Recovery of Trust After an Affair

ImageMany couples that have been through infidelity want to restore trust after an affair but find this to be the most difficult part of rebuilding their marriage. More specifically, the injured spouse, the one that was cheated on, almost always finds it impossible to trust his or her partner. This is one of the most difficult parts because the partner has already shown that they were untrustworthy in the past. How can they be trusted again?

Unfortunately, without learning how to trust again, it will be impossible to rebuild the marriage. It’s a waste of your time and theirs. It’s that simple.

This has been inspired by a number of letters I’ve received and blogs I’ve read — mostly from Betrayeds — who believe they can no longer trust their former cheating spouse and can’t understand why their marriage can’t truly recover and move to a better place.

Some even say they “trust” their Wayward Spouse, but put into place ridiculous, humiliating, parental-like controls on them and fling unfounded accusations at their spouse that speak of anything BUT trust.  It’s quite unbelievable to say, on the one hand, “My spouse has done all they can to make amends for their affair, and I trust them, but I refuse to let them have any interactions with the opposite sex of any kind.”  Really? Does nobody else see the contradiction?  If you trust your spouse, it doesn’t matter who they talk to. It wouldnt’ matter if 15 hot strippers showed up at their office every day — They know they won’t repeat their mistake.  And so do you!  THAT is trust.

Yes, in the immediate time after an affair comes to light, of course you don’t trust them. It’s NORMAL. You’re devasted. Trust takes time to rebuild and the deceiver has much to do to earn it back. I’m not talking about giving over “blind trust” a month after D-day. I’m instead referring to those that cannot trust their spouse years and years after affair discovery. To me, it’s no way to live — either for the Betrayed or the Wayward spouse. I recall a woman here who posted all over the blogs about how she couldn’t get past her husband’s affair.

Which occurred in 1981…..

REALLY?? 32 years later and still cant’ get past it??

There is not a continuum of trust and forgiveness.  Either you do, or you don’t. It’s not “well, I trust them 90%”.  Horseshit.  You either do or you don’t. That’s trust.  It’s an On/Off switch. It’s not partially given. It either is, or it isn’t.

So if you really feel you cannot trust your spouse, at some point don’t you just cut your losses and move on? I don’t get living this way. I don’t understand the mindset of being a “Parole Officer” indefinitely instead of a loving, compassionate spouse who makes a safe environment so that both can move forward?  Well, life is short to me. I wouldn’t live that way, personally, but apparently some do.  If I was the Betrayed Spouse, and I truly felt the need to control my spouse, spy on them, and worried about their interactions with men night and day, frankly, I’d get divorced. Life is too short to live this way.

Trust is to me a pillar of any romantic or close relationship. Without trust, you have nothing. An uneasy partnership at best.  And more likely a lot of mutual resentment. Unless other options aren’t available, most marriages that lack basic trust fail anyway. So why waste the time and mental energy?

A pretty smart guy wrote this about trust in the aftermath of an affair:

“When betrayal occurs and people begin to seek help, a seed is sown. Some do nothing. Others start, but have no follow-through. Others begin the journey and do great for a while, but other problems eventually distract them and their commitment falters. Yet a large percentage of people do learn and grow. They honestly look at what they’ve done, grieve, accept what’s happened…and transform their loss and pain into something better than they ever dreamed….If in time you see sustained progress in your mate, then ultimately you’ve got to confront yourself and ask if you’re willing to take a risk.  Are you willing to live and join the dance called life? Healing is not about our mates getting it perfect; it is about all of us, out of love, choosing to be safe enough for our mates. Don’t be foolish and trust someone who’s not trustworthy, but at the same time, don’t destine yourself, out of fear, to a life of isolation. You don’t yet trust your mate, but don’t mistrust to the point of harming yourself.

Surprisingly, most couples, after the revelation of an affair, (if the unfaithful mate is honest and grieves over what they’ve done to their mate) experience a vastly improved sex life. In fact, it’s not uncommon for couples to report that it’s the best sex they’ve ever had. One contributing factor to this phenomenon is a newfound intimacy stemming from honesty. At its root, infidelity is the keeping of secrets, and to the extent we keep secrets, we inhibit our ability to be intimate.

