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Building & Repairing Trust: Keys to Sustainable Relationship

Trust: building it, repairing it, living it

Why is trust one of the most written about and researched topics? Simply put, because many of us have been betrayed.

Betrayal has two parts: 1) a violation of a spoken or unspoken agreement and 2) a resulting injury. For example, monogamous couples agree to not have sexual relationships with others. Having an affair violates that agreement and almost always injures the other person; thus it is a betrayal of trust. Additionally, physically assaulting a person not only causes injury but also violates an agreement even when it is unspoken; thus it is a betrayal of trust. Further, there is always an unspoken agreement that caretakers, including parents, teachers, doctors, and child care professionals, will protect and not harm us; when this power is abused, trust is broken. Most apparently, lying or deceiving can also be hurtful and violates a spoken or unspoken rule that we will be treated honestly; thus this too is a betrayal of trust. Certainly, there are many more examples that could be added to the list. These betrayals, when not addressed, can create wounds and scars that limit intimacy in relationships.

How Can Trust Be Repaired and Rebuilt?

The first step is to become fully aware of the nature and extent of the hurt you feel. If your hurt is dismissed, minimized, or denied, by yourself or others, then the wound is likely to fester and it is unlikely trust will be repaired. To ensure this does not happen, ask yourself the following questions: How deep is the hurt/pain you suffer? Does the betrayal trigger earlier hurts exacerbating the pain and suffering? Does the hurt linger for days, months, or even years?

Second, the person or group that betrayed you must really see and acknowledge the hurt. Apologies like, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or “I didn’t mean or intend to hurt you,” are rarely sufficient and often stop the healing process before the hurt is really looked at and properly acknowledged. To ensure this happens, the one who betrayed you must not only take some responsibility for the hurt but also acknowledge the injury and show a feeling reaction commensurate with the hurt (remorse, compassion, upset, etc.). When there is no real acknowledgment and feeling response, you may rightly feel that the person “doesn’t get it,” and the trust will not be repaired.

Does repairing trust require a promise to not hurt you again? While sometimes this is necessary, if this promise is not accompanied by a real acknowledgment and proper response, the promise will carry little weight and, in all likelihood, not be kept. These “insufficient promises” are almost always built on the hope that the one who betrayed you can control themselves, or that you can somehow control them, as opposed to a deeper sense of love and compassion.

Going Deeper: Living a Life Where Betrayal is Inevitable

Trying to create a life where betrayal can never occur can cause us to withdraw, be too wary of taking risks, and insulate us from being truly alive. Betrayal is inevitable. Sometimes it is as simple as one person agreeing to be a certain kind of partner and later learning that they have needs and desires that they can no longer suppress or accommodate. For example, if you agree to financially support your family but later learn that pursuing your artistic life is more important than you knew, then you might not be able to sustain the level of financial support you had agreed to. Or, if you agreed to always listen to your partner, you may find that you have suppressed the need to voice your own opinions, needs, or feelings for too long and can no longer listen in the same way. Or, if you agreed to “always be there” for someone and then find that you have a deeper need for friendships than you had realized, then you might spend more time with friends then you initially agreed to.

In addition, we all have a shadow—qualities, needs, and capacities that are not fully known to us. These shadowy aspects can be hurtful, in part because they are unconscious and express themselves without our care, sensitivity, or sense of responsibility. It may be our anger, vengeance, selfishness, jealousy, resentment, fear, or meanness, or it could be our need to feel free, important, powerful, or even beautiful. Trying to make these qualities go away or promising not to ever express these qualities is simply a veritable impossibility! This cannot be overstated —we cannot promise to be something that is a part of us, especially when we are barely conscious of these parts. Trying to control our own, or others’ shadows, is often suppressive, destined to fail, and often leads to an explosion of these qualities in unexpected and more problematic ways.

How Can Your Relationship Thrive Given Betrayal Is Unavoidable?

First, get to know yourself and your partner, especially those things you may not like. Because ignoring the shadow of the person you are in relationship with is common, especially at the beginning of relationships, and putting our own best foot forward can inadvertently hide our own darker side. Thus it is important to make a conscious effort to explore, discuss, and be open to learning about these parts of ourselves and others.

Second, begin to “trust” that you and the other person really have those qualities and will sometimes express them. That means that promising not to express these qualities cannot be trusted! Trust, in this case, is not built on the hope or promise of not being hurt, but built on a kind of deep honesty of who you and the other person really are.

Finally, learn, over time, that you can respond and take another step in relationship even after hurts and betrayals have occurred. This takes a new kind of trust—the trust in ourselves to be aware of our hurts, express our hurts, and address the injury and breach with our partner. Essentially, you are saying, “I trust that there are times you will hurt me and I will hurt you. I even trust that sometimes this hurt will be a breach of an agreement we have. However, I also trust that we can take steps to address these hurts and breaches and even turn the process, over time, into a strengthening of our relationship.”

CAVEAT: There are clearly some breaches that cannot be fully repaired. I am not suggesting, for instance, that a person who is physically violated should “work it out.” You alone will know if the bridge of relationship is irreparably broken. You must trust yourself to know this and act accordingly.


You might also like:

I'm Sorry: 3 Components of an Effective Apology

To Compromise or Not to Compromise: How to Build Sustainable Relationships

David Bedrick

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David Bedrick

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