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Rebuilding Trust: Moments to Make Better Memories

Simple Moments When Trust is Rebuilt

"And I'm gonna love you like nobody loves you.
And I'll earn your trust, making memories of us" Rodney Crowell

Getting Trust Back

In my blog,, I discussed trust and mistrust. The blog provided the basics about how trust, and mistrust, develops in relationships. Many of us know the sadness of mistrust, growing like a weed as it takes over more and more of the garden of our love for each other. The question becomes, “How do we get trust back?”

Gottman’s work on trust provides many valuable insights into how trust can be restored after you lose your faith in one another. You can learn skills that tune you into each other, or what Gottman calls attunement. But if you're in a relationship where mistrust has grown, attunement can turn everyday moments in your relationship into opportunities to rebuld the trust.

Simple Moments for Rebuilding Trust

Three simple moments provide the chances to rebuild trust. These situations create real-life chances for us to tune into our partners—to rebuild trust or allow mistrust to keep growing.

  • Sliding Doors: Gottman used a quirky romantic comedy to illustrate the first of the tests of trust. The movie, Sliding Doors, ( tells the story of two outcomes to a tiny moment during which the main character either catches a train, or misses it. The movie illustrates how tiny moments can mean so much in our lives. Sliding door moments represent the threads of everyday life…the times when we ask our partner to listen to our feelings or help us do something. These seemingly insignificant moments are really our asking to connect through expressing our needs. But....if our requests clash with our partner’s needs and bids, then we could build more mistrust. These simple moments, the sliding doors of life, are a chance to rebuild trust through sacrificing our own needs by caring more about our partner.
  • Bitter Tasting Emotions: When we hear our partner expressing negative feelings, our ears can taste the bitterness just as if we put salt on our tounge. In these moments, we can rebuild trust by not spitting the salt out. Bitter feelings can be about anyone, even you. The trick is lean in, not turn away. If mistrust has taken root, we likely have learned to withdraw and build a stone wall. We build more mistrust through our defensive. To rebuild trust, listen to what's under these bitter feelings, find a way to connect to your partner at these very moments. When we keep ourselves calm and embrace our partner's bitter feelings, we avoid the regrettable growth of more mistrust.
  • Debates: Sometimes we can feel ourselves becoming stressed when we argue--talking turns into a debate. But these moments can be just the right time to rebuild some trust. We all know these “talks.” Something comes up--you know you "always" fight when you have to talk about this topic! These conversations start with “Listen, we need to talk,” and the debate begins. But you can't rebuild trust in this win-lose dynamic--if one of you has to lose, then mistrust will grow stronger. But if you turn the tables on your debate, this one little moment can rebuild trust. If you turn a debate into discovery, you'll focus on the vulnerabilities you see in your partner....and you'll stop trying to win. What once was an inevitable disagreement is now a moment when trust is rebuilt. Winning turns into giving: win-lose morphs into win-win.

What to Do When You Miss Your Chance

Rebuilding trust takes constant work to repair how your partner feels....and how you feel. When you realize you've missed one of these chances, don't fall into the trap of regretting it. Regret focuses on the past, and you'll need to keep moving forward (not back). Mending trust is about connections and repair.

When you repair a missed moment, forgiveness is key. Both of you will make mistakes often at the worst possible moment. If you play the blame card, you won't be able to rebuilding trust. Forgiveness, in these moments, moves you away from blaming and toward self-sacrifice. We give our partner the gift of a second chance to rebuild trust.

Rebuilding trust means a commitment to changing how you think. Missing a moment for trust can trigger harsh thoughts--it's like a bad habit in your brain. A new thinking "habit" to rebuild trust includes a belief that mistakes are inevitable. You can rebuild trust through assuming the best about your partner long enough to fix a broken chance at trust.

A Final Word

Regardless of how trusting or mistrustful things have become, repair is a fundamental process. We all are rewarded by things that go well, but you may find yourself even more excited when you fix something that could have ended badly. When teams come from behind and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, even the losing team’s fans applaud. You may not only rebuild trust, but you feel pride in how well you repair your relationship through using mistakes to build love. These ideas are based on the research from the Gottman lab--with links below for you to learn more.

Resources (Gottman on Repair)

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