Rebuilding Trust After You’ve had an Affair
Question: I have all but destroyed my husband's trust in me as I have lied to him over the last year. I desperately want to regain his trust. Is there anything I can say or propose to him besides saying, "I'm sorry - I won't do it again." to make him open to at least giving me a chance to try to rebuild the trust?"
NOTE! After writing my answer, I contacted a husband who actively supports betrayed spouses and who has personally experienced the pain of his own wife’s affair. I’ve added his comments for further insight. Even though this situation deals with a wife who had an affair, the principles are the same when it is the husband who has been unfaithful.
In this situation your words have become meaningless to your husband. It's good to say, "I'm sorry, I'll never do it again." That's a start, but it is not nearly enough. The betrayed spouse wonders, “Why was it not good enough the first time you promised on our wedding day?” After a broken promise of this magnitude, words mean nothing, actions mean everything. It’s what you do, not what you say, that really counts.
John: It is indeed the actions that truly tell whether the person is really sincere in wanting honesty or just saying it because it seems right. This all has to come from the heart.
Here is the key to rebuilding trust: YOUR PROVEN BEHAVIOR OVER TIME.
1. The first proven behavior is to break all ties with the 3rd party. Have no contact at all with this person. Change jobs if necessary. Let your husband be on the other end of the line when you tell the other person, you never want to hear from or speak to them again, that you are 100% committed to your marriage.
John: And be sure to provide assurance from time to time that you are still avoiding that person like the plague.
2. Do whatever you can to show your husband your love through your actions. Let your husband know that you are 100% committed to this marriage and that you will do whatever it takes, no holds barred, to prove that to him. Ask your husband what he would like, what you can do to win back his trust again, and do anything he identifies.
John: This is important, if you balk or hesitate at anything he asks for your cooperation on, you will send an instant unspoken but very strong message that you are still setting boundaries. Doing so leaves your husband with the question as to what is beyond that boundary. It makes him feel that you still have secret corners in your life that you want to hide from him. At this point, you need to forget about personal "space" or privacy or control. Marriage is not about privacy or secrecy or control. It is about sharing your lives and ministering to each other's needs.
3. Be totally accountable to your husband. Let him read your cell phone bills, credit card bills, call you whenever he wants, read your journals etc. etc. You have to realize part of the consequences to lying is giving up your right to privacy for a time, until trust is restored.
John: Better yet, don't wait for him to ask, be proactive. When the bills come, show them to him, when you read your email, tell him about it and even print any that are important or ask him to log in at anytime or feel free to sit with you. When you write journal entries, read them to him. Without him having to ask, make your life an open book. If you act proactively, he will feel you really DO want to be honest.
4. Be willing to answer any questions at all your husband has about the affair. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO LESSEN THE BLOW BY WITHOLDING INFORMATION. Withholding information will destroy any hope of rebuilding trust. The truth always comes out in time ... and then you have to give an account for lying after you promised not to lie anymore. Very rarely can trust be rebuilt when this is the case.
John: I'd say never because once trust is gone, any additional deceptions set you back. It's like building a wall of security. All the actions we've mentioned put bricks back into a wall that has been torn down. Your honesty and actions are the mortar that binds the bricks. One lie, no matter how small causes the wall to tumble down and you must start all over again. As harsh as it sounds, with your lies you've proven you cannot be trusted. You are at zero on the trustworthy scale and have a lot of work to do to rebuild the trust your husband previously gave you. One slip and it just compounds things.
In my book, My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me, my husband and I describe our own journey of rebuilding trust in our marriage, the actions that built trust and the setbacks we had along the way.
5. Today I trust my husband 100% again. This is a miracle. There was a time when I thought I could never trust again. One of the most significant reasons why I trust my husband is because together we took the time to discover why he had the affair. Then we both made the changes necessary both in ourselves and in our marriage to ensure it doesn't happen again. (He made most of the changes, but I made changes too.) This was the most significant trust-building key. I doubt very seriously I could trust again if we hadn’t together discovered why it happened in the first place and then made the necessary changes.
“If you do the same thing you’ve always done, you’ll get the same thing you’ve always got.”
Just deciding not to have an affair is insufficient. If willpower alone would do the trick, you wouldn't have had an affair in the first place. Discovering the real root causes for why is a journey. It takes time. As first your initial impulse will likely be to blame your husband for the affair. In some marriages there may be loneliness or unmet needs that contributed to vulnerability, and certainly these should be addressed.
But the real reasons lie within your self. You need to take a deep and honest at your inner heart. What really made you vulnerable? Why did you compromise the decision you had made to be exclusively faithful to your husband? When you discover the real root causes and have made the appropriate changes your husband will have a solid reason to trust you again.
6. Last you need to be patient with your husband as he works through the devastating emotions. My husband likened this period to the endurance required to run a marathon.
John: And you will get tired but your husband will notice any flagging of your efforts and he'll begin to doubt you. This is probably the most difficult thing you'll have to do in life and sadly, you have to do it on your own and only you can restore the trust you betrayed.
In time betrayed spouses can heal. Even if your husband says it’s over and he can never trust you again, if you really love him hang in there. Do what he asks of you, but do not give up on your relationship. He will get through the initial trauma and in time be able to see things more clearly. If he genuinely loves you most likely he will reach a point where he desires to restore the marriage.
You may want to consider writing your husband a letter stating your love for him (and specifically why he is special to you), as well as your understanding of how devastating this is to him, and your willingness to do whatever it takes to win back his love and trust.
John: Good idea!
May you be blessed with the miracle of healing after the affair in your marriage.
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