Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post written by my friend Jay Pyatt, who mentors men struggling with various addictions, including sexual ones which have resulted in relationship betrayal. Jay has a proven track record of helping men conquer inner demons, reconnect with their spouses, and restore broken trust at home. How does he know what to do? Because he’s been there. He fought back and won. And you can, too.
I’ll be honest with you: I lied to my wife almost every night for four straight years.
I did a quick estimate and figure I lied about a thousand times to her face in those four years.
I know how to destroy trust in a relationship. Thankfully, I learned how to rebuild trust, too.
It wasn’t easy.
It wasn’t even difficult.
It was the single hardest, awful-est, and most challenging thing I’ve ever done—and I have jumped out of airplanes.
But, I did it. And here is the really important thing: Rebuilding trust is worth it.
- You heal the person you betrayed.
- You can look yourself in the mirror again, knowing you are an upstanding person.
- Your relationship will be stronger and more satisfying to both of you.
What I lied about doesn’t matter—at least not as much as the impact of the lies and the other behavior around the lies. (If you are interested in the whole story, you can read it here.)
Relationships are built on a foundation of trust, and when I undermined the foundation a thousand times, I didn’t expect the relationship to survive.
Yet, my relationship survived.
My wife and I did all of the normal things couples do during times like this. We went to counseling, we read more books, and we talked about it. And got nowhere.
Not because those things aren’t helpful or important, but because of my attitude and my skill set. Specifically, my attitude hovered around the “is this really worth it?” idea, and I possessed no skill set for rebuilding trust.
Additionally, I thought just not lying would fix things.
My thinking was: If I quit lying, everything will be okay. I just have to be honest when she asks me questions. She should trust me again in two or three weeks.
This didn’t work.
Not lying is really hard to distinguish from lying when there isn’t a way to verify what the heck is going on. My wife still didn’t feel safe and certainly didn’t trust me. Simply not lying isn’t enough to get the relationship turned around.
I had to get radical in my honesty. I had to put more energy into the relationship than I had previously. I had to grow.
I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Again, rebuilding trust challenged me more than anything I have ever done.
Can You Rebuild Trust?
My very firm answer on this is: Maybe.
Not everyone chooses the relationship over their own comfort. Not everyone wants to humble themselves in front of the person they betrayed.
Sometimes the cost to the betrayed person exceeds the time needed to rebuild.
However, I rebuilt trust. So it can be done. And now, I actually help other guys fighting those same battles, and many have rebuilt trust in their marriages.
There is hope if you are willing to do the work.
Are you willing to do it? Because if you aren’t, tell the other person right now. Rip off the bandage and tell them you don’t want the relationship any longer. Walk out the front door.
Okay, if you are still with me, then there is a chance for you to rebuild trust in a relationship wrecked with lies, deception, or sneakiness.
7 Steps to Rebuilding Trust in Your Relationship
To rebuild trust, I needed to take a different approach than I had in the past. What got me where I was wouldn’t get me where I wanted to be.
I needed to “grow up.”
I lived from an immature place, or maybe an uneducated one.
Growth is painful—ask anyone trying to get into shape. Using new muscles and developing new habits takes effort and focus, and a degree of suffering.
But simply telling you to “grow up” isn’t terribly helpful and probably feels a little insulting. I’m okay with the insulting part. If you need to rebuild trust, then you didn’t get here through honorable behavior.
Anyway, I am about to break it down into six things you can do to begin rebuilding trust. Plus, a bonus option you need to consider seriously.
All of these steps are written with the assumption you betrayed your spouse or significant other. If it was someone else, you may be able to adapt the steps to fit your situation.
Step 1: Consistency
To rebuild trust, I had to be consistent.
Anything I committed to do, I had to see it through. My wife lived in fear of the uncertain ground I created by lying. When I would start something only to fall quickly back into past behavior, this just reminded her of how little she could count on me.
So, if you start something, stick to it. “Every Damn Day” as I read on a Nike shirt.
There are some pitfalls to consistency, but you must stay consistent or the person you betrayed will see this as playing with their trust (or heart).
Stay consistent, or you waste your efforts.
Step 2: Proactivity
I’ll be honest; this word pissed me off for a long time. Both my therapist and my wife kept telling me to “be proactive.”
