Saturday, September 27, 2014

Can Trust be Rebuilt? Part 2

In part 1 of this article, we began by laying out two foundational concepts in rebuilding trust after marital infidelity: whether rebuilding trust is possible (yes, it is) and setting realistic trust expectations to rebuild to.

In part 2, we want to look at the remaining concepts in determining if trust can be rebuilt in your situation.

3. The commitment of the unfaithful spouse.

This is likely the biggest key to rebuilding and the main reason it tends to not happen. Why? Because often the unfaithful spouse is not fully committed to go through the painful task of accepting responsibility and rebuilding trust. Yet, an important truth must be kept in mind:

The unfaithful spouse is the one that destroyed the hurt spouse's trust; only the unfaithful spouse can rebuild it.

An unfaithful spouse reading this may be thinking, "But, she ignored my needs," or "Well, he ignored me, never showed he loved me." Or name whatever reason you may have given for the decision to cheat that you feel cast the burden of rebuilding upon the hurt spouse.

While I would make a difference between your responsibility in the decision to cheat and both of your contributions to the difficulties in the marriage, let's assume for the moment that is true. Your spouse's actions toward you caused you to be susceptible to the temptation to cheat, and you did.

It still doesn't change the fact that it is the actions of the unfaithful spouse's cheating that has violated the marital bond of trust. Maybe the hurt spouse has violated the unfaithful spouse's trust in other areas, like finances. In those areas, only the hurt spouse can rebuild that trust for the unfaithful spouse so affected. But in marital infidelity, unless your spouse has also cheated on the unfaithful spouse, making you both a hurt and unfaithful spouse, only the unfaithful spouse can rebuild the trust they broke.

Until the unfaithful spouse is ready to accept responsibility for their decision to break their vows, and is ready to do what it takes to rebuild that trust, there is nothing the hurt spouse can do to "get over it," "forgive you," and begin trusting the unfaithful spouse again.

It is the responsibility of the unfaithful spouse to provide an open, honest, transparent, secure, and loving environment that can allow the hurt spouse to work though the stages of grief and come to a place they are able to trust once again. Any blame shifting, avoidance of the topic, deception, or secrets mean this is not happening, and indicates that the unfaithful spouse isn't committed to rebuilding the trust they destroyed.

4. It takes time.

This is important for both spouses to realize and acknowledge. The old saying, "Trust takes a lifetime to build and seconds to destroy" is valid.

Different people give a new person a certain amount of trust. Usually enough to handle whatever process the relationship requires. As you gain a history with that person, your level of trust with them will either go up or down. Years of trust building can fall apart by discovering one instance of deception. The more intimate the relationship, the more the deception hurts.

For instance, when you check out at your grocery store, you're trusting that the cashier, who you may not know, is competent to ring up your bill correctly and handle the transaction. You'll gladly put your groceries on the belt and trust them to get it right. Even more true in the days when the cashier entered all the prices by hand. But if you find a mistake, or suspect they are trying to pull one over on you, your trust level with that person tanks.

When that happens, it will take many episodes of getting it right and being honest with you before you can feel comfortable trusting them again with your grocery bill.

If true with a minor event like processing your grocery bill, how much more so with an intimate relationship where broken trust creates so much more pain and damage. It is going to take a lot of the hurt spouse catching the unfaithful spouse being honest and trustworthy in years, not merely weeks or even months, to rebuild that trust back to a working level.

Don't expect to rebuild trust within a year, even two. 

For the unfaithful spouse, this feeds into the last point. You've got to realize your spouse will not be able to trust you for the next few years. As time goes by and you're being fully honest and transparent with them, you'll regain that trust. But make no mistake, to rebuild trust means you are in it for the long haul.

Keep in mind, because the hurt spouse doesn't trust the unfaithful spouse, even two years after discovery day with a perfect track record, it doesn't mean the hurt spouse is unable or unwilling to forgive the unfaithful spouse. It means the hurt spouse isn't yet comfortable giving that level of trust. Be patient, and know going into it that it could take that long or longer.

For the hurt spouse, know that the likelihood your trust in your spouse will be restored to a working level within two years or less is slim. For some, that can happen if the unfaithful spouse recovers flawlessly and the hurt spouse is of a particular personality type, but those are the exceptions, not the norm. The hurt spouse must not put any artificial time limits on healing or rebuilding trust.

For both spouses, not having that trust can be frustrating. It can hinder intimacy and love.

Be patient with each other. Rebuilding trust will take a lot of time. Don't expect immediate results. You'll be tossing in the towel if you do.

5. Transparency

This word is used a lot as one thing the unfaithful spouse needs to do. I've devoted a whole article to that topic.

Take a moment to read it or bookmark it for later. Here is the gist of that article.

Most associate transparency with the unfaithful spouse giving the hurt spouse unfettered access to all forms of social communication: cell phone, email, social sites like Facebook, etc. It also means being fully honest, especially about anything related to the affair(s). It means no longer keeping secrets. The more honest the unfaithful spouse is, especially about things the hurt spouse is highly unlikely to ever know otherwise, the easier it is for the hurt spouse to rebuild trust.

Transparency is required even in areas not related to the affair(s).

This is because a loss of trust in one area affects one's trust level in other areas.

For example, if an unfaithful spouse doesn't tell their spouse about a purchase of clothing, that can be a problem for the hurt spouse. Not because they don't want you to have any clothes, but because it is a secret that you felt necessary to hide from them. If you'll keep secrets about that, they will fear you'll keep secrets about the affair as well, or your current activities.

