What did I do? I Didn't Mean to...
Relationships are built on trust. Relationships flourish when partners, friends, or relatives trust each other to be honest, faithful, respectful, kind, consistent and open to resolving conflict.
Relationships flounder when trust is broken, which, unfortunately, is all too common. Most of us are aware of the obvious trust-breaking situations.
Some violations of trust can be big:
- behavior/misbehavior causing family conflict
- forgetting an important event
- forgetting date night
- forgetting childcare commitments
- forgetting birthdays
- lying by omission
- not following through on mutually agreed upon finanical goals and committments
- discovering that your partner has had an affair
- disclosing information (or secrets) shared in confidence
- not following through on commitments that you made to others
- family secrets
These violations cause pain and hurt feelings that can ultimately cause ireputable damage.
While other violations of trust can be small. Trust can be broken in far more subtle, but nonetheless damaging, ways:
- not doing household chores
- not coming home on agreed time
- forgetting items on a grocery store list
- minimizing and denying something you said during times of conflict
- not acknowledging your partner's, relative's or friend&'s feelings
- not actively listening to your friends
- misperceptions of events, situations, and feelings in social situations
- consistently saying you will do something and never delivers on the your promise
- not being emotionally available to your friend, partner, or family member during a very trying time
These situations may not destroy trust, but they can certainly threaten it.
No matter how big or how small when you have betrayed a trust, you know it. Be brutually honest with yourself. Take ownership. Acceptance and honesty are essential to rebuilding or repairing your friend's or partner's trust. Depending on the situation, trust can be rebuilt. But the process of building (and rebuilding) trust doesn't just happen. It takes a significant amount inner work.
Start From Within
In order to build a stable foundation of trust with another person, you need to first become trustworthy of yourself and your feelings — that inner quiet voice that tries to alert you when something feels misaligned with your needs, just not quite right, or impending doom.
If you can recall a time that trust was broken in your relationship, think back on what happened leading up to the betrayal. Did your inner voice whisper something to you which you ignored?
Did you listen to your "gut", or that internal "ally" voice, that provided you a warning or simply ignore your own instinct, talk yourself out of these uncomfortable feelings, and merely sweep the issue under the rug. I've had multiple clients specifically tell me that they were aware of a betrayal in their relationship, but gave their power (i.e., having low self esteem and feeling powerless in this situation) to their partner, friend or relative who often overcompensated by acting extra-charming, saying something whitty, or minimizing the possible consequences of their actions. It is important to note that the disloyal person in this dynamic will preemptively try to "make up" for his or her behavior, making it typcially more difficult for you to really see it, acknowledge that a problem exist, remain in denial, and not be in moment and deal with the conflict.
Regardless of the situation, whether it is financially overspending, infedelity, or some type of addiction (i.e., drug, gambling, drinking, or shopping), there is one commonality expressed by my clients who have had to deal with broken trust in their relationship: They did not sufficiently trust their own instincts and ended up sublimating their needs.
Before you can even begin to trust your partner, family member, or close friend again, you first need to trust yourself — your inner knowledge of what's right and wrong for you. We have all been blessed with two sources of knowing — our feelings (i.e., listening your gut) and the wisdom that pops into our mind from our higher guidance (i.e., intuition, moral compass, or internal thoughts).
When you learn to trust your feelings about your partner, (family or friend) and learn to trust the wisdom that is always here for you, then you become truly trustworthy of yourself. This means that you stop ignoring that inner "ally" voice and start listening to what you know in your heart and soul.
Then and only then will you be able to discern what is true and what isn't about your partner (friendship) and the relationship. With self-trust, you will be able to feel — and believe — when he or she is lying or trying to take advantage of you in a way that erodes trust.
Rebuilding Relationship Trust
When trust has been broken in your relationship, both partners need to direct real attention to the relationship to rebuild it. Relationships are a two-step dance, and the reasons behind the betrayal need to be addressed and healed collaboratively.
But first, you may need to take the time to be clear about your feelings and do an exercise, such as journaling, role-play, or writing a Letting Go of Grudges Letter for better understanding. Writing a letter to your self is a deliberate and systematic way to write down all of your feelings, in many dimensions, about the incident that lead up to the betrayal. I call this the "Everything I Needed To Say But Didn't" letter. This letter can help you detect layers of feelings that are present with respect to your feelings of betrayal. It is a process of unmasking complexed, multi-layered strong negative feelings that prevent us from being "stuck" and dwelling in negative and unwanted feelings. A letter or journaling provides you the opportunity to express whatever emotions are in the way of a better and more sustaining healthy relationship with our partner, relative, or childhood/college friend. The betrayal is an opportunity for each person to look within and heal their part of the relationship-system in order to understand why it resulted in broken trust.
Broken trust can definitely be healed, but it takes alot work. Don't kid yourself into thinking that you can repair broken trust with a quick statement of forgiveness and a warm embrace. Being defensive, righteous or casual about the problem never works. There must be a sincere effort to work out the issues, or the protective and defensive wall will never come down. The angrier you are, the less you are able to hear what the the one feeling betrayed has to say and only makes matters worse. The underlying causes for betrayal need to be identified, examined and worked on in order for betrayal not to resurface again. And remember, in more intense and tramatic situations, the feelings of betrayal are successfully worked through when the person feeling betrayed is willing to forgive, recover, and has successfully healed!
Both people need to learn to love (and trust) themselves enough to be able to approach the relationship from individual places of self-respect and personal integrity. When you make a commitment to treat yourself with love and compassion and authentically trust your needs, you will not harm yourself or others by lying or cheating. You will listen properly to yourself so that you can welcome honest communication into the relationship. Relationship and friendships are work. If you can look at the restoring of trust as a learning process then hopefully it will result in greater intimacy and more emotionally meaningful relationships/friendships. Do the work and the rewards can be endless. Rebuilding trust is not just a decision—it’s a lifestyle change.