Sometimes the burden to trust again has been unfairly placed upon the shoulders of the betrayed person and linked with forgiveness. The thinking goes like this: if you forgive me, then what happened between us is in the past. We don’t need to discuss this anymore and trust should be automatically restored.
But that’s not true. We can genuinely forgive someone and still not trust him (or her). Forgiveness is something we do because God calls us to do it, not necessarily because someone is sorry, repentant, or is genuinely interested in rebuilding trust. However, reconciliation of the relationship, including trusting again, requires forgiveness but not just forgiveness. It also requires the one who broke trust to show genuine repentance as well as make efforts to rebuild broken trust.
Typically