Is It Possible to Rebuild Trust After An Affair?

After discovering that her husband had an affair, Phyllis, like many spouses who’ve been devastated by an affair, told me that she had discovered that her husband , Lanny was having an affair, and that she had just found out for certain about the affair 3 days ago. She told me that five or six weeks ago she had confronted him about it and that he had denied it, On several occasions, he had been dishonest with her about some of the places he had lied to her and given several false reasons why he was so late getting home on some occasions.   She told me that she had eventually gotten to the point where she’d lied so many times that she decided to check their phone records. That’s when she came to really discover that indeed, he’d told her countless lies and “in fact,” she said, “It seems he has gotten quite good at it and deceitful.”  She told me about when and how she discovered the affair 3 months ago.

I inquired about the history of their relationship, and about what it had been like over the nine years they had been married. She talked e discussed some of their ups and downs, the good times and the tough ones, those that had particularly stressed their relationship, and how she would characterize it over especially the past year and past 4-5 months up to the recent days. We talked about when they were first married, and their kids  She needed to talk about it and had no close friends she trusted and she didn’t ‘want to let it out get out to hear them.

As  I listened to her share of her life’s greatest disappointment, she started wiping tears from her eyes…asking Why, Why? Lanny would ever do such a thing? ?  It was obvious and quite understandable she felt utterly devastated.  And the reason she was in my office she said, “I just don’t know whether or not because of Lanny’s infidelity and lies, I don’t know if we can ever put the pieces back together again. And, besides, ” I don’t know if I could ever…ever trust him again,” She said tearfully, “I’ve lost complete trust in him and I can no longer believe that he will ever be honest with me and if I  could ever trust him again. I don’t even know how on earth it would even be possible for us to put the pieces back together again.

Lanny’s betrayal of  Phyllis had caused her such severe trauma, a terrible sense of betrayal, and consequently a total breakdown of her trust in him.  “The trust Phyllis once had in Lanny was gone …completely devastated the very moment she discovered what he had done. Not only that but, as she put it; was there any way that their love or their relationship could be put back together, and if so, could her trust in him ever be regained?”

That’s the biggest question I hear from spouses dealing with an affair: “Will I ever be able to trust my spouse again?”  My answer to Phyllis and my answer to almost every couple who has gone through an affair or (affairs), after my 27 years of working with hundreds of other couples like Phyllis and Bob was, based on my experience that it is very possibly YES,” for spouses to heal. forgive and rebuild trust, but several critical steps must be taken by both of them.  She seemed hesitant, but I assured her that I know it is possible because I’d worked with hundreds of couples and seen it happen in no less than  1800 marriages during my 27 years as a marriage counselor. I’ve worked with couples where trust had been destroyed but who eventually through lots of hard work, called me years later and told me that they had come to a more honest, transparent relationship than they ever had before. Many have told me, “we have reached another level of trust that is stronger, more transparent, and loving than we ever had before.

With determination and hard work, it is doable, but only if both spouses are willing to work at it. Phyllis’s reply to me after I initially discussed this with her was not unusual; But how she asked, where would we even start? ? Things just can’t be the same as they were before, can they?  My answer to that question was the same as I have come to tell many, many others; “You both must want the marriage to work after the infidelity has occurred, and you must be willing to do it with God’s help, the difficult things required.

Understanding Trust?

The next question couples want to know is “How do we go about rebuilding trust after an affair?” To rebuild the trust we need to understand just what trust is. Webster’s dictionary defines trust: as to believe that someone or something is reliable, honest, trustworthy; to have confidence in (someone or something). Trust is a sense of feeling safe and secure. The idea is to have belief in, confidence in; to be persuaded that someone will do what they say they will do and that we can feel safe and secure in that.
For Bob and Janet, rebuilding trust meant that Janet would have to find a way back to believing, with confidence that Bob would consistently do right by her so that she could feel safe to trust him again. When we say we trust someone, we are saying that we are confident that we can believe in them.

When we sit down in a chair, we do so because we trust it will hold our weight. That’s what a chair is supposed to do. When we trust our spouse, we believe and feel confident he or she will do what they say they’ll do and that they will not do what they say they won’t do. Once an affair has been revealed, that is no longer the case. When trust is broken, there is a loss of confidence and belief in the person who broke trust and a loss of feeling safe and secure in the relationship. It also meant she would eventually have to put herself in a vulnerable position where Bob could, again, let her fall and be deeply hurt again. She wondered how that could ever be possible, and she just wasn’t sure she could ever do that again.

