Morning friend,

We’ve had some good discussions this week on forgiveness and remembering. But let’s take another person’s question about repentance and restoration of a relationship after serious sin.

Today’s Question: My husband has betrayed my trust over and over but I still hope we can make our marriage work. What does it take to rebuild broken trust?

Answer: I’m so sorry this has happened to you. When a couple or a relationship suffers a serious and/or repetitive breach of trust, the relationship is in trouble. If your marriage is to be reconciled, you need more than repentance. You need restoration of broken trust. That takes serious effort and a period of time. 

Sometimes Christian people-helpers have unfairly placed the burden to restore trust upon the shoulders of the betrayed person and linked it with forgiveness. The thinking goes, once forgiveness is granted, all memories of the incident should be erased or at least suppressed, and you should never talk about it or bring it up again. (Forgive and Forget theology). If the betrayer of trust seems repentant, then the victim of broken trust is told to not trust her own apprehensions and simply choose to open her heart and trust again so that the relationship can heal.

That approach ignores the responsibility of the one who did the betrayal to prove by the way he lives that he has repented of his sin and turned to God (Luke 3:8).

Therefore, let me give you a few ways to introduce the rebuilding process if that’s what you and your husband want to do. Remember, rebuilding trust is impossible if the betrayer of broken trust does not make changes.

The first question that must be asked is where was trust broken? This is one of the most basic but ignored steps in relationship counseling. Usually, pastoral counselors think of trust as being broken solely in terms of marital infidelity or unfaithfulness. 

When this is the case, counselors help a couple to rebuild broken trust by making sure the other relationship has ended, accountability measures are in place, and forgiveness is granted.

But trust goes much deeper than sexual betrayal. Below are three additional areas where trust can be broken.

Honesty and Authenticity

People intuitively mistrust someone who feels fake. When you are married to someone, work with someone, or are close to someone who is one person in public and another in private, trust is broken even if you have no specific evidence of infidelity.

[Tweet “The Bible warns us that there are people who masquerade as sheep but are really ravenous wolves.”] They are not to be trusted. To trust that your husband is a sheep when he acts like a wolf is foolishness. To trust your husband when he repeatedly lies to you is foolish.

The second area of broken trust that often needs to be repaired is reliability.

Can you count on him to do what he says he will do? For example, he says he will stop watching pornography but you still see evidence that’s not happening. 

He says he will put filters on his computer but never does. He says he will stop drinking, stop online gaming, or spending money on the credit card but doesn’t. He may be or sound sincere when he says his words, but he is short on follow through.

He says wants restoration of your marriage but won’t go to counseling or do any work towards that end. Remember, Proverbs 25:19 says, “Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot.” In other words, it’s just not smart.

In the Bible, John Mark was someone who initially was not reliable and as a result, he lost the apostle Paul’s trust (See Acts 15:36-41). Later in 2 Timothy 4:11 we see that trust was restored, not because Paul gave him trust, but because John Mark proved he was reliable and therefore Paul could trust him.

The third area of broken trust is in the area of compassionate care: 

Can you trust that your husband cares for your well-being? When you share your thoughts and feelings are you heard? Valued? Protected?

Or, is there mocking, contempt, avoidance, or indifference? 

Proverbs 31:11,12 says, “The heart of her husband trusts in her.” Why? Because “He trusts her to do him good not harm all the days of his life.”

One of the foundational elements of marital trust is that love does not intentionally harm the other (Romans 13:10). And, if in weakness and sin there is harm, every effort is made to make amends and not repeat that harm.

[Tweet “A destructive person does not want to hear the other person’s grievances against him.”] It’s true; it does hurt our feelings (and our pride) to hear how we have hurt someone. 

For your husband, effort to listen and care about your feelings and the impact his sin has had on you. Yet without demonstrating compassion, empathy, and care for you and the impact sin has caused, rebuilding trust is not possible. This will be painful for him. It’s tough listening to the pain you have caused another. It also is a necessary step towards rebuilding broken trust.

Feeling someone else’s pain as a result of your sinful actions often serves as a strong deterrent against repeating that same behavior in the future. 

Rebuilding broken trust takes time and specific evidence of change, not merely words or promises of change. Those are meaningless when trust has been repeatedly broken.

To answer your question. Do you see him being honest with you? When you ask questions or have concerns is he forthcoming with answers that help you feel reassured? When you sense there is an inconsistency in his words or actions and give him feedback does he listen or get defensive? Shut down? Accusing?

Do you see him being reliable in doing what he says he will do to rebuild your trust? Is he putting controls on the computer? Allowing you to have the passwords to establish transparency? Going to counseling for an addiction or control problem? Or is he saying one thing but doing another?

