How to Rebuild Trust in a Relationship After the Damage Has Been Done

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When it comes to relationships, one of the best parts of being in a safe, healthy partnership can be the trust between partners. It feels so good and comforting and wholesome to know that there is another person out there who genuinely cares for you and your partnership together as much as you do. Unfortunately however, sometimes that trust can be broken, and we’re forced to confront just how important trust is in a relationship. When you’re in a happy relationship, you never hope that you’ll have to go through the process to rebuild trust once you have it, but sometimes life happens and you’re put in a position to consider it.

Experts In This Article

Whether it’s due to something like infidelity, sketchy social media interactions, or a partner otherwise betraying the other’s sense of safety and confidence, broken trust can have reverberating effects on couples and individuals down the line. They don’t call it getting over trust issues (plural) for nothing, after all. Trust can also be broken when an expectation in a relationship isn’t met, says certified professional life coach Antoinette Beauchamp, which typically occurs when these expectations aren’t communicated with the other person.

“You can rebuild a relationship, sometimes an even better one.” —Stephanie Manes, LCSW, JD, couples therapist and psychotherapist

However, it can be possible to rebuild trust with the right tools and guidance. “You can rebuild a relationship, sometimes an even better one,” says couples therapist and psychotherapist Stephanie Manes, LCSW, JD. It may not be easy (doing the work hardly ever is), but if you and your partner choose to try to rebuild trust and repair your relationship, you may find yourselves (and your partnership) better for all your efforts at the end of the day. Read on for more from experts on how to rebuild trust and other healthy relationship tips.

Signs of diminishing trust in a relationship

When we think of broken trust in a relationship, there are the big things like an ongoing affair or cheating, but there can also be smaller instances that also require couples to rebuild trust just as healing from cheating might. Some signs that trust may be broken or diminishing can include finding yourself frequently worrying about where they are or what they’re doing, says AASECT-certified sex educator Suzannah Weiss, relationship coach, resident sexologist for Biird, and author of Subjectified: Becoming a Sexual Subject.

Diminishing trust may also happen after a trigger event, Weiss explains, such as not getting a response to a text for a few hours, or them making a comment about somebody else (or even yourself).

Keys to rebuild trust in a relationship

1. Communicate healthily and wisely

For the betrayed partner, Weiss recommends using the DEAR MAN communication technique when talking to a partner about broken trust. The acronym stands for “describe, express, ask/assert, reinforce/reward, stay mindful, appear confident, and negotiate,” she explains. This is especially important since during a conversation about betrayal when so many emotions are at play, it can be difficult to keep track of exactly what you want to say effectively.

2. Know that real repair requires real remorse (and changed behavior)

“Repair requires real remorse,” says Manes. “The betrayed party can’t heal from this kind of wound if they don’t feel deep down that their partner is truly remorseful,” Therefore, “vague apologies won’t cut it here, especially if the apology is just self-interested because you want out of the hot seat. You need to be specific and to reflect what you hear from your partner.”

3. Know that you can rebuild a relationship — perhaps even a better one, with time and effort.

As Manes said above, it is possible to rebuild a relationship if both partners put in the work. “I have witnessed many couples come out of an affair crisis with a more authentic and resilient relationship than the one they had before,” Manes says. While she notes that she would never suggest couples go through betrayal in order to have a stronger relationship, “the hard work it takes to repair can and does bring people closer in the process,” she says, explaining that “it brings out a lot of honesty, people are forced to share truths about themselves that they might never have otherwise,” and that “couples learn to communicate in better ways and to find and hold onto connection.”

Tips for the offender

1. Don’t get defensive

“Regardless of your intention, apologize for the impact of your behavior and focus on finding a solution rather than arguing over whose fault it was,” says Weiss. “To show real remorse, you have to consistently communicate that you really get why and how what you did hurt the other,” says Manes. You can’t accomplish this effectively if you’re defensive and unwilling to even hear how your actions may have hurt your partner.

