Rebuilding trust in a relationship is a difficult task. Trust is about safety with another person — both emotional and physical. When one partner stops trusting another, it’s a problem that needs to be dealt with immediately. Sure, groveling can help and flowers might be a step in the right direction. But regaining trust requires much more.
Whether the erosion happens because of a bunch of small mishaps (say, deciding to ignore an established parenting rule one too many times; staying out too late with those friends again and again) or a large mistake (lying about a secret credit card or, gulp, an affair), rebuilding trust in a relationship is nuanced and requires thoughtful actions and quite a bit of patience. These are some steps you can take to earn back your partner’s trust.
1. Own Up to It
To rebuild trust in a marriage, you have to accept responsibility, apologize, and own it. Crucially, this means never, ever try to justify it or offer any kind of explanation or excuses.
“Although all choices are made in the context of what is happening for you, that won’t help you when you’re asking for forgiveness,” says Anna Osborn, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist. “Offering any sort of justification for your actions or minimizing them (i.e. ‘At least I didn’t do X’) will only make your spouse shut down and feel doubly hurt.”
2. Be Honest
When you’ve made a big mistake in a relationship or marriage, it sometimes feels convenient to not tell the whole story. The thinking is that you’ll minimize the damage by omitting certain details or altering the truth just enough to spare yourself more fallout (i.e. “It was only one time!”). But, per Osborn, lying never restores trust in a relationship.
“Don’t be tempted into this trap,” she says. “Telling the whole story will serve you better in the long run and your marriage can actually begin to heal. If you hold back certain details and they come out later, you’re risking more than you realize.”
3. Keep Your Promises
If you say that you’re going to change your behavior, then you’d better make damn sure that you’re going to change. Be precise in your promises and present a timeline if need be. Be aware of the weight they carry: Those left empty or unfulfilled will only exacerbate the situation and further convince your spouse that you can’t be trusted.
“Follow through with the things you say you will do,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Mindy Beth Lipson. “Otherwise, it is just words and means nothing and breaks more trust.”
4. Focus on Consistency
As you’re rebuilding trust in your relationship, keep your words and actions consistent. Your spouse’s image of you has been shaken and they’re looking for stability wherever they can. Doing what you say you’re going to do as it relates to both big things and small will go a long way to proving to your spouse that you’re serious about changing.
“Consistency demonstrates to your spouse that they have reasons to trust you again and also allows you to appear safe to them again,” says Osborn. “Don’t discount the power of consistency when it comes to rebuilding trust.”
5. Accept That Earning Back Trust in Relationships Take Time
It’s no fun having an angry spouse under the same roof. But there are times when an apology isn’t enough to turn things around right away. When trust is broken, it can be a long and lengthy repair process to rebuild it. If you’re committed to it, then you have to be in it for the long haul.
“Realize that if you are wanting someone to forgive you on your timetable or on your terms you are being very selfish,” Lipson says. “And you need to work on that fact as well as learn to sit with your own painful shame and not let it destroy yourself and those you love.”
6. Understand That Things Might Never Be the Same
Rebuilding trust in a relationship is hard. Very hard. It can be a difficult hurdle to overcome and, even if you both get back to a good place, it might not be perfect. Your partner might not forgive you entirely, and if they do, they won’t forget. If you truly want to stay, accept it, accept your role in it, and try to find a way in this new normal that leads to you both being the best possible version of yourselves for each other.
“Do your best, but don’t expect the outcome you want,” Lipson says. “Be respectful and go into the process of repair with an open heart and mind, and an awareness of all outcomes being in the highest good for both parties.
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