Last, is he showing you consistent care? Not love bombing care like flowers, gifts, vacations, or affection. But true care about where you are at? What you need, even if what you need is not what he wants? If you need to be alone, or separate for a season to heal, does he care about that, or is it still about what he needs? Does he use spiritual-sounding words or Bible verses to get you to comply or to feel guilty that you are trying to take care of yourself instead of attending to him or your marriage?

These things take time to see and no one does it perfectly. But when he fails, is he aware of himself, and does he apologize? Make amends. Change? When he’s not aware of these things and you give him feedback does he listen? Change? Or does he argue with you that you’re too sensitive, unforgiving, or holding a record of wrongs? You will see whether or not you can rebuild broken trust over time by watching what he does, not what he says.

Friend, if you were successful in rebuilding broken trust, what steps did you and your spouse take?

23 Comments

  1. Autumn on February 17, 2022 at 10:51 am

    I think our lack of responses probably answers the question. No, you can’t rebuild and trust abusers. They don’t get reformed if they have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

    I think many of us have a testimony that we foolishly hoped or trusted in an abuser who faked a transformation. They can fake healthy behavior for quite a long period of time if it benefits them. Most abusers have altered thought and emotional problems that have left their brains wired wrong. They are chronic liars and manipulators who digress to delusions over time .

    • Kathleen on February 19, 2022 at 3:32 pm

      Yes, in regards to Autumn’s post. This is also my experience with abuser ex-husband, even in these 10 yrs. post divorce. We were married for 30 yrs, having 8 children. He has invented an altruistic version of himself, empathetic, morally upstanding, genuinely loving, while completely dismissing the decades of emotional and psychological carnage he caused myself and the children. While we still work thru healing, (financial, emotional, spiritual, etc.), abuser ex is planning purchase of a second home in Florida he can run to during harsh Midwest winters. He never fails to put himself first, to keep himself on top in his own warped kingdom. I don’t believe the moral imperatives of true repentance and restitution ever occur to him. How can it when he continues to chase his own comfort? Delusional he surely is to summarily skip over all the deep wounds he caused his wife and children. It still hurts.

      • Autumn on February 21, 2022 at 5:31 am

        Kathleen, I think the pain of a narcissists actions decrease as we study the personality disorder and see the man as mentally ill rather than normal. Everything you describe is typical. He is not unique, he is pathological in his behaviors. They will never end. Expect his delusions to intensify with age and eventually, in the elder years digress to psychosis. When he is so feeble that he loses his base of power and “flying monkeys” he will get even meaner. A life of continuous rants ends a narcissist’s final days. Angry and bitter, they go to meet their maker and finally stand to give an account before the Lord. God is just. He has seen everything.

      • JoAnn on February 21, 2022 at 11:11 am

        Kathleen and Mariposa, I am so sorry that this betrayal is still causing you pain. For your own well-being and peace, I would encourage you to spend some time to pray and learn about how to forgive. Keep in mind that forgiveness is for you- to unburden you of the pain and resentment of the betrayal. Think of it as a release: you are releasing your abuser to the Lord for Him to deal with and you are letting go of the pain and resentment and bitterness of what he did to you. Go to June Hunt’s web page Hope for the Heart to see some good help about forgiveness. Free yourself of the bondage of the pain your Ex caused you and your children. Don’t allow him to continue to cause you pain. “The best revenge is to heal.”

    • Mariposa on February 20, 2022 at 2:20 am

      It is precisely my experience.

      • Charmain Ross on February 21, 2022 at 11:20 am

        I’m right there with everyone…
        My H after 34 years of marriage and countless times of abuse (that he denies) he has finally filed for divorce. I was happy just being separated, but again… it’s all about him and what he wants. He won’t go to counseling so he’s tired of not being able to control me anymore so divorce was his answer.
        I’m sad and relieved at the same time. That confuses me.

        • JoAnn on February 24, 2022 at 7:00 pm

          Charmain, you are caught in that space between grief (the loss of your marriage and its dreams) and relief, (that the abuse and pain are over). That is normal. Don’t worry, eventually the relief will win, and you can move on into a new life. The grief fades as you plan your new life.

      • Free on February 21, 2022 at 6:26 pm

        Sometimes I think it is so important to not call them our husbands. That gives respect where it isn’t due. Rather we should just call them abusers, con men, manipulators, fools, evil men or liars. Those terms are more accurate and keep us from slipping into denial or falling for another round of love bombing.

    • Sarah on February 23, 2022 at 7:03 pm

      Autumn,

      It is so strange you comment and reply, and a personality disorder, diagnosing these people’s husband. Of which you have never met, nor are qualified to do so.

      The rate of npd is extremely extremely low in a general population.

      You say they can’t be reformed. Christ, can reform any reviler. Even Paul. It’s so weird to see you judge others so harshly, and with the same tounge, praise God.

      • Autumn on February 24, 2022 at 6:27 pm

        Sarah, it takes a long time and a lot of counseling to get out of denial. Be patient with yourself. It is ok your don’t understand what I am speaking of yet.