2. Listen and listen with patience

“The betraying partner needs to be ready to take in all of their mate’s feelings, and not just once,” says Manes, adding that “it takes a while for those feelings to ebb (they may never go away completely).”

3. Don’t rush your partner to move on “faster”

Along the same lines, Manes says “Most of the unfaithful partners I work with complain at some point about going over the same thing again and again,” in an attempt to move on faster. To this, Manes says “if they deny their partner’s feelings, leave them alone to deal with them, or rush them to get rid of them, the feelings will likely only get worse.”

Tips for the offended

1. Be open to hearing their perspective

Weiss recommends keeping an open mind and remaining open to hearing your partner’s perspective and the possibility that your interpretation of events may not be what’s actually happening. “Allow them to explain themselves,” Weiss recommends, and “ask questions rather than making assumptions.” This, however, does not mean you should let yourself be gaslit. If boundaries were broken, they were broken, but you should at least hear the other side out and keep an open mind until they explain themselves.

2. Take it slow and don’t make big decisions about the future right now

“Don’t try to make any decisions about your future together,” right after betrayal or trust has been broken, says Manes. “In the immediate wake of an affair or any kind of damage, your relationship is in crisis, which means it’s a terrible time to decide whether to stay together,” she adds. Instead, Manes recommends a period of cooling off time in order to “let the dust settle and to work on repairing the wounds before you decide whether you can or want to build a future together.”

3. Be realistic about forgiveness

Manes says that “people get pretty lost around [forgiveness], thinking that they can’t move on without it.” However, Manes says that “for most people, the word forgiveness conveys the sense that you can put it all behind you and move on. This is unrealistic and unnecessary.”

Instead, Manes says to keep in mind that “what happened happened, and it will always be a part of your history. The experience of having been hurt will always be there. But over time, it can become part of a bigger story you can write about your relationship.”

How to rebuild the relationship

If your partner has betrayed your trust

1. Ask for what you need

Communication is key when you’re reestablishing trust in your relationship—Beauchamp recommends getting very honest with yourself about what you need your partner to do in order to regain trust. For instance, what would help you feel more supported and secure in the relationship? Once you identify your needs, communicate them clearly and openly with your partner. If they still display signs they're someone you can't trust, then you have information to evaluate about whether you want to have them in your life.

2. Communicate your feelings

Just as it’s important to express your needs to your partner, you’ll also want to tell them how you feel and what you’re going through. “Giving the other person an understanding of exactly what you’re going through gives them more of a chance to respond in the right way and to try to shift perspective,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Gabriela Reyes, LMFT, resident dating expert at Chispa.

With that said, you’ll want to avoid brutal honesty, which is often done with the sole intention of hurting another person. “If you think you need to punish your partner, working to make things better is not going to be easy,” Reyes says.

3. Remember that people can be trusted

When someone betrays your trust, it becomes easy to put your other relationships into question, too. If you find yourself caught in this downward spiral of negativity, take a step back. “Look at your other relationships with family, friends, and other connections, and remind yourself that the majority of people want to be good and want to keep your trust,” says licensed psychologist Lauren Cook, PsyD.

If you’ve broken your partner’s trust

1. Openly apologize

If you want to regain your partner’s trust, it begins with a heartfelt apology in which you admit your wrongdoings. “Whether it’s a letter, a meaningful conversation, multiple conversations, or another way to express an apology, it’s important that a person expresses remorse and a desire to repair the relationship,” says Dr. Cook.

2. Again, avoid being defensive

It bears repeating because it’s truly that important. “While it can be easy for the person who broke their partner’s trust to be defensive, this only aggravates the distress in the relationship,” says Dr. Cook. Reyes echoes this sentiment, adding, “[It] takes away from what your partner needs in the moment, which is just a genuine apology and an understanding that no matter what happened, what you did was wrong.”

3. Take responsibility for your actions

It’s also important to take full responsibility for one’s actions, which might require some looking within, says couples and family therapist Tracy Ross, LCSW. She suggests questions like, “What would it feel like to be your partner if you did this? What is that experience like?” It might be an uncomfortable experience, but she says that’s often what it takes to build empathy for the other person, and fully commit to making things right.

