Is Your Marriage Built on Trust?
A marriage requires a trusting relationship. When trust has been broken – due to infidelity, substance abuse, deceitfulness or something else – both people in the marriage must make a conscious effort to rebuild the marriage. A marriage can be rebuilt by restoring trust. There are some concrete steps that each person can take to help rebuild the marriage.
Decide to rebuild your marriage. If you haven’t committed yourself to rebuilding the marriage, you won’t be able to fully participate in restoring trust. Making an honest decision to rebuild your marriage rather than abandon it is the first step of practicing rigorous honesty required for this process.
- Sometimes people decide to end the marriage, rather than rebuild. This is not necessarily a failure or a bad thing; it’s just the outcome of the situation. If this is the case for you, you’ll be wasting your time to try to rebuild rather than moving on. You might even find your relationship with your spouse improves or changes to friendship once you’ve decided not to rebuild your marriage.
- Only you can decide whether or not you want to rebuild your marriage. Your friends and family may express opinions regarding what you should do–and are often quite vocal about it. This is natural. However, you need to decide what’s true for you and make your own decisions.
- Having children in a marriage does complicate matters. But staying together for the sake of the children generally is not a good idea. Children adapt to divorce.
Ask yourself what kind of marriage you want. Consider whether you’ve changed your ideas about what you want in a marriage, and whether your ideas are realistic.
- Sometimes people do grow apart. How you were 10 years ago may not reflect who you are today. But the other person may not change in the same way. And this can cause issues. It does not mean either of you are bad.
- It is important to touch base with your partner on what he or she wants. He or she may not be happy too.
- Many times, newly married people start out with idealistic expectations of what marriage should be like. This is especially true of young couples. When these ideas aren’t always realized, they might feel betrayed–even if the other partner has not necessarily done anything wrong. Examining unrealistic standards can help what is a perfectly good marriage–but not necessarily idealistic–survive.
- People who experience a crisis in their marriage often prove to have stronger marriages in the long run.
- Part of making a decision to rebuild a marriage is to reconsider your expectations about marriage. If you and your spouse have very different ideas about what you each expect in a marriage, you will need to be able to work out a compromise.
- Both partners in a marriage have to be committed to rebuild a marriage. Rebuilding a marriage takes a lot of hard emotional work, and if one person is not able or willing to undergo this endeavor, it cannot happen. While this may seem obvious, sometimes one partner desperately wants to repair the marriage and overlooks the fact the other is not going to do it. This sounds obvious, but sometimes one partner (and occasionally both) are in denial about the commitment to rebuilding.
- Be clear about what sort of marriage you want. Different people want different things, and a good marriage has clear expectations, shared visions, and goals which will not be exactly the same from marriage to marriage. But first you need to be clear what that is for you. Rebuilding a marriage is an opportunity to examine what went wrong for you, and what you want to change.
Help is always available
The process of rebuilding a marriage is very difficult. It can be helpful to talk to a trained professional. This person might be a counselor; a priest, rabbi, or other religious leaders with training in marriage counseling; or a psychotherapist. Someone who isn’t emotionally involved in your marriage may help you to recognize patterns of behavior or communication that are negatively influencing your marriage.
- Negative communication patterns can be difficult to change alone. If you are trying to make the decision to rebuild a marriage, it might require another person’s help to learn to recognize communication that leaves you feeling depressed, insecure, or wanting to leave the conversation.
- When you and your spouse have become “like roommates” rather than like intimate partners, a counselor or therapist might help you remember how you were initially intimate.
- If you feel like the only reason to rebuild the marriage is for the sake of the children, it might be useful to talk to a professional. Staying together for the children’s sake is generally an insufficient reason to decide to rebuild your marriage. However, it is also true that it is a reason to do everything possible to try to make a marriage work.
Take steps to rebuild trust. If you are responsible for breaking the trust in your marriage, you’ll need to take additional steps to establish your spouse’s trust in you. Make a commitment to telling the truth, and allowing complete openness regarding your plans and communications (including emails, texts and phone calls). Don’t hold anything back.
- Try to avoid sharing detailed information about the past transgression, if any. It is important to give clear, truthful, and accurate information to the other spouse. But obsessively recounting betrayals doesn’t help your spouse to move on.
- What it critical to one person to get answers about may not be for another. Let your spouse determine what he or she wants an accounting of.
- Recognize that even if you have “come clean”, it will take time to rebuild trust. Your spouse may not trust you to have a separate bank account or have drinks with a person of the opposite sex. You may have to take steps to rebuild trust such as break contact with certain individuals, change jobs, or give up drinking without the other spouse present.
- It may help to learn more about your own reasons for breaking trust with your spouse. This means learning about your own emotional vulnerabilities and insecurities. Be open about this process with your spouse.
- Never blame another person for your betrayal. If you’re making a decision to rebuild your marriage, you’ll need to take complete responsibility for your actions.
Taking Steps to Rebuild a Marriage
Focus on rebuilding your marital friendship. Married couples who have a strong friendship are more likely to experience a happy, lasting relationship. If you don’t have a good friendship with your spouse, then building your friendship is a good place to start. Some things you can do to improve your friendship with your spouse include:
- Spending quality time together
- Talking to each other about your lives, hopes, and dreams
- Setting goals together
- Being honest with each other
- Respecting each other
- Encouraging each other
- Being forgiving
- Appreciating and being considerate of each other
Notice the good in your spouse. Stop saying anything bad about your spouse to anyone outside your marriage. When talking to your family and friends, only state positive things your spouse has done. Tell your spouse what you like about him.
