Sorry’s Not Good Enough: How To Repair Trust in a Relationship

Sorry’s Not Good Enough: How To Repair Trust in a Relationship

How to Repair Trust in a Relationship

If you’re here, you’re likely asking how can I repair trust in my relationship? Trust: It’s the glue of secure attachment that holds a marriage together. If it’s broken, everything changes. So, how do you repair trust in your relationship once it’s been damaged?

As an experienced couples counselor and affair recovery therapist, I know that if you’ve been through an experience that has seriously harmed your trust, like infidelity or lying… “sorry” just isn’t good enough. Dismissing fears as being “in the past” only makes it worse. Rushing back into trust or demanding to be trusted again only creates more conflict. What do you do when trust is broken in a relationship? How do you repair trust in your relationship?

Trust, Attachment, and Emotional Safety

To understand how to repair trust in a relationship, you have to understand attachment. When you are attached to someone (like your partner) and you’re betrayed by that person, the trauma is profound. This trauma is harmful to you on an emotional and physiological level, and it completely changes the emotional climate of your relationship.

In relationships where one partner has been betrayed, the emotional safety is shattered. Until the couple goes through a repair process, the person who is reeling from betrayal will be on-edge, anxious that they will be hurt again. This anxiety is being produced in a part of the brain that words can’t touch. It literally does not matter how many times you say you’re sorry, or how badly the hurt partner wants to just “get over it.” The trauma and the fear is still very real, and it’s not going anywhere until trust is repaired.

Unfortunately, most couples aren’t sure how to do that.

We can also damage the trust in our relationships in more subtle ways that are harder to detect, but that add up over time. For example, if you chronically invalidate your partner’s feelings by telling them they’re being dramatic, or that they shouldn’t feel the way that they feel, they will stop trusting you with their feelings over time. If you become so reactive in moments of conflict that your partner doesn’t feel safe engaging with you, then that damages their trust that they can be authentic with you about their true thoughts and feelings.

Eventually, couples in these situations start to feel disconnected, or like they’re just roommates going through the motions of a marriage. They may believe that they’ve spontaneously fallen out of love, not even realizing that the problem started long ago with a series of little moments that damaged trust.

When Trust Is Broken in a Relationship

In the aftermath of a major breech of trust, it’s common to argue and blame. Even if you both desperately want to let go of the past and make the relationship work, you may both be doing things that make it nearly impossible to repair trust in the relationship, like minimizing the damage, getting defensive, or assuming that the person who’s been wronged should “get over it.”

All of these imply that there may be a genuine lack of awareness about how trust is repaired. What you don’t understand, you can’t fix.

How to Fix a Relationship After Trust is Broken

How do you repair trust in your relationship? That’s the question we’re tackling today on the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

Listen, and you’ll learn what trust really is, and genuinely understand the process of healing. 

You’ll also learn the worst mistake you can make if you’re trying to repair the trust in your marriage. I’ll also teach you the five action-steps you must take to mend trust for real.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Sorry’s Not Good Enough: How To Repair Trust in a Relationship

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25 Comments

  1. Your voice is so calm and easy to listen to and this podcast was very informative. Thank you for making this information available for everyone to access!

  2. Thank you for this. It validated all my feelings and thoughts about my relationship. One question in particular, you said trust broken in a big event can take years to repair, I’m curious about the situation of years of emotional trauma in terms of healing time. I’m the person who has had the wine glass stomped on.

    Thank you
    S

    1. Sarah, this is a great question. Honestly, when trust has been shattered (and then stomped on, and then the pieces thrown out the window) trust may never be fully repaired. The hope that you can go back to not having any doubt at all may not be a realistic one, when you’re with someone who has demonstrated that they are capable of immense betrayal. In these cases, for a relationship to continue and be healthy, it is important for both partners to come to terms with what that means and have a sustainable, long-term plan to cope with it.

      For example, your partner may need to know that you will actually *never* be quite the same after what you’ve lived through, and that from now on he has to work extra hard to help you manage the anxiety that you will feel in certain situations, consistently and with love. On your side, you may need to grapple with what it means to you to be partnered with a person who may never feel completely safe for you, and work towards acceptance of that, if your intention is to remain married.

      Emotional trauma can be healed and trust can be repaired, but there will always be scars and flare ups. That does not have to be a major problem, as long as both of you understand that, and expect it, and have a plan to navigate those moments together when they do.