Together as a couple

1. Have a willingness to work on the relationship

In overcoming relationship damage done by betrayal, there must be a mutual willingness to put in the work to rebuild that trust. “This means that the person who violated the trust is willing to demonstrate how they want to engage in the relationship and repair the brokenness,” says Dr. Cook. “The person whose trust was violated will be also willing to forgive and make themselves vulnerable once more for a renewed connection.”

2. Reflect on the experience

It might be uncomfortable to take the time to reflect on the experience that led to a betrayal in your relationship, but thoughtful introspection can provide a lesson that ultimately helps both parties move forward and can be quite important in building trust. “Spend time reflecting on what it is that caused you or your partner pain,” says Beauchamp. “Reflect on the actions taken that broke the trust to begin with, and ask yourself, ‘What did it make you feel?’ or ‘How are you feeling now as a result of everything that happened?’”

3. Reignite the connection

A breach of trust is most often a relationship speed bump, but it could be taken as an opportunity for a fresh start. Use this opportunity to rekindle the flame between you and your partner, says Beauchamp. You can start by learning—or re-learning—about what makes each other feel fully loved, safe, and supported, and with this information, consciously make an effort to fulfill the other’s needs in the relationship.

4. Build new memories

Building new memories—or simply having new positive experiences together—may help instill hope in the relationship and remind both parties that they’re capable of having happy interactions, says Dr. Cook. “A positive experience will shift the energy for any couple,” she says. Whether it’s a romantic night out, a pottery class, or a spontaneous trip to an amusement park, “do something that can make you laugh, smile, and reconnect in a positive way.” Yes, there will be differences in a relationship after trust is broken, but working together to make new, healthier memories can make your bond stronger.

5. Focus on the future

To leave the past behind you, both you and your partner must focus on what’s ahead rather than dwelling on past mistakes. Beauchamp’s advice is to have an open and honest conversation about how you both want to move forward into a new phase of your relationship. Take the time to envision your future together and how you want it to be. You might also want to touch on both short-term and long-term goals that you can look forward to in the present and over time.

6. Be willing to be vulnerable

“True intimacy demands vulnerability,” clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, previously told Well+Good, and though easier said than done when overcoming relationship damage, being vulnerable can help to reestablish trust in their relationship. “Put your walls down and your ego aside,” Beauchamp says. “Vulnerability invites vulnerability and increases intimacy. Creating intimate moments will help support and rebuild what’s broken.”

7. Keep communication open

As mentioned, communication is a top priority when restoring trust in a relationship. To keep the lines of communication open, Reyes suggests what she calls a “State of the Union,” a weekly date for dedicated conversations without distraction. She says that carving out this space is important because it builds a habit of communicating, “which is something important to create in a relationship—and a healthy relationship.”

When to seek professional help

When recovering from the relationship damage of a breach of trust, it can be difficult to go about rebuilding that trust alone—and there’s no shame in seeking professional help. “I think anytime is a good time to seek professional help because [this situation] can be very complicated to untangle,” says Ross, adding that it can be beneficial to have an expert’s guidance to help you examine why there was a betrayal of trust in a relationship and for both parties to better understand their part in the situation, and more importantly, to move forward.

Why trust breaks

A person can lose trust in their partner for various reasons, says Reyes. It might be due to infidelity, for example, or lying—whether by commission or omission. A lack of communication is another possible reason, and as Beauchamp mentioned, it can cause trust issues when expectations aren’t clearly expressed in a relationship. It can also leave room for interpretation and uncertainty, adds Reyes, and as a result, it can cause a person to feel unsupported or unsafe with their partner.

Common signs of a lack of trust in a relationship

More often than not, you know when you trust your partner or when you don’t. “Trust feels safe, comfortable, and secure,” says Beauchamp. “You feel like you can consistently rely and depend on your partner in times of need. No matter what is up in the air, you have a safe foundation and somewhere to land.” Conversely, a lack of trust might not have any of the feelings just mentioned.

