Loss of trust in a love relationship can come about as a result of infidelity, a partner lying about money, one partner failing to be a loyal ally when needed, and many other ways. Regardless of the cause, when couples are faced with the dilemma of rebuilding trust after a betrayal, there are four strategies that can help. We call these CORE strategies. CORE is an acronym for Communication, Opportunity, Renegotiation, and Empathy.
Let’s say your partner cheated on you. You are stunned by the awareness of his or her actions. You feel lost (Should you stay or go?), alone (The person you sought comfort and support from is now the very person who is causing your pain), ashamed (What are people going to think of you?), and may even question your role in it (Did you help cause it?).
Don’t make any decision too precipitously. You are overwhelmed by very powerful feelings that push you in opposite directions from one moment to the next. It’s difficult to take a step back and put things into perspective at this stage. It’s impossible to look at the events and your feelings from a logical, rational point of view, as emotions are distorting your perception of reality right now. Instead, we encourage you to take some time and apply theCOREstrategies we suggest.
Let’s examine them one by one.
Communicate with each other openly and honestly.
A survey conducted by infidelity expert Peggy Vaughan, with 1,083 people whose spouses had affairs, found that the more couples talk about the events of the affair and their feelings about it, the more likely they were to maintain and rebuild their marriage, recover from the damages caused by the affair, and heal.
The betrayed partner has a need to know what happened. The betrayer, on the other hand, while possibly wanting to “move on” and not revisit events likely to bring up uncomfortable emotions, has an obligation to be responsive to the partner’s needs.
The betrayed person should be free to ask all the questions he or she has, and the betrayer should respond in ways that are not defensive but supportive, understanding, and caring. Furthermore, the betrayer should be patient and not pressure the partner to move through this phase faster than required. It takes time to rebuild trust, and it is rebuilt one step at a time.
Opportunities emerge from tragedies.
Nobody creates tragedies in one’s life in order to see opportunities in them. However, tragedies can be the red flags that force couples to pay attention to areas that might have been ignored or glossed over in the past. Making a conscious effort to use this opportunity can improve, strengthen, and deepen relationships, even relationships that have been ruptured by a major betrayal.
Of the couples inVaughan’s survey who chose to stay together and talked a lot about the facts of the betrayal and their emotions about them, 43% said they were “a good bit better than before the affair,” and 59% reported that they were “a lot better.”
Renegotiate the rules and norms of the relationship.
After a betrayal of trust, the relationship will never be the same as in the past, so new rules and norms need to be laid out. Perhaps your old norms were never openly discussed, but just assumed. Now they need to be spelled out clearly, discussed, and agreed upon. This process reduces fear and anxiety about the future and contributes to the creation of common expectations and directions.
So, for example, if the betrayal was about money, the partners may decide that all purchases over $200 have to be mutually agreed upon. They may also decide to go over the books together once a month to discuss shared and individual debts, budgeting, and spending.
Empathy leads to healing.
It is not enough to answer questions and to give time to the other person to heal. Emotional healing occurs when empathy is present. The betrayer needs to feel what the other person is feeling, while acknowledging his or her part in the pain. One’s ability to feel empathy, or to step in your partner’s shoes, naturally leads to feeling remorse and contrition. Contrition, in turn, drives one’s commitment to change those behaviors that caused so much pain.
This process helps to establish new foundations for the relationship based on openness, honesty, and increased empathic knowledge of oneself and each other.
Daniela Roher PhD