      On that note: Have you listened to the podcast “Recovering From Infidelity?” Whether or not the betrayal you experienced was related to infidelity, this episode goes deeper into the trust repair process. I hope it’s helpful to you.

      I will also say that it will be E X T R E M E L Y important for you to establish a relationship with a marriage and family therapist who practices a specific, evidence-based form of couples therapy called “Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.” This is a type of marriage counseling / couples therapy that involves helping couples understand and respond to each other on emotional level, particularly around these types of feelings.

      If you’re not already involved in this type of work, with a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes couples therapy, I hope that you consider it. I think it could really help you.

      This is a hard road, but there IS a path forward. Wishing you all the best… Dr. Lisa

      1. This all makes so much sense. My partner grew tired of providing patience for me to heal. He didn’t have the knowledge to do the things in step four. Very little validation, empathy is nonexistent. He replied with negative comments, wanting me to just get over it and saw me needing validation as a form of control. He didn’t see what he was doing to me by wanting me to “just get over it and move forward” like he did. I can not make him see what he doesn’t want to see and at this point he doesn’t want to hear it anymore because it’s always about me and how I feel. I am left having to now repair myself and our relationship, it has been six years after his wrong doings and he said he wanted a divorce because I was not improving. Now I am doing a 180 and giving him whatever he needs to feel loved because I apparently treated him poorly while he was trying to be patient and allow me to “get over” his affair.

        1. Oh Krista, I’m so, so sorry to hear this. I’ve honestly heard similar stories from some of the individual therapy and life coaching clients I’ve had who are struggling in the aftermath of an affair, and with a partner who cannot or will not work them and respond with empathy to their legitimate hurt and anger. It’s exactly as you say: It feels like you need to suck it up and figure out how to be okay, in the context of a relationship where you are not getting what you need from your partner to be able to heal.

          100% of the people I’ve ever worked with who have had their partner cheat feel angry, and need their partner to show them that they are safe before they can start to feel safe. You are doing nothing wrong by needing those things! At the same time, you’re right — a partner who has strayed can sometimes have limited capacity to handle this unless they get support in letting it in. (They’re often so flooded by shame and anxiety, honestly, they can’t even deal with it unless they have the help of a good marriage counselor or relationship coach).

          Have you guys tried effective, evidence based marriage counseling to address this previously? Was it a real-deal expert marriage counselor competent in emotionally focused couples therapy and experienced in helping heal after an affair? I ask this because most practitioners of couples counseling are well-meaning but have almost zero formal training in it and can sometimes make things worse instead of better, due to their lack of understanding. (Check out “How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor” for more information / ranting on this topic).

          Anyway, Krista, I think those are probably your choices: Suck it up and figure out how to be okay in this situation (when you are absolutely not okay and not getting what you need to be okay), try to get involved with really good, high quality marriage counseling with a couples therapist trained in EFCT and see if you can change this situation, or lastly, figure out if it’s time to call it quits and move on. [Yes, I have a podcast about that last one too, if you’re interested.]

          I am sorry that you’re going through this Krista, and I sincerely hope that the outcome of this is growth and healing for YOU — one way or another.

          xoxo, Dr. Lisa

  3. I usually don’t do this but this is a time of many first timers, I guess.
    I discovered this few days ago and already listened to 3 episodes of your wonderful podcast (married with a crush, recovering from infidelity and this one), and I must say – this is so helpful, so reassuring and calming in the period of the biggest uncertainty of my life.
    You have the way of saying things with such confidence (“believe me, I’ve seen a million cases”) and in the same time without being pushy or preaching, this combination is exactly what I am needing these days.

    Discovered a couple of months ago that my wife had an affair, I can still feel the punch in the stomach. Fortunately, my wife loves me and naturally doing many of the stuff that you mention here right, other stuff is more difficult but we will work on. There is also a unique pathology (an aspect that you obviously don’t talk about since every case is different) and circumstances that complicates stuff further. Anyway I asked her to listen to this pod also, I am sure it will help her too.

    We are going to couples counselling almost from the beginning, the process is slow, sometimes painful and can be even frustrating, but I think we are on the right path. Your words and advices are like a “next episodes trailer” for me, like the true north that we want so much to get to, but know it will take time and hurt. I actually sent the married with a crush to our marriage counselor, hope she hears it too.

