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Rebuilding trust in couple relationships: 6 great tips

Simone and Andy sat in opposite chairs in my consulting room, looking straight at me. There had been a pause in the conversation, broken by Simone’s voice: “I don’t trust him. Not anymore. Not now. I can’t” I begin to ask Simone for more, stop and decide that perhaps Andy might offer a different perspective. He does: “well…she… you can trust me, I’ve told you, I know it was in the past and you need to move on; you keeping telling me I have to show more trust and say yeah, it was months ago, so, yeah, move on” What was months ago? I ask. Andy shifts in his seat. “I kissed another woman, I mean, I was drunk and I’ve texted her since.” Simone looks at Andy, then looks back at me “how can I trust him?” she simply asks.

How indeed?

Whether it is infidelity, lies or broken promises, broken trust is a major problem that can destroy couple relationships, and rebuilding trust can be deeply challenging; it takes time and effort to rebuild the trust that was automatically there at the beginning.

Looking at Andy and Simons story above, it’s clear that both are right: there has to be an effective strategy or mechanism put in place to rebuild trust in the relationship, and both have to “get past the past” so to speak, but it’s so much easier said than done, the sense of one person suppressing the impact of broken trust and the other deeply resentful creates a toxic mix in relationships.

What to do?

In my couple counselling sessions, I encourage a focused approach to breakdown of trust. I invite partners to express their hurt and remorse but remind them that for the period of time they are in therapy they are not to approach the subject in the way they have been (plainly because it has not worked). At times, I ask them to forget about rebuilding trust, since the sheer effort of striving after something can actually magnify the issues, instead I switch the focus to disconnection.

Why?

Because a couple experiencing broken trust are, at heart, experiencing disconnection, and we know that connection is perhaps the primary force, the “glue” in good couple relationships, so I encourage couples to reconnect, by date nights, by text messages of love, by walks, but a range of activities and communication that works for them. This shifts the focus, and often trust returns organically rather than as a kind of transactional force.

That said, there are a few changes couples can make that can help in the short term:

  • Work to understand why trust was broken; when asked why it happened don’t just say “I don’t know”.
  • Decide you are moving into forgiveness and being forgiven: this is quite a big subject, so take some time here.
  • If you are the one who has broken the trust you must now be empathic to your partner’s pain and wholly open; do not keep your phone passcode secret for example.
  • If you are the one who has been hurt express your hurt but do not live in it, you must work to discharge it and not turn you partner into a victim.
  • Be both equally committed to this new relationship, don’t expect only one of you to do the work.
  • Take time. Because it will take time to build up the connections again.

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Written by Graeme Armstrong MBACP

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Written by Graeme Armstrong MBACP

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