C. S. Lewis explains beautifully why we work to rebuild trust:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.… The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers … of love is Hell.”

The Marriage Restoration Process

In the process of restoring a marital relationship and rebuilding trust, the priority is for the spouse who was cheated on to start working through the process of forgiveness. This will likely take some time before a devastated spouse is ready to start work. Granting forgiveness for something so devastating and painful as betrayal will take time. Yet, without forgiveness, it is impossible to rebuild trust. Trying to rebuild trust before you have worked through the process of forgiveness is like putting the cart before the horse.

I have heard many spouses who’ve had an affair say that if only their spouse would forgive them, they could move past the adultery. What they are saying is “If my spouse would trust me, we could move past the adultery.” Trust and forgiveness are two different things. We must understand that forgiveness is not the same thing as trust.

For anyone to forgive their spouse is usually not something they are ready to do until they’ve had adequate time to process the trauma associated with the infidelity. If you are the one who was cheated on, before you can move past the adultery you must make sure that you have made significant progress on forgiveness before you can expect to take the next step in rebuilding trust. As you work through the process to rebuild trust, began asking God to help you forgive your spouse for all the hurts and wrongs committed against you.

Trust in God is the single most important factor in how both parties recover. Anything blocking an open relationship with God must be dealt with. This includes: (1) facing and turning from one’s sins and personal shortcomings, (2) confessing these sins to God, and (3) asking forgiveness. Jesus reminds us to remove the log from our eye before noticing the speck in another’s (Matthew 7:3-5).

Trust in God will be the foundation upon which you begin to develop trust in your spouse. Before trust can be restored in the relationship, there must be a sense of confidence that you are secure. Your sense of confidence and security is ultimately tied to your confidence in God. Psalm 112:7-8 says,

He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end, he will look in triumph on his foes.

Six steps you must take for rebuilding trust in your marriage

  1. The unfaithful spouse must immediately break all ties with the affair partner, or, in the case of pornography or sexual addiction, put all necessary boundaries in place. The unfaithful spouse might protest that this step is unreasonable, especially if they see their ex-lover at work or if running into each other is practically unavoidable. But, the temptation to resume the affair can be too strong, no matter how well-intentioned the reforming spouse may be. Besides, your spouse will never be comfortable knowing that your ex is still in, or even near the picture. So, the unfaithful spouse must do whatever it takes to distance from and avoid the affair person, even if that means changing jobs or moving to a new area.
  2. Disclose lies and secrets that have occurred. These will block trust, progress, and intimacy with your spouse. This may need to be done in the presence of a pastor or counselor.
  3. Agree to the assistance of spiritual mentors and/or accountability partners.
  4. Commit to a Christian program that helps you sort through the issues leading up to the crisis and make necessary changes.
  5. The partner who was unfaithful needs to take personal responsibility for the damage done to the spouse and family, without shifting blame.
  6. The partner who was unfaithful needs to allow your spouse the time necessary to heal without applying guilt or added stress.
  7. Create an environment of trustworthiness with your partner. Be transparent in all your activities. Share with your spouse important ways you will be faithful.

These steps are necessary to establish trust, reconnect emotionally and grow together again. Dedication, transparency, and honesty will serve as vital ingredients. In time, trust will grow again.

As you go forward in the healing process, know that you’ll have good days and bad days. You’ll experience progress as well as setbacks. This process is never easy for either partner. But it will be the most worthwhile process you have ever undertaken in your marriage and family.

Remember, God is for you and He wants to work within you to rebuild trust. He can see beyond the present situation when you cannot. He is good all the time, even when your marriage and your life seem to be falling apart. Trust and obey Him and He will make a way for you.

Pray frequently, and ask Him to help you see your spouse and your relationship through His eyes. Ask Him for wisdom and He will provide it to you.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him” James 1:5: (RSV).

To learn more about how we can help you get started rebuilding trust in your marriage be sure to check out:
Christian Couples Retreat

REBUILDING TRUST AND RESTORING OVER 450 affair-torn marriages over the past 18 years.