- Many times a marriage in need of rebuilding will be focused on negative qualities. You can change a great deal about your marriage by focusing on positive qualities rather than negatives.
- Eliminate the negative observations entirely. Even if you only state two positive qualities about your spouse in a week, you’ll likely notice a difference.
Adjust your expectations. It’s easy to develop an internal checklist of what a perfect spouse would be like, but it’s unrealistic to expect your partner to fit this mold. You don’t have to like everything about your spouse. Learning to accept each other’s limitations is an essential step in rebuilding a marriage.
- Learning to develop a realistic form of trust will help you from developing resentments. Living with resentments undermines the quality of your marriage.
- Many disagreements within a marriage are never fully resolved. By adjusting your expectations, two people within a marriage can “agree to disagree” without compromising trust. A disagreement doesn’t have to prevent deep satisfaction and trust within a marriage.
Focus on changing yourself. One of the reasons a marriage deteriorates is dissatisfaction with one’s own life. Rather than looking to your spouse to provide for you the life you want, try making some of these changes yourself.
- If you’ve stopped doing certain activities you enjoy because your spouse doesn’t care for them, try doing them again. You don’t have to do everything together. If you enjoy hiking, for example, join a hiking group.
- Being honest about your own challenges will help you rebuild your marriage. Look for areas where you can improve, whether these are large or small.
- Learning to identify your challenges will help you become more forgiving of your spouse as well.
Consider setting an ultimatum.
Sometimes stating what needs to change is the only way to rebuild a relationship. For example, an alcoholic may need to stop drinking before any real change can be made in rebuilding a relationship. If you are married to someone in active addiction, it’s okay to say that the addict must seek treatment before the marriage can be rebuilt.
- A 12-step group, such as Al-Anon, can be helpful in learning more about practicing healthy boundaries with an addict or alcoholic.
- If you set an ultimatum, follow through with it. Setting ultimatums that are not really ultimatums just lets the behavior continue.
- Not all ultimatums are about drug addiction. It can also be about “deal breakers” that is putting your marriage in peril. This could include affairs, excessive hours at work, getting control of spending, and so on.
Let Go of the Past.
If you continue to bring up issues from the past, you may have trouble addressing real issues in the present. Take a break from discussing past disappointments or betrayals. Instead, focus your attention on the marriage as it is now.
- Whatever your parents did or didn’t do, your marriage is yours today. Never use the past to justify your behavior or blame your spouse.
- Eliminate the phrases “You always,” or “You never,” from your vocabulary. This kind of thinking sees current behaviors through the lens of the past, and prevents you from going forward in the rebuilding process.
- Feeling resentments about things that occurred in the past is natural. Learn to attend to your feelings without reliving the events of the past. Remind yourself that whatever happened is in the past.
The Past is another Country I don’t live there Anymore
Confide your feelings to each other. This may be difficult, as many people are taught not to talk about our feelings. However, this is an essential part of rebuilding a marriage. An intimate relationship requires bravery. Saying your feelings means taking responsibility for them, rather than blaming the other person.
- As you move past the initial rebuilding stage, continue to deepen your relationship with one another. The best way to do this is through developing habits of trust and vulnerability.
- You may want to find your own ways to practice talking about feelings. For example, some marriages are helped by setting a “date night” where honest communication can happen. Other people find that communicating difficult feelings via writing can be easier.
Avoid blame. In a healthy marriage, each partner takes responsibility for her own thoughts, feelings, and words. You have a choice in how you respond to each other.
- A good practice to develop is to use “I” statements when talking about sensitive subjects with your spouse. Instead of saying “You did…” or “You felt…”, try to stick to your own perspective. “I did…” or “I felt…” This simple technique will open the conversation to a deeper level of honesty.
- If your partner blames you for something, don’t become defensive. This only escalates the situation. Instead, speak honestly about your feelings.
- Remember, your emotions and your emotional reactions are your own. They are not the responsibility of your spouse.
Learn to repair after an argument. Sometimes disagreements occur even in the healthiest marriage. You can minimize the damage they do by exiting the argument on a better feeling. Ways that couples find to repair their relationship after an argument include: using humor, finding ways to agree with one another, and showing sincere appreciation for the other person’s perspective.
- Keeping your commitment to each other helps keep your argument in perspective. Remember the adage, “How important is it?” In 20 years, likely neither of you will remember this argument anyway. Your relationship is more important than being right in this disagreement.
- You can choose to focus on the positives in each other, even during an argument. Doing this is an excellent practice, offering deeper insight into your marriage.
Find the right kind of help. A therapist, professional or religious counselor can be helpful in understanding the patterns that developed in your marriage. Talk to each other about what kind of resources you might need to rebuild your marriage.
- While you may choose individually to seek help from a trusted resource, the person who helps you rebuild as a couple must work for both of you. For example, if you are a deeply religious person but your spouse is not, a religious counselor might not be the best choice for your marriage helper. Consider using a therapist or professional marriage counselor instead.
- A couple that knows more about the way their problems develop may be able to better resolve them, or they might need additional help. A counselor can help you learn to be patient with each other while you rebuild your marriage.
A marriage won’t be rebuilt overnight. It will take time to recognize and change long-established patterns of communication and trust. Learn to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, and assume that she’s acting in sincerity.
Special thanks – Trudi Griffin, Licensed Professional Counselor
- Don’t rush this process. Forgiveness and trust are very intimate issues, different for each person. Allow your spouse the time he needs to develop these qualities for himself, and allow yourself the same thing. Don’t panic if these don’t develop immediately.
- If you find yourself feeling angry or frustrated, take some time apart from one another to calm down.
Watch – Dr. Phil’s Secret to a Happy Marriage