While a lack of trust will look and feel different for every couple, there are some common signs that indicate a person has lost trust in their partner:

  • They anxiously cling to their partner and never want to let them out of sight.
  • They don’t allow themselves to feel vulnerable or get too close to someone out of fear of getting hurt.
  • They’re weighed down by uncertainty and insecurity.
  • They’re fixated on the signs of an untrustworthy person (whether it's their partner or others)
  • They question their partner’s actions and feel like their partner is hiding something from them. They may even look through their partner’s emails, text messages, or call logs.

However, a lack of trust might manifest, reestablishing it when it’s lost becomes imperative to save a relationship. “Trust is a building block for all the challenges that arise in relationships for the growth that you would hope happen in a relationship, for taking risks together, for becoming better versions of yourselves, [and] for sharing a life together,” says Ross. “If you don’t have trust, then you’re constantly paying attention to that. But when you have solid trust, it’s the strongest foundation you can have in a relationship.”

Is it possible to rebuild trust in a relationship?

Fortunately, the experts all agree that it’s possible to restore trust in a relationship, but you and your partner have to be willing to put in the work. Saving a relationship takes concerted effort from both partners. “You need to be committed to making it work or committed to at least trying to make it work,” Reyes says.

Reyes also adds that there also must be a willingness to forgive—not just your partner, but also yourself. “It’s very rarely just one person at fault for the demise of a relationship or for it getting to a point where trust is broken,” she explains. It’s usually a buildup of sometimes years of a relationship slowly deteriorating, of less effort being put forth, less connection. You have to forgive yourself for your part in getting to this place.”

But forgiveness is often easier said than done, especially when there is shame surrounding a partner’s betrayal. Some might feel shame about forgiving something like infidelity, but Reyes says there is no shame in forgiveness. On the contrary, it can be “empowering” because you have the choice to make an effort and choose to forgive.

How long will it take to rebuild trust in a relationship?

When it comes to how long it’ll take to rebuild trust in a relationship, there is no definite timeline. “It varies from couple to couple, especially depending on what it is that happened to break that trust,” says Reyes.

Ross adds, “If trust has been broken in a relationship, it takes longer than you think it will.” All to say, if both parties are committed to repairing their relationship and working to rebuild trust after the damage has been done, they have to have a willingness to “be in the uncertainty for whatever time,” as Ross explains. “If you’re really both committed to staying together and doing some healing and then saying, we need to grow from this, then you can have a stronger relationship afterwards.”


What are the 5 C’s of trust?

“The five C's of trust are care, communication, character, consistency, and competence,” explains Weiss, adding that “This means not just caring about your partner, but showing them through frequent communication, keeping your word, continuously reaching out and showing appreciation, and holding up your responsibilities.”

Why does it hurt when trust is broken in a relationship?

“It hurts when trust is broken in a relationship because people invest a lot in their relationships, and a breach of trust can feel like that investment was squandered,” explains Weiss. Not to mention, she adds that for the betrayed person, a breach of trust puts them in the difficult position of having to decide “if it’s worth it to stay in a relationship where you’re experiencing a lot of pain, or to leave, which will also probably involve a lot of pain.”

No matter what they choose, the betrayed partner now needs to “stop their lives to focus on making this decision and processing the pain, which takes a lot out of someone.”

Can trust ever truly be rebuilt?

It may be difficult but yes,  it may be possible to rebuild trust in a relationship “depending on the severity of the offense and how willing the offender is to work on things,” says Weiss. “If someone is willing to go to therapy, confront what led to the betrayal, and make a commitment to behave differently, a relationship could actually become closer,” Weiss says.

What happens in a relationship when trust is broken?

As far as initial impact, the betrayed partner may go into fight or flight, Weiss says, where they might want to fight with their partner, or run away, or even freeze. “They may need some time to even confront the offense because they need the chance to calm down and have a conversation,” Weiss says.

This is why it’s especially important to give the betrayed party time to process and not to make any rash decisions about the long-term impacts of the betrayal until they have time to process in a healthy manner, as Manes noted above.

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