust if they are truthful, so being conscious of sincerity is essential, even if it requires admitting things that might be hurtful.”

But remember, this is not a shortcut. Dr. Cilona says it’s just one step:

“Although feigning accountability and remorse might be effective in the short-term, if there are truths being hidden that relate to the damage to trust, it’s not likely to last.”

10. Make each other feel understood

This isn’t going to work if one person remains stubborn. If you’re both committed to forgiving each other, then you need to listen and understand each other.

Being defensive won’t get you anywhere. It will only make you fight more.

Parrot says:

“Rather than being defensive, they need to set all that defensiveness aside and truly work at understanding the other person’s perspective. And that comes down to empathy.”

Both of you need to come out of this understanding each other’s side.

Why?

According to Cilona:

“Engaging in this kind of dialogue not only provides an initial roadmap of what specifically needs to be addressed to begin to try to rebuild trust, but it can also provide important validation of the hurt and damage the violation of trust caused.”

11. Make the necessary changes

All of this talking will lead to nothing if you don’t act on it.

Once you’ve understood why the betrayal happened, you can start making changes. You have to do this so you can trust each other again.

According to psychologist and author Paul Coleman:

“This is important because when trust is seriously betrayed, the hurt person needs evidence of honesty in order to feel more reassured.”

The person who was betrayed, meanwhile, has to remember something important:

“Trust involves ‘not knowing for sure’ and being able to give the benefit of the doubt. So the hurt person has to learn to tolerate the anxiety of ‘not knowing for sure’ without constantly seeking reassurance or demanding proof.”

12. Work on things you can improve

how to rebuild trust

Since you’re committed to re-establishing trust, you must be in this relationship for the long haul.

You need to work on your relationship’s weaknesses so you can have a healthy, long-term partnership.

Why?

Because again, a relationship can only be as healthy as the people in it.

According to Stritof:

“You can’t repair broken trust with just promises and statements of forgiveness. The underlying causes for the betrayal need to be identified, examined, and worked on by both spouses for the issues to stay dormant.”

If there are toxic issues and behaviors that you need to address, work on them.

Do you fight about money? Do you spend enough time together? Is someone too controlling or to distant?

It’s crucial to deal with your problems so you can become stronger as a couple.

Build your relationship up, not just your trust.

13. Forgive each other

Once you have communicated and gone through the process of really sitting down with your feelings, you can start the process of forgiving each other.

Forgiveness is a choice, but it is a choice that needs to come from an authentic place.

You can’t pretend to forgive one another. You need to absolutely come to terms with it.

How exactly do you do that?

One word: empathy.

According to Vilhauer:

“Learning to forgive and make peace with things that happened in the past can happen more easily when you take your focus off of the specific events that occurred and instead try to see the perspective of the other person.

“Seeing someone else’s perspective can help you understand the events that occurred and make them less personal.”

Make a conscious decision to choose to forgive one another. Let your resentment go. It will only fester and ruin what you’ve worked so hard for.

14. Be consistent

There’s a quote that says:

“A single lie discovered is enough to create doubt in every truth expressed.”

unknown

This is why betrayal is so hard to overcome. Once it’s done, every future action is tinged with that original lie.

But there is one thing that can help with that:

Consistency.

According to Osborn:

“Consistency demonstrates to your spouse that they have reasons to trust you again and also allows you to appear safe to them again. Don’t discount the power of consistency when it comes to rebuilding trust.”

Keep doing what you’ve agreed to do. Never waver on your promises.

It may take time, but with consistency, everything will be better.

15. Don’t use betrayal as a weapon

how to rebuild trust

This is the biggest mistake you can do to a partner who has betrayed you.

However, it’s also the quickest impulse to fall for.

When you’re trust has been violated, it’s easy to use it as a weapon to hurt the one who betrayed you.

Not only is this counterproductive, but it is also quite damaging.

Silent treatment or mean words can both have the power to hurt someone psychologically.

According to psychology author Peg Streep people do it for two reasons:

“There are those who are thoroughly intentional when it comes to word wounding; they refuse to take responsibility for their words and act out of impulse, self-involvement, and self-aggrandizement. They usually need to win, no matter the cost to the other person, and insist on having the last word.

“And then there are those who revel in their meanness and love the power their words give them over others.”

