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?
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