    So I just wanted to thank you, it is really helpful, and for people that are in real grief and agony that is not much talked about and is even a material for stupid romantic dramas and comedies, whereas it has characteristics similar to when losing someone.

    So thank you Dr. Lisa

    1. Oh my goodness, Liran, thank you for this sincere and heartfelt note. I sometimes feel like I’m throwing bottles with messages into the ocean, hoping that they’re received by someone, somewhere, and it makes my day to know that my efforts have been helpful to you as you mend your bond. It sounds like you two are doing deep and difficult work right now, but that you’re on a good path. I hope that you continue to find ideas and resources that support you in your continued efforts. Thank you again for reaching out and I wish you both all the very best on your journey of growth and healing. With gratitude, Lisa

  4. Your voice is so calm and easy to listen to and this podcast was very informative. Thank you for making this information available for everyone to access!

  5. Thank you for this. It validated all my feelings and thoughts about my relationship. One question in particular, you said trust broken in a big event can take years to repair, I’m curious about the situation of years of emotional trauma in terms of healing time. I’m the person who has had the wine glass stomped on.

    Thank you
    S

  6. Sarah, this is a great question. Honestly, when trust has been shattered (and then stomped on, and then the pieces thrown out the window) trust may never be fully repaired. The hope that you can go back to not having any doubt at all may not be a realistic one, when you’re with someone who has demonstrated that they are capable of immense betrayal. In these cases, for a relationship to continue and be healthy, it is important for both partners to come to terms with what that means and have a sustainable, long-term plan to cope with it.

    For example, your partner may need to know that you will actually *never* be quite the same after what you’ve lived through, and that from now on he has to work extra hard to help you manage the anxiety that you will feel in certain situations, consistently and with love. On your side, you may need to grapple with what it means to you to be partnered with a person who may never feel completely safe for you, and work towards acceptance of that, if your intention is to remain married.

    Emotional trauma can be healed and trust can be repaired, but there will always be scars and flare ups. That does not have to be a major problem, as long as both of you understand that, and expect it, and have a plan to navigate those moments together when they do.

    On that note: Have you listened to the podcast “Recovering From Infidelity?” Whether or not the betrayal you experienced was related to infidelity, this episode goes deeper into the trust repair process. I hope it’s helpful to you.

    I will also say that it will be E X T R E M E L Y important for you to establish a relationship with a marriage and family therapist who practices a specific, evidence-based form of couples therapy called “Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.” This is a type of marriage counseling / couples therapy that involves helping couples understand and respond to each other on emotional level, particularly around these types of feelings.

    If you’re not already involved in this type of work, with a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes couples therapy, I hope that you consider it. I think it could really help you.

    This is a hard road, but there IS a path forward. Wishing you all the best… Dr. Lisa

  7. This all makes so much sense. My partner grew tired of providing patience for me to heal. He didn’t have the knowledge to do the things in step four. Very little validation, empathy is nonexistent. He replied with negative comments, wanting me to just get over it and saw me needing validation as a form of control. He didn’t see what he was doing to me by wanting me to “just get over it and move forward” like he did. I can not make him see what he doesn’t want to see and at this point he doesn’t want to hear it anymore because it’s always about me and how I feel. I am left having to now repair myself and our relationship, it has been six years after his wrong doings and he said he wanted a divorce because I was not improving. Now I am doing a 180 and giving him whatever he needs to feel loved because I apparently treated him poorly while he was trying to be patient and allow me to “get over” his affair.

  8. Oh Krista, I’m so, so sorry to hear this. I’ve honestly heard similar stories from some of the individual therapy and life coaching clients I’ve had who are struggling in the aftermath of an affair, and with a partner who cannot or will not work them and respond with empathy to their legitimate hurt and anger. It’s exactly as you say: It feels like you need to suck it up and figure out how to be okay, in the context of a relationship where you are not getting what you need from your partner to be able to heal.

    100% of the people I’ve ever worked with who have had their partner cheat feel angry, and need their partner to show them that they are safe before they can start to feel safe. You are doing nothing wrong by needing those things! At the same time, you’re right — a partner who has strayed can sometimes have limited capacity to handle this unless they get support in letting it in. (They’re often so flooded by shame and anxiety, honestly, they can’t even deal with it unless they have the help of a good marriage counselor or relationship coach).

