A note from Shaunti: I’ve invited my friend Jill Savage, a speaker, author, marriage coach and podcaster, to guest blog this week on the topic of broken trust. From my research, I know this is an essential topic that requires specialized knowledge and counsel. Jill and her husband Mark are very open about the steps they took to rebuild trust after an affair. If your marriage, or any relationship that matters to you, has faced broken trust, today’s blog is a must-read.
Your teenager says they are at one location, and you find out they are somewhere else.
Your friend has broken your confidence by sharing something about you to someone else.
Your mom or dad consistently miss important celebrations in your life.
Your spouse has been hiding financial expenditures from you.
What do all these scenarios have in common? Broken trust.
Broken trust happens when someone doesn’t follow through on what they said they would do or when their words don’t match their actions.
Nearly every relationship experiences broken trust in some way—big or small—because we’re imperfect people who do life with imperfect people. When we experience broken trust, however, most of us don’t know how to handle it well.
Sometimes we’re the one who breaks the trust and sometimes we’re the one whose trust is broken. Either way, it’s important to understand what happens in a relationship when trust is broken and how trust can be restored in that relationship.
My husband Mark and I know this reality well. Thirteen years ago, Mark went through the darkest season of his life, lost his way, had an affair, and left. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.
I knew that my husband was lost. I knew this wasn’t the man I married. I believed that if he would return to his God, he would return to his family, so I answered God’s call for me to love him during that dark season. Sometimes that love was undeserved kindness and sometimes it was boundaries. (If you’re in those circumstances I did a free webinar about standing for your marriage and loving someone who’s hard to love that you can watch here.)
It took a year, but he eventually made the U-turn I had been believing for. It then took us a year and a half to heal our marriage and restore the trust. In our healing journey, I discovered Mark wasn’t the only one who’d broken trust in our marriage. There were ways I had broken Mark’s trust over our then 28-year marriage as well. I’d been critical. I’d parented my husband. We both had to rebuild trust with each other. Today we call ourselves Mark and Jill 2.0 and broken trust is in the rearview mirror of our now 40-year marriage. Our life’s work is now centered around helping other couples rebuild trust and experience a 2.0 marriage.
Whether trust needs to be restored in a marriage, a parent/child relationship, at work, or in a friendship, there’s only one way to rebuild trust and it’s not what people usually think. Here are three things that don’t rebuild trust and the one thing that does:
An apology doesn’t rebuild trust
Too often when trust has been broken, the person who broke the trust wants to simply apologize and move on. We all wish it were that easy, but it’s not. Imagine that trust is the water in a bathtub. When trust is broken, the water is drained out of the bathtub. You can’t just turn on the faucet with an apology and voila … the trust fills the tub back up. Instead, trust is rebuilt one trust-building action, one trust-building conversation at a time. This process is like filling the bathtub up one tablespoon at a time.
Forgiveness doesn’t rebuild trust
When someone breaks our trust, we have to forgive in order to unclutter our own heart. God calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32). We can’t wait until we feel like forgiving because that’s unlikely to happen. However, sometimes we’re hesitant to forgive because we think it means we’ll then need to trust. What we have to understand is that forgiveness and rebuilding trust are two very different things. Forgiveness opens the door for trust to be rebuilt, but it does not rebuild trust in any way. Forgiveness is the work of the one whose trust was broken. Rebuilding trust is the work of the one who broke the trust.
Promises don’t rebuild trust
Communicating with words is very important in all relationships. Our words matter. When trust has been broken, however, the process of restoring trust requires us to show—with our actions—that we are once again trustworthy. This is the only time in a relationship where words don’t matter. Actions really do speak louder than words. Promises are empty in the trust rebuilding journey, but actions speak volumes.
The formula for rebuilding trust
If apologies, forgiveness, or promises don’t rebuild trust, then what does? Consistent changed behavior over time. The only way that trust can be rebuilt is consistent changed behavior over time. There are no shortcuts. It takes time and consistent actions and interactions during that time that are trust-building. This gives hope to the one whose trust has been broken and allows them to begin to believe they will be able to trust the person again. We like to say “the trust breaker is the trust maker” because they hold the key with their actions to rebuild trust in the relationship.
In our journey to rebuild trust in our marriage, our consistent changed behavior over time re-opened the door to connection and intimacy. It tore down walls we had built in self-protection. It also planted seeds of hope that, when watered with consistent changes, bloomed into a restored relationship that was stronger than before.
You may be longing for that in your marriage and wondering how to actually get there. What does the trust-builder do differently each day? How does the one whose trust was broken create and hold boundaries? How does forgiveness work when the heart has been shredded? We offer a range of resources to help answer these questions and assist in your journey towards healing broken trust. Remember, trust-building is a process that takes time, patience and effort from both partners. If you need further assistance, please feel free to explore the resources on our website or reach out to a professional counselor or therapist who specializes in relationships.
Jill Savage is host of the No More Perfect Podcast, and the author of 16 books including No More Perfect Moms, and Empty Nest Full Life. She and her husband Mark are marriage coaches and have coauthored two books: No More Perfect Marriages and Living With Less So Your Family Has More.
And if you are interested in having Shaunti speak on kindness for your workplace, church, school or community group, please contact Nicole Owens at email@example.com.
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More from Shaunti’s Blog:
- Solutions for Sarcasm? Yeah, Right. (Nix the Negativity Series, Part 3)
- From Grumbling to Grateful! (Nix the Negativity Series, Part 2)
- Always Suspicious of Your Spouse (or Others)? Here’s What To Do! (Nix the Negativity, Part 1)
- 7 Date Night Do’s and Don’ts (Part 2)
- 7 Date Night Do’s and Don’ts (Part 1)
- Broken Trust in a Relationship? Here’s What To Do