You have the right to your pain. But lashing out will only make things worse. Using your pain as a weapon is manipulation and cannot result in anything good.

16. Start over

Lastly, you need to be willing to start over.

Once you feel like everything has been addressed, leave everything at the door and start a new.

According to Klow:

“The couple needs to let go of the parts of their [partnership] which were not working, and then move towards creating a new dynamic in the relationship. Couples can emerge from an affair with a better sense of who they each are and what they want from their relationship.”

But remember:

Manage your expectations.

Some couples get disappointed that the relationship isn’t the same as before the betrayal.

The truth is: it’s not supposed to be the same.

In some sense, your relationship is lesser than it used to be—less carefree and innocent. But at the same time, it’s stronger and more meaningful—in ways that only real hardship can produce.

As therapist Sherry Amatenstein puts it:

“It’s not going to be the same, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be strong in some ways stronger than it was originally. But you can forge something through it.”

In short: take your win and fly with it.

Getting professional help

how to rebuild trust

Don’t be ashamed to admit you need help.

There’s a lot of stigma about couples who go through therapy.

But deciding on going through therapy is a big show of commitment.

It means that both of you are willing to set your differences aside, and do go through the process in the healthiest way possible.

However, both parties must be open and willing to seek professional help.

Otherwise, counseling will not be effective.

In fact, experts believe that individual therapy makes things a lot better.

According to Stritof:

“Both parties must be open to seeking counseling to have a better understanding of what caused the trust to be broken, but know that you may want or need to seek individual therapy in addition to couples’ therapy.”

What if these steps don’t help?

The reality is, not every couple can move on from betrayal. Not everyone can forgive and trust again.

The process of rebuilding trust is very complicated and fragile. Sadly, not everyone can go through it.

Remember, there’s no shame in seeking outside help to deal with broken trust. In fact, many couples seek a counselor’s help in situations like this.

How long does it even take? You can’t tell. Sometimes it takes one month, sometimes it takes 3 years.

Cilona adds:

“In some cases, trust is completely destroyed and can never be rebuilt. Sometimes the time required to repair damaged trust is too much for some people to sustain.”

When you feel that you’ve exhausted all the efforts and have come to nothing – it might be time to stop trying.

If there isn’t any more you both can do, you owe it to yourselves to move on.

Betrayals can lead to better relationships.

how to rebuild trust

Believe it or not:

Sometimes betrayals can make a relationship even better than before.

According to Klow:

“It is a long road to recovery when one partner cheats. Couples do and can stay together after an affair, but it takes a lot of work to repair broken trust.”

But how?

There’s a big if:

A relationship can be fixed after broken trust f the perpetrator is really sincere about their apology and if the offended party is willing to forgive completely.

According to author and psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne:

“As painful as they are at the time, betrayal incidents can even lead to improved relationships.  When the perpetrator issues a sincere apology, vows never to engage in the betrayal again, and repay the debt to the victim, both partners now emerge with a better understanding of what’s important in their relationship.

“If the perpetrator does not do so, the victim has learned something important and now has, if not a better, at least a more realistic view of the partner.”

Either way, you might be asking, what the factors are that affect a couple’s chance of reconciliation.

According to Coleman, it all boils down to a strong commitment to each other—a result of having kids or sharing a home.

He says:

“If a couple is dating or just started living together, there is less of a need to go through the work of rebuilding trust.”

Takeaway

Betrayal is something difficult to get over.

However, at the end of the day, you have to want to rebuild trust.

If you do, you need to let go of the past. Whatever resentments you may have must be dealt with.

From now on, you need to treat your relationship as if you are starting anew.

You need to learn to trust each other again. And no matter what you do, do not withhold trust from your partner out of anger or fear.

But more importantly, you need to realize that the betrayal didn’t happen because of you.

Whitbourne says:

“If you’ve been the victim of serious betrayal, your path to resolution is to reframe the betrayal in a way that doesn’t put the blame on you.

“An apology may help set you on that path, but if the apology isn’t forthcoming, you have to take care of your own feelings about the situation.

“Ultimately, as impossible as it may seem, you may actually be able to work your way toward forgiveness.”

Do whatever it takes to move forward in as healthy as possible. Whether or not you want to continue with your relationship, forgiveness is the only key to moving on.

Now that you’ve read about rebuilding trust in your relationship, check out our recent article on long-distance relationships and how to make them work.

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