    Have you guys tried effective, evidence based marriage counseling to address this previously? Was it a real-deal expert marriage counselor competent in emotionally focused couples therapy and experienced in helping heal after an affair? I ask this because most practitioners of couples counseling are well-meaning but have almost zero formal training in it and can sometimes make things worse instead of better, due to their lack of understanding. (Check out “How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor” for more information / ranting on this topic).

    Anyway, Krista, I think those are probably your choices: Suck it up and figure out how to be okay in this situation (when you are absolutely not okay and not getting what you need to be okay), try to get involved with really good, high quality marriage counseling with a couples therapist trained in EFCT and see if you can change this situation, or lastly, figure out if it’s time to call it quits and move on. [Yes, I have a podcast about that last one too, if you’re interested.]

    I am sorry that you’re going through this Krista, and I sincerely hope that the outcome of this is growth and healing for YOU — one way or another.

    xoxo, Dr. Lisa

  9. I usually don’t do this but this is a time of many first timers, I guess.
    I discovered this few days ago and already listened to 3 episodes of your wonderful podcast (married with a crush, recovering from infidelity and this one), and I must say – this is so helpful, so reassuring and calming in the period of the biggest uncertainty of my life.
    You have the way of saying things with such confidence (“believe me, I’ve seen a million cases”) and in the same time without being pushy or preaching, this combination is exactly what I am needing these days.

    Discovered a couple of months ago that my wife had an affair, I can still feel the punch in the stomach. Fortunately, my wife loves me and naturally doing many of the stuff that you mention here right, other stuff is more difficult but we will work on. There is also a unique pathology (an aspect that you obviously don’t talk about since every case is different) and circumstances that complicates stuff further. Anyway I asked her to listen to this pod also, I am sure it will help her too.

    We are going to couples counselling almost from the beginning, the process is slow, sometimes painful and can be even frustrating, but I think we are on the right path. Your words and advices are like a “next episodes trailer” for me, like the true north that we want so much to get to, but know it will take time and hurt. I actually sent the married with a crush to our marriage counselor, hope she hears it too.

    So I just wanted to thank you, it is really helpful, and for people that are in real grief and agony that is not much talked about and is even a material for stupid romantic dramas and comedies, whereas it has characteristics similar to when losing someone.

    So thank you Dr. Lisa

  10. Oh my goodness, Liran, thank you for this sincere and heartfelt note. I sometimes feel like I’m throwing bottles with messages into the ocean, hoping that they’re received by someone, somewhere, and it makes my day to know that my efforts have been helpful to you as you mend your bond. It sounds like you two are doing deep and difficult work right now, but that you’re on a good path. I hope that you continue to find ideas and resources that support you in your continued efforts. Thank you again for reaching out and I wish you both all the very best on your journey of growth and healing. With gratitude, Lisa

  11. Dear Dr. Lisa,

    I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to this particular podcast, but in some ways, it has become an essential source of calm, peace, and reconnection with self for me. Like a vinyasa yoga flow for my weary soul.

    The first time I listened to this podcast, it saved me from the deep pool of hurt that follows reading countless internet postings designed to fill readers with relational doom and despair at the diagnosis of toxicity. Seeking answers was dangerous when I felt alone, even though the man I love most is here every day with me. Finally! An answer to how I’m feeling in a communicable form that I could share with my partner so I didn’t have to feel like I was swallowing a cotton ball while reciting alliterative tongue twisters in an attempt to express myself. In the height of my high of enlightenment I was feeling, I overwhelmed my guy with this podcast, and couldn’t convince him to listen to it despite how fitting it was for what we had going on.

    That hurt – but I wasn’t discouraged. Couple’s counseling is out there, waiting for people like us who have fallen into a pattern of stonewalling, push, pull, give, take. Well, it’s out there for couples that have two parties willing to go. So what happens when you are incapable of giving up on the love you have?

    I needed an expert. Someone like John Gottman to educate us in a digital workshop about the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse; stonewalling, contempt, criticism, defensiveness. An expert to call on to start the work of rebuilding our broken relationship. The elation I felt when he agreed to watch the first disc with me was broken quickly by having the book tossed at me before we made it halfway through, with only the words “FUCK THIS” as an explanation.