  2. Jill Savage on February 19, 2022 at 9:41 am

    Yes! This is exactly how Mark and I rebuilt trust after his infidelity. I also had to face the fact that there were ways I had broken his trust by then very critical of him. So we both had to rebuild trust with each other and the only way to do that was consistent changed behavior over time. It’s now our life’s work to help couples do the same!

    • JoAnn on February 21, 2022 at 11:02 am

      That is so encouraging. May the Lord continue to bless you as you share your experience with others.

  3. Mary on February 19, 2022 at 10:52 am

    Thank you for this post. My husband and I are separated because he broke my trust mainly by lying repeatedly about little things which gradually became big things. He also said one thing and did the opposite (and then lied when confronted).
    This is a subject I have been wrestling with, as I do often wonder whether i’d ever be able to trust him again and I found this post very comforting as I do feel guilty at times as if I am being unreasonable remaining separated.

  4. Sam on February 19, 2022 at 1:23 pm

    I understand the idea of actions being more important than words as a necessary thing to watch over time. What I am trying to gather is how long do I wait for him to come to repentance to start this process? Once it is started, assuming it will, how do I handle set backs along the journey, especially when he responds with nothing is ever good enough?

    • Margaret on February 20, 2022 at 5:54 am

      My husband said that this week, nothing I do is ever good enough. Please consider that reply may come from his inner child.

      • Autumn on February 21, 2022 at 5:24 am

        Yes, but he is a grown man. Enough with this child nonsense. That is just an excuse for him to continue his foolish and selfish behavior. Children don’t get married. If he wants to be a psychological child and not invest in adult thinking, he should have never presented himself as a grown man and married anyone.

      • JoAnn on February 21, 2022 at 10:59 am

        I agree, Margaret. In many cases, those beliefs like “I am never good enough” come from early childhood experiences and are deeply ingrained in the psyche. Which means that without therapeutic help, it’s always going to be the lens through which he views his relationships. Apart from therapy, you can pray for him to have a deep, life-changing encounter with the Lord Jesus will be transformative, and you can pray for the Lord to touch his heart in a way to show him that he is loved and treasured by God. We all need such an encounter with the Lord.

    • Moon Beam on February 21, 2022 at 5:42 am

      Sam, if he wanted to change, he would change immediately. Have you heard of the term “hopium?”. It lives in our hearts and mind right next to denial. He hope he may change. Create consequences and see what happens. If change isn’t immediate, consistent and transformation, it is fake. A wise man would protect you from himself and begin an intensive treatment program to explore if abusive tendencies are learned behaviors or by now, the brain has rewired to permanent pathology.

    • Dara on February 21, 2022 at 9:35 am

      Responses like “Nothing is ever good enough” and “I’ll never be perfect” are ways to dismiss/deflect. They’re saying, “I’m trying my best. The problem is your standard.” They’re saying, “It’s not me; it’s you.” That’s an avoidance of responsibility intended to shut down conversation about how their behavior is impacting you. I’m guessing your desire is NOT for perfect behavior, but to experience a meaningful level of loving care which requires him to care about how his behavior impacts you. Those are two different paradigms.

      • JoAnn on February 21, 2022 at 3:55 pm

        If you are willing to try to help him make some changes, it is important to acknowledge any positive effort on his part. Let him know that you noticed. You can respectfully ask for a behavior change, being specific about what you want, then it is important to “reward” the effort with an acknowledgement. That would be true whether the person is a child or an adult.
        As to the repentance, he must have a realization of the hurt he has caused, but he may not be able to get there, if his heart is “hardened.”

    • JoAnn on February 21, 2022 at 3:48 pm

      If you are willing to try to help him make some changes, it is important to acknowledge any positive effort on his part. Let him know that you noticed. You can respectfully ask for a behavior change, being specific about what you want, then it is important to “reward” the effort with an acknowledgement. That would be true whether the person is a child or an adult.
      As to the repentance, he must have a realization of the hurt he has caused, but he may not be able to get there, if his heart is “hardened.”

    • Lisa on February 25, 2022 at 10:55 pm

      If he accuses you of “nothing is ever good enough,” then he is trying to shift blame for these issues on to you, making you responsible for the conflict, and that shows that he is not working on rebuilding trust. Keep working on you, and don’t expect much from him as long as he’s talking like that.

  5. Hope on February 19, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    Thank you, Leslie, for this blog. It affirms again the place I’ve come to after 34 years. Sadly, I haven’t been able to rebuild broken trust from years of his chronic neglect/indifference. He meets much of the criteria for Aspergers. I have empathy/understanding for his unique brain wiring and the very tough challenges it causes him. But he’s repeatedly shown no/very low interest in doing any of the work to make our relationship better. There’s really nothing to rebuild with…especially if the effort’s one-sided. Appreciate prayers as I take steps to live separately. God is good and faithful in the midst of it all!

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