A hurt spouse wants to know, “How can I ever trust them again and know whether or not they are cheating? They did such a good job lying to me the first time, how will I be able to tell if they’re doing it again?” The answer to these questions lies in “intimacy.”

Couples who achieve new levels of intimacy in the wake of an affair create a new barometer by which to determine which way the weather in the relationship is turning. Typically, affairs don’t just happen. Instead, often there is a long, slow process during which a couple drifts apart. If you weren’t watching your levels of intimacy in the past, this likely contributed to the affair. Therefore, monitoring your newfound marital attachment and—the intimacy you have discovered by being honest—helps you both tune in to any problems and assess in advance whether or not there is a risk for another betrayal. With honesty, intimacy, and openness in place, most people are able to sense a disconnection and begin to address the issue long before someone gets to the point of acting out. Use your new sense of connection as a way to know whether or not it’s safe to push further into the relationship.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Punitive words and actions.  Silly “controls” on your spouse.  They are all self-defeating and are the opposite of “trust.”  They will, over time, likely breed resentment. Resentment is the cancer of any relationship.  Your fears will become a self-fulfilling prophecy when your formerly repentent spouse resents the questions, the accusations and openly (or not openly) says, “Fuck it!! I’ll have another affair…what’s the difference?” Or “I can’t take this any more. I’m outta here.”  Only a weak person or someone with no other options will stay in a relationship as the subject of mistrust, spying, and unfounded accusation indefinitely. At some point, anyone with an ounce of self respect will say, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!”   Agreeing to marital reconciliation is not an open-ended offer.  It requires something of BOTH parties.  And it requires progress that is definable and palpable to both parties until they reach the point of real reconciliation.  Don’t overplay your hand. Only those with no options will stay indefinitely if you are stuck in punishment and mistrust mode.    Nobody is going to put up with “I’ll get over it when I get over it and you have to deal with it!” indefinitiely.  That’s reality, folks. It doesn’t make them bad people. It makes them human.  Humans get discouraged, even if they sinned. Humans get RESENTFUL.  Resentment is not the bed upon which new love, initmacy and openness can thrive!  It’s,  in fact, a relationship killer.

As this same “smart guy” wrote,

“Don’t confuse forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself and sets you free from the hurtful actions of another. It is an action whereby you free yourself from being a prisoner of the past to a liberated person at peace with your memories, even if they are painful. Forgiveness also is a part of the process you need to undergo in order to heal from the damage created by your mate’s infidelity. Reconciliation is dependent on forgiveness, but forgiveness is not dependent on reconciliation.

Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. It is a process that takes time; it is not a one-time event. Forgiveness is a conscious decision whereby you determine to let go of your mate’s offense. It’s not something taken lightly or done too quickly. To those who may be thinking you will never forgive, I explain the truth of forgiveness in an attempt to get you to reconsider your position. In our treatment of thousands of hurt spouses, a common theme has been either forgiving too quickly or failing to forgive. Both of these approaches cripple the hurt spouse, greatly decreasing their probabilities of having a meaningful trusting relationship in the future, with their spouse or a future potential mate.

Many mistakenly believe that if they can make their mate hurt as badly as they have, then somehow that will ease their pain—but it doesn’t. Vengeance only creates further hurt and pain for the injured mate. Don’t mistakenly believe that vengeance somehow makes your mate safe and decreases the probability of the betrayal happening again. Vengeance leaves you in a prison where you have to play jailer to keep your mate in prison. It effectively leaves you tied to someone you obviously don’t trust. Forgiveness at least can set you free to observe whether or not your mate can ever be safe enough for trust and/or reconciliation.

It is our position … that reconciliation is dependent on safety. And safety is best determined by the heart attitudes of the offending mate and their response to the betrayal. To err is human; we’re all guilty of acting in ways that are contrary to love and have wounded those we love. In fact, we’ve all done things that later we realized we didn’t even want to do, but our responses to these hurtful actions reveal whether or not that person we hurt can be safe in a future relationship.