    It’s hard to admit to some of the pain I know that I’ve caused him, and I know I don’t make it easy on him. I have damaged trust in him, in small transgressions over time. Trust feels so broken to me, that it takes work for me to believe him if he tells me he loves me. But now, when I listen to your podcast I don’t do it purely because I believe that things are going to work out between me and him. By learning how to be the most trustworthy, emotionally intelligent person I can get myself to be – like those women that work out and become super hot in the midst of having a relationship wreck, only I’m working out my soul – I don’t have to participate in destructive spirals when they’re happening. It feels good to meet hostility with an attempt to understand, love, and cherish. Sometimes it’s easier said than done to seek a way to bring us to a positive place. Some days I feel like giving up.

    The reason why I’m here today is a bit different from the usual. I stonewalled him. I know I did it. I shut down hard. There are some things that hurt too much to respond to. I felt like I had been shot, and the more words that hit me, the harder it was to break free. I felt dark, alone, battered. This is a heavy burden on you, but this podcast helped release me from my gridlock, my cage of paralysis.

    Thank you. These messages in a bottle that you have tossed out to the internet are a beacon of hope while I’m lost at sea.

  12. There’s a lot of information out there about what to do if someone has betrayed you and you no longer trust them, but what if you’re the one who is betraying someone’s trust and sorry isn’t enough. When I grew up, we didn’t repair… we stuffed it down and moved on. I don’t know that my parents ever apologized to me or each other about anything. It may seem crazy, but I don’t know what to DO after hurting my partner. I apologize and then move on. He wants me to make amends (“do something”), but I’m telling you I have not the slightest clue how to do that. It was never done for me and never, ever modeled for me. And by betraying trust I mean it has been years of unintentional hurts – invalidating his feelings, not being reliable, not being accountable for my mistakes. Little by little those things make me not a safe partner to be vulnerable with.. and I’m just now realizing it. Do you have any advice or guidance for those of us who have hurt someone deeply while hiding behind good intentions? If I invalidate him by not being present (so many distractions), how to I make that up? “Just do better” isn’t working.

  13. Thank you so much for this episode. i recently caught my partner on a big lie that she’d been keeping from me that broke my trust and hurt me deeply. I’ve been trying to regain trust in her but my ‘protectors’ in my head keep me from doing so. it’s only been a month but it strains our relationship. Whenever I talk to her about how I feel hurt and I need transparancy, she starts crying because she feels guilty and bad for doing it. Which I guess is her taking accountability but I need more transparancy from her and I don’t know how to ask for it more. We really want our relationship to work and go back to her being my best friend bur I can’t pretend like nothing happened. I keep wanting to know every detail and the how and when’s, fully knowing that this is not gonna change anything. This podcast made me feel so validated for being so thrown off by what happened and I’m hoping that I can fix our relationship again.

  14. Hi, thank you so much for sharing. I’m very happy to hear you found it validating. Everything you’re experiencing is an expected part of recovering from infidelity. Have you read our post, “Infidelity Recovery Stages” or listened to “Recovering from Infidelity?” Healing from this is possible, and much more productive with the help of a trained couples counselor with experience in infidelity recovery. My warmest regards, Dr. Lisa

  15. Jenny, what an incredible first step you’ve taken, recognizing your patterns and owning them courageously, honestly! That is such a huge step, and an important catalyst for growth and relationship repair. The behaviors you describe often stem from deep, early life experiences (as you mentioned) and therefore take doing inner growth work to ultimately shift. Working with a therapist can help you do this, as well as show your partner your commitment to change. In the meantime, it sounds like you have a good list of what you need to do differently: be present (mindfulness), be accountable, validate his feelings, and be reliable. Try to notice little daily opportunities to begin cultivating these skills and rebuilding trust. I recommend any of John Gottman’s or Sue Johnsons books, as well, for help with some of these. And meeting with a couple’s counselor may help him get a little more specific about just what exactly he needs to see to trust you. I hope this is helpful. xoxo, Dr. Lisa

  16. Amber, thank you so much for sharing with me, and with all of us here, a little bit about your journey. I’m sure many can relate to some of the feelings you describe, from hope to despair, and the relationship dynamics, too. It means so much to hear the podcast has been helpful for you! That’s why I do it. And I hope you continue to share it despite your partner’s reaction, with others whom you think could use some hope, too. xoxo, Dr. Lisa

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