I'll be honest with you: I lied to my wife almost every night for four straight years. I did a quick estimate and figure I lied about 1000 times to her face in those four years. I know how to destroy trust in a relationship. Thankfully, I learned how to rebuild trust, too.
It wasn't easy.
It wasn't even difficult.
It was the single hardest, awful-est, and most challenging thing I've ever done…and I have jumped out of airplanes.
But, I did do it. And here is the really important thing: Rebuilding trust is worth it.
- You heal the person you betrayed
- You can look yourself in the mirror again, knowing you are an upstanding person
- Your relationship will be stronger and more satisfying to both of you
What I lied about doesn't matter, at least not as much as the impact of the lies and the other behavior around the lies. (If you are interested in the whole story, you can read it here.)
Relationships are built on a foundation of trust, and when I undermined the foundation a thousand times, I didn't expect the relationship to survive.
Yet, my relationship survived.
My wife and I did all the normal things couples do during times like this. We went to counseling, we read more books, and we talked about it. And got nowhere.
Not because those things aren't helpful or important, but because of my attitude and my skill set. Specifically, my attitude hovered around the "is this really worth it" idea, and I possessed no skill set for rebuilding trust.
Additionally, I thought just not lying would fix things. My thinking was "If I quit lying, everything will be OK. I just have to be honest when she asks me questions. She should trust me again in two or three weeks."
This didn't work. Not lying is really hard to distinguish from lying when there isn't a way to verify what the heck is going on. My wife still didn't feel safe and certainly didn't trust me. Just not lying is not enough to get the relationship turned around.
I had to get radical in my honesty. I had to put more energy into the relationship than I had previously. I had to grow. I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Again, rebuilding trust challenged me more than anything I have ever done.
Can You Rebuild Trust?
My very firm answer on this is, "maybe".
Not everyone choses the relationship over their own comfort. Not everyone wants to humble themselves in front of the person they betrayed. Sometimes the cost to the betrayed person exceeds the time needed to rebuild.
Sometimes the cost to the betrayed person exceeds the time needed to rebuild.
However, I rebuilt trust. So it can be done. I actually help other guys and they have rebuilt trust in their marriages.
There is hope for you if you are willing to do the work.
Are you willing to do it? Because if you aren't, tell the other person right now. Rip off the bandage and tell them you don't want the relationship any longer. Walk out the front door.
OK, if you are still with me, then there is a chance for you to rebuild trust in a relationship wrecked with lies, deception, or sneakiness.
How to Rebuild Trust
To rebuild trust I needed to take a different approach than I had in the past. What got me where I was would not get me where I wanted to be.
In general, I had to "grow up"; I lived from an immature place or maybe an uneducated place. Growth is painful: ask anyone trying to get into shape. Using new muscles and developing new habits takes effort and focus, and a degree of suffering.
Just telling you to "grow up" isn't terribly helpful and probably feels a little insulting. I am OK with the insulting part: If you need to rebuild trust then you didn't get here through honorable behavior.
Anyway, I am about to break it down into 6 things you can do to start to rebuild trust. Plus, I will give you a bonus option you need to consider seriously.
All of these steps are written with the assumption you betrayed your spouse or significant other. If it was some else, you may be able to adapt the steps to your situation.
Step One: Consistency.
To rebuild trust, I had to be consistent. Anything I committed to do, I had to see it through. My wife lived in fear of the uncertain ground I created by lying. When I would start something only to fall quickly back into past behavior, this just reminded her of how little she could count on me.
So, if you start something, stick to it. "Every Damn Day" as I read on a Nike Shirt
There are some pitfalls to consistency, but stay consistent or the person you betrayed will see this as playing with their trust (or heart).
So stay consistent or you waste your efforts.
Step Two: Proactivity
I'll be honest; this word pissed me off for a long time. Both my therapist and my wife kept telling me to "be proactive".
I didn't get it. "I think I know what the word means, but not what it means mechanically. What am I supposed to do proactively?"
The answer is: take action on your own initiative.
Step Three: Meeting Needs
The person you broke trust with has specific needs. Find out what they are.
Now, go back to step two, and start meeting these needs proactively.
This is the growth process I mentioned earlier. You will have to set your own needs aside to meet the needs of the other person. Considering some possible alternatives, this is a small price to pay.
Step Four: Openness
Openness and honesty are two sides of the same coin. Honesty means if I ask you a question, you tell me the truth. Openness means you tell me the truth without me having to ask the "right" question, especially in areas where trust is broken.
Rebuilding trust requires a new level of communication with the person you betrayed.
You must talk to them about what you are doing, plain and simple.
I am not saying, "Hey, this is a good idea!" I am telling you openness is a requirement. If you aren’t willing to give the other person this much access to your life, you may never rebuild trust.
Giving full access to the person you betrayed will help them see your commitment to do whatever it takes to make things right.
So, if you betrayed them through money, give them access to the bank accounts. If you cheated in the relationship, give them the passwords to your phone, computer, social media, and anything else you can think of so they can determine and verify what you are up to.
Step Five: Vulnerability
When it comes to the scariest words in the English language, vulnerability is probably near the top; at least it was for me.
Vulnerability is the very reason I lied to my wife. The truth makes me vulnerable to her judgment, rejection, or anger all of which were justified from my behavior.
I tell the guys I work with "The relationship you want with your wife will be purchased through your vulnerability."
I really think of vulnerability as taking off the armor, I used to protect myself.
For me that was my anger when she would ask uncomfortable questions…boom! I got angry. This is an effective way of telling another person to shut up – effective, but not helpful or healthy. Anger is one way to stop the conversation. Or you might run away or shut down.
The other person really needs you to listen even though it feels awful to discuss the topic they brought up.
They also need you to connect with the emotions of what they are going through, how bad it feels for them. This is difficult because it requires us to double-down on how rotten it feels to hear how our unhealthy behavior impacts someone close to us.
Step Six: Ownership
Take responsibility for your actions and the impact those actions had on the other person.
Then keep taking responsibility for those actions especially when it feels uncomfortable.
I say that because I am a minimizer, I nearly ended my marriage trying to salvage my image with the very person I lied to.
So when she would say, "Remember those times you lied about using porn at work?" I would response with some like, "I didn’t say that, I said I only looked at YouTube videos at work." And then she would say, "That is not what you said…" and the breakdown would continue until I finally confessed or re-owned my actions.
This kind of behavior makes people crazy.
Bonus Step: Blind Spots
Believe it or not, I am not clear on all of my behaviors and how they impact the person I betrayed. This means I have blind spots. Areas of my personality that I am completely unaware of and need help to see.
Ask the person you betrayed for help with this. This requires humility (or I know I don't know anything) and a willingness to learn.
Once you discover these blind spots start working on them or at least own their existence. Because these could be the very things holding you back in the relationship.
Give Them Time
These are the basics, and you need to practice them. While you are doing this, the other person will need time to heal and decide if it is worth staying.
I lied for four years in the last go-round; I shouldn't be shocked it took almost four years to fix things. Although I drug my feet on these topics and made they much more difficult than they needed to be.
My work with men trying to rebuild trust in their relationship shortened the recovery time to somewhere between 4 and 18 months depending on the breakdown.
So, if you feel stuck and don't know what to do next, you might want to contact me for assistance.
Also, if you sign up on my mailing list, I will let you know when our video series on this topic goes live.
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