I didn’t get it. I think I know what the word means, but not what it means, mechanically. What am I supposed to do proactively?
The answer is: Take action on your own initiative.
Step 3: Meeting Needs
The person you broke trust with has specific needs. Find out what they are.
Now, go back to step two, and start meeting these needs proactively.
Don’t wait for the person you betrayed to tell you what they need. Go ask them.
Once they tell you what they need, go do it.
This is the growth process I mentioned earlier. You will have to set aside your own needs to meet the needs of the other person. Considering some possible alternatives, this is a small price to pay.
Step 4: Openness
Openness and honesty are two sides of the same coin.
Honesty means if I ask you a question, you tell me the truth. Openness means you tell me the truth without me having to ask the ‘right’ question, especially in areas where trust has been broken.
Rebuilding trust requires a new level of communication with the person whom you betrayed.
You must talk to them about what you are doing, plain and simple. Open and direct.
I am not saying, “Hey, this is a good idea!”
I am telling you: Openness is a requirement.
If you aren’t willing to give the other person this much access to your life, you may never rebuild trust.
Giving full access to the person you betrayed will help them see your commitment to do whatever it takes to make things right.
So, if you betrayed them through money, give them access to the bank accounts. If you cheated in the relationship, give them the passwords to your phone, computer, social media, and anything else you can think of so they can determine and verify what you are up to.
Step 5: Vulnerability
When it comes to the scariest words in the English language, vulnerability is probably near the top—at least it was for me.
Vulnerability is the very reason I lied to my wife. The truth makes me vulnerable to her judgment, rejection, or anger; all of which were justified from my behavior.
I tell the guys I work with: “The relationship you want with your wife will be purchased through your vulnerability.”
I really think of vulnerability as taking off the armor that I used to protect myself.
For me, that was my anger when she would ask uncomfortable questions. When she did—Boom!—I got angry.
This is an effective way of telling another person to shut up. Effective, but not helpful or healthy. Anger is one way to stop the conversation. Or you might run away or shut down.
The other person really needs you to listen even though it feels awful to discuss the topic they brought up.
They also need you to connect with the emotions of what they’re going through. They need you to know how bad it feels for them. This is difficult because it requires us to double-down on how rotten it feels to hear how our unhealthy behavior impacts someone close to us.
Step 6: Ownership
Take responsibility for your actions and the impact those actions had on the other person.
Then keep taking responsibility for those actions, especially when it feels uncomfortable.
I say that because I am a minimizer. I nearly ended my marriage trying to salvage my image with the very person I lied to.
So when she would say, “Remember those times you lied about using porn at work?”, I would respond with something like, “I didn’t say that, I said I only looked at YouTube videos at work.” And then she would say, “That is not what you said…” and the breakdown would continue until I finally confessed or re-owned my actions.
This type of behavior makes people crazy.
Bonus – Step 7: Blind Spots
Believe it or not, I am not clear on all of my behaviors and how they impact the person I betrayed.
This means I have blind spots—areas of my personality that I’m completely unaware of and need help to see.
Ask the person you betrayed for help with this. This requires humility (or acknowledging that I don’t know everything) and a willingness to learn.
Once you discover these blind spots, start working on them, or at the very least, own them. Because these could be the very things holding you back in the relationship.
Give Them Time
These are the basics, and they’ll require practice. While you are doing this, the other person will need time to heal and decide whether they believe it’s worth it to stay.
I lied for four years in the last go-round; so I shouldn’t be shocked it took almost four years to fix things. Although I drug my feet on these topics and made them much more difficult than they needed to be.
My work with men trying to rebuild trust in their relationship shortened the recovery time to somewhere between four and 18 months, depending on the breakdown.
So, if you feel stuck and don’t know what to do next, you might want to contact me for assistance.
Also, if you sign up on my mailing list, I will let you know when our upcoming video series on this topic goes live.
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About the Author
Jay Pyatt is a certified BraveHearts Mentor and founder of Porn Is Killing Me where he mentors men through weekly video or phone meetings. The meetings help them to establish healthy disciplines and work through a proven curriculum guiding them to a path of long-term freedom.