Any deception in any area can hinder the rebuilding of trust. The more open and honest an unfaithful spouse is, the faster trust can be rebuilt. The hurt spouse needs to consistently discover the unfaithful spouse being honest and open. Any lie, secret, or deceit will do damage.

6. Trust on loan.

The reality is that the hurt spouse will not be able to trust the unfaithful spouse for some time. That creates an immediate problem for a hurt spouse wishing to rebuild.

Staying in the married relationship requires a certain amount of trust in order to function. Without it, you can't stay married. When a hurt spouse agrees to rebuild or give themselves time to decide whether to rebuild or not, it means they are putting a certain amount of trust in the unfaithful spouse that they simply don't have.

This is because no matter how good the hurt spouse looks over the unfaithful spouse's shoulder, they know they can't see and know it all. They can't be on 24-hour surveillance. The unfaithful spouse can obtain a secret cell phone, setup secret email accounts, Facebook accounts, etc. Knowing how they were discovered, they may get better at covering their tracks.

Even if the unfaithful spouse isn't doing these things and is being perfectly transparent and honest, the hurt spouse has no way of knowing that the above isn't going on. To stay married to the unfaithful spouse requires that the hurt spouse trust the unfaithful spouse to not do that when they have no basis upon which to trust they aren't.

This puts the hurt spouse into the position of trusting someone to not hurt them again with no basis for that trust other than the word of the unfaithful spouse, which has been proven untrustworthy. So what is a hurt spouse to do until they have rebuilt to a working trust?

Trust on Loan

The concept is simple. In order for rebuilding to go forward, the hurt spouse has to give some trust which they don't have. So the hurt spouse gives them that trust as a loan, expecting to be paid back by continued honesty and openness. Any deceit or new revelations puts that loan at risk of default and potentially ends the relationship. At some undefined point, when enough trust has been rebuilt, it can be declared paid in full. The unfaithful spouse is no longer living on borrowed trust, but has earned it back.

This accomplishes three things.

One, the hurt spouse doesn't feel like they are telling the unfaithful spouse, "I trust you" by staying to rebuild, which would be a lie.

Two, it squarely puts the issue of rebuilding trust in the unfaithful spouse's hands where it belongs. The hurt spouse has made it clear that paying off that loan depends upon the unfaithful spouse's honesty and openness over the next few years. Whether you stay married or not rests in the actions of the unfaithful spouse.

Three, it gives the unfaithful spouse room to rebuild. It is their second chance to repair the damage and save the marriage. It also gives them room to "hang themselves" as well.

Trust but verify.

A healthy relationship is not one where each spouse feels a need to police the other. We should be able to trust that our spouse isn't secretly chatting intimately with others behind our back. We don't want a relationship where we feel a need to be checking our spouse's texts, emails, Facebook messages all the time.

Well, guess what? In the days and months after discovering an affair, the relationship is not healthy. If the hurt spouse is going to rebuild, it requires that they be free to check these communications at will. Giving trust on loan says they don't trust you yet.

Think of it this way. When a bank loans you money, they generally make provisions to check your credit history, and to recheck it as needed, and to request updated financial information on a regular basis, to make sure you have the means to pay the loan back.

In essence, the hurt spouse has to have the means to ensure that the loan is getting paid back, that you are making payments in the form of continued honesty and openness. They need to catch you being good.

As that trust loan gets paid off, the hurt spouse will feel a need less and less to do that kind of checking. As the relationship heals and becomes healthier, the hurt spouse will no longer feel the need to check these areas. That is one of the ways you can tell if that trust loan is getting paid off or not.

In the initial month or so after discovery day, the hurt spouse will likely feel a need to check these things daily. For more than a solid month, I reviewed my wife's calls on our bill to make sure she had stopped communicating with the affair partner. In the next five months, I checked them regularly, but no longer daily. By the time a year had passed, I'd go more than a month without feeling the need to check anything. Now, after three years, I rarely check anything. If I do, it is usually just a random spot inspection to make sure she is still on track and nothing new is cropping up without me realizing it.

Some unfaithful spouses feel this kind of thing is a violation of their privacy. They sometimes feel a need to have at least one private area.  If this is your feeling, then rebuilding will not work for you. Best to end it now and find someone who will allow you that luxury.

A healthy marriage is a transparent marriage.

This doesn't mean one spouse is constantly checking up on the other, but that no secrets are kept from each other and each is able at any time, if they feel a need, to check their spouse's email, cell phone, Facebook messages. Constant checking does indicate a marriage in danger. Constant ability to access each other's means of communication indicates a couple who trust each other and have nothing to hide. Big difference.

Such constant checking in the early days of rebuilding is necessary because the marriage is in danger, isn't healthy, and is the only way the hurt spouse can give that trust on loan. The other option is to end the marriage. But if progress is being made, the amount of checking will drop.

Just don't expect that you should be able to ever lock your spouse out of any means of communication with others. Any such action says you have something to hide, even if done years after the affair has become a distant memory.

Those are the main concepts a couple will need to consider in whether they can rebuild trust after infidelity. 

If a couple feels they can commit to rebuilding trust, knowing the above, and follow through on it, they stand a good chance at succeeding.

It is much easier to start over with someone new. We often give a certain level of trust to a new person, and as long as they are transparent, it is easier to build to a reasonable trust level that can maintain marital intimacy than to rebuild after someone has deceived you.

But often a couple will feel that giving rebuilding try worth the potential risks because of the potential benefits of success. Whether that be due to love, kids, or a long history of investment into each other, some will feel the work and potential failure worth the rewards of salvaging the relationship.

Hopefully these two articles will give you the means to evaluate whether the risk is too great or not in your situation; whether trust can be rebuilt in your broken marriage or not.

Are their any concepts I missed?

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