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

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As the old adage goes, trust is the foundation of every relationship, but that trust can, unfortunately, be broken. Often that's due to infidelity, and other times it’s a result of one partner doing something that betrays the other partner’s sense of safety and confidence. Trust can also be broken when any kind of expectation in a relationship isn’t met, says Antoinette Beauchamp, certified professional life coach. This often becomes the case because these expectations unfortunately are not always communicated with the other person, and as a result, lines get crossed. Whatever the cause of the trust issues in a relationship are, hope is not lost. You can rebuild trust in a relationship, but doing so does require work from both parties involved.

But, before we get ahead of ourselves, it's crucial to first understand what trust actually means, and what it looks and feels like in the scope of a relationship. Beauchamp describes it as a feeling of commitment and faith—kind of like a big, warm hug. “Trust feels safe, comfortable, and secure,” she says. “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.”

So with that in mind, take stock of whether you think you have a solid foundation of trust in your relationship. And if not? Keep reading for red flags and pro tips for how to rebuild trust that's been lost.

Signs of lack of trust in a relationship

A lack of trust will look and feel different for every couple and in every relationship, but here are some signs signaling that the trust may have gone MIA.

  1. You anxiously cling to your partner and never want to let them out of sight.
  2. You don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable or to get close to someone out of fear of getting hurt.
  3. You feel a big weight of uncertainty and insecurity.
  4. You question the person’s actions and feel like they’re hiding something. You may even feel compelled to snoop through their texts or DMs.

How to rebuild trust in a relationship

1. Have a willingness to work on the relationship

Just as it takes two to tango, you can't rebuild trust by yourself. “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 Lauren Cook, a marriage and family therapist. “The person whose trust was violated is also willing to forgive and make themselves vulnerable once more for a renewed connection.” So, the first step toward reconstructing trust is to simply check in and make sure both parties are on board and are willing to put in the work to make it happen.

2. Openly apologize

In addition to having willingness, rebuilding trust requires a heartfelt apology. “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,” Cook says. “Whether it's a letter, a meaningful conversation, multiple conversations, or another way to express an apology, it's important that the person expresses remorse and a desire to repair the relationship.”

3. Reflect on the experience

In order to reestablish confidence in the relationship, both partners must also take some time to introspect, gauge their emotional space, and extract a lesson from the experience. “Spend time reflecting on what it is that caused you or your partner pain,” Beauchamp says. “Reflect on the actions taken that broke the trust to begin with. What did it make you feel? How are you feeling now as a result of everything that happened?”

4. Create new memories

The next step is to work on creating new positive experiences together. “A positive experience will shift the energy for any couple,” Beauchamp says. “Do something that can make you laugh, smile, and reconnect in a positive way.” Cook adds that these new memories will instill hope in the relationship and remind both partners that they are capable of having happy interactions.

5. Remember that people can be trusted

When someone betrays your trust, it’s easy to question all of your relationships, romantic and otherwise. But, be mindful to not allow yourself to get caught in this negative spiral. “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,” Cook says.

6. Ask for what you need

Communication is key when you’re working on strengthening your relationship. That’s why Beauchamp recommends getting very honest with yourself about what you need your partner to do in order to regain trust. What would help you feel more supported and secure in the relationship? Once you identify this, communicate those needs clearly and openly with your partner.

7. Be willing to be vulnerable

There certainly is strength in vulnerability—especially in relationships. “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.”

8. Reignite the connection

Instead of viewing broken trust as a relationship speed bump, think of it as an opportunity for a fresh start. Beauchamp suggests using this opportunity to rekindle the flame between you and your partner. One way to do this is to learn each other’s love language (there’s a free quiz for that) and consciously giving each other what is necessary in order to feel fully loved, safe, and supported in the relationship.

9. 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. Design a vision of your future together and how you want it to be, and touch on both the short-term and long-term goals.

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