Before moving toward trust, you must first ease your own pain by granting yourself the gift of forgiveness. Your healing will never be complete until you can be free from the potential resentments created by the betrayal. Don’t allow your impulse for vengeance to tie you to an unsafe person and to act in ways that will harm yourself.

As the old saying goes, “Bitterness is the poison we take to kill another person.” So ease your pain by releasing the offense.”

Jealousy-is-a-sign-of-mistrustI couldn’t agree more.  Forgiveness and Trust are HARD in the aftermath of an affair. Some cannot ever get there.  It’s not in their DNA. It’s not a criticism. It just is. And some former cheaters don’t do all they can and should to regain that trust, either, and this also retards or eliminates the ability of the Betrayed Spouse to trust. I get that too.

But if you truly want to repaint your marital canvas to something more pleasing, satisfying, honest and resilient, keeping your spouse on parole indefinitely is not the way to do it.  It takes two. The former cheater has MUCH to do. I’ve written about it at LENGTH here. I’m not asking Betrayed Spouses to immediately extend a “free pass” in the aftermath of an affair, or pretend like nothing has happened. Heck no!!

But if your spouse is TRULY remorseful, making amends to you and is now living a more honest and respectful life, and is committed to reconciling your marriage, you must meet them halfway.  You have to take the risk. You have to extend to them the same respect, forgiveness and trust that you expect them to extend to you in life.

Or get a good lawyer.

It’s pretty simple, really.

Like the song says, “we can’t go on together…with suspicious minds…and we can’t build our dreams…on suspicious minds…”

Elvis was right!


5 thoughts on “Recovery of Trust After an Affair

  1. is it regaining trust or letting go of fear?
    we all had those little niggles prior to the affair, jealousy, insecurity etc… they just seem bigger now.
    imo you either use it to make better connections and improve things, or you hold grudges and dont talk, or fight, and make it worse… essentially going back to what caused the affair to happen in the first place…

    and even if you leave, well, youre going to take those same issues and inability to share or whatever, with you into other relationships, and boom! thats why i decided to take the two years to see, not just how things play out, or what he does, but what i do to be better in a relationship myself.

    im not sure, at the moment, i think trust either leads to or is equivalent to taking for granted. in fact, i think trust itself gets taken for granted. perhaps im talking crap i dont know. trust you 100, trust them… i dont know. just dont let it make you complacent…

    • Letting go of fear is a prerequisite to regaining trust, yes. But I don’t think trust means “complacency”. It’s not the same thing. A relationship is a living, breathing thing that needs to fed and nurtured. Two people should recognize what each other’s most critical emotional needs, and do all they can to meet them, and check in periodically with each other to make sure you’re on the right track. That’s the key to affair-proofing a relationship (most of the time. I agree there are Bill Clinton/Tiger Woods serial type cheaters out there, but they are the minority). Distrust. Accusations. Spying. Needing to verify your partner’s every movement and activity, and interaction with anyone of the opposite sex, is the opposite of trust. It’s ridiculous to say, “I trust him as long as I know everything he’s doing, can get into his email, and make sure he never ever ever talks to another female.” That’s not trust. That’s police-like oversight. Which can breed resentment. And resentment can cause the very thing you fear the most — them cheating, or leaving you, or both. It’s illogical, nonsensical and self-defeating on the part of some that practice this humiliating, punitive measures years after an affair. And then are bewildered why their marriage hasn’t recovered.

      These people don’t have spouses. They have prisoners. Honestly, I don’t know why either of them stays married.

      I’m not saying everyone MUST trust at some point after an affair. Some can’t. Some won’t. Some cheaters don’t do what they need to in order to make a safe environment for their spouses and recover trust. Some people – it’s just not their nature to give trust after such an event. Ok. And I’m not saying that every couple SHOULD be together after an affair. Most end up parting anyways. I’m saying that if you’re going to use the words, “I forgive you and I trust you”, then MEAN then. It’s not lip service. It’s demonstrated through actions. But at SOME point, you need to recognize that it’s “quittin’ time” and cut their losses and move on. THAT is my point. If you can’t trust 4 years after an affair, why on earth are either of you still there? I wouldn’t live that way.

  2. ideally 😛 ill come back in a year or so and see what we have heh. i know i can be trusted. he knows i can be trusted. the rest… well… bit early to say really…

  3. I have some thoughts/comments to add, as a recovering BS (3 months since D-day).

    I agree that spying/snooping is detrimental to rebuilding a loving and intimate relationship, but I would also go a step further and say that once you get past the initial process of getting the relevant facts of the affair out on the table, it’s a good idea to stop poking through your spouse’s personal things, looking for any facts that they haven’t already provided you with – and do it as soon as possible, for your own peace of mind.

    Stephen Covey says “Begin with the end in mind”, a philosophy that I never subscribed to until well into this process of trying to make sense out of something so senseless. I subscribe to it now. I now realize that while I had to resort to spying on my husband to get to the truth of what he was doing, spying is really of no further use to me in the process of healing, forgiving him, and getting on with our lives – MY life – in a constructive way, as nothing that I find or don’t find is going to make me feel any better long term. I do believe that the truth is of the utmost importance, but unless it is freely given from the heart & mouth of the person you are seeking to forgive, it is of no use to you in nurturing trust. You simply cannot trust someone you have to spy on in order to reassure yourself that they mean what they say. The longer you do it, the longer it will take you to begin trusting them, because let’s face it, we all know that if there’s something you want to hide all that badly, you’ll find a way to do it, even if it only works for a little while.

    I say don’t wait for your spouse to heal you. First find ways to heal yourself. Think long and hard about the questions you most want to ask about the affair, get as much of the truth as you are able out in the open and deal with it, and then (if you are going to try to rebuild your relationship) begin with the end in mind. I want a loving, secure, mutually nurturing partnership with my husband, that will last a lifetime. In other words, not what we had before. We can’t have that if either one of us feels like we are under constant surveillance, and the threat of “being caught” doing something that makes the other unhappy is of greater concern than simply treating the other the way they wish to be treated. One is subordination, the other is cooperation. I mean to do the things I need to do to be a good, trusting and trustworthy partner, and if my partner (and perhaps, subsequently my marriage) fails, I will still emerge a stronger person than I would be if I tried and failed to control things I can’t control (his behavior), and our marriage fails anyway. I believe that trying to control him & our relationship for the last 22 years is greatly responsible for our marriage being in the state it was in when he began the affair, so it only makes sense to me that this is not the way to turn things around for us and keep us from repeating past mistakes.

    The one thing I would add to this however, is that even though we were headed for trouble anyway, that doesn’t justify what he did. It was a shabby & infinitely selfish act, which has left me shocked and devastated, caused him a great deal of pain and embarrassment, and I am sure has caused his former AP a great deal of pain as well (although I do confess to having little concern for her pain). Nothing excuses what he did, and he knows that. He wants to try to make amends to me, but he also wants to move forward in a constructive direction, and have a happy marriage with me. I don’t think he’s wrong to want that. And it doesn’t mean that I have to get over the pain & distrust he has caused in me any faster than I am comfortable with. I can and will feel it, even express it to him, as often as I need to until I feel better. But, for me, I think it’s best to do that in ways that feel constructive to me and my ultimate goal of being happily married.
    I never wanted to be a prison guard; that’s not what I signed on for. I want to be an honored and cherished mate, and because I made the choice to stay with him & work things out, the most helpful & positive thing I can think of to do is to serve that choice, and to treat him (and myself) like that’s exactly what we are – honored and cherished. If he ultimately fails in his part, then, I will know that I truly did my best and it just didn’t work out. When I opted to stay with him, I made the conscious decision that he was worth the effort. That we were worth it. I think if you feel like you need to resort to covert means of ascertaining your spouse’s commitment to saving your marriage, that means you can’t feel it, and it’s time to stop the bus, re-check the map, and decide if you can turn it in the right direction, or if this is where you need to get off. Just MHO…

    p.s. will let you know if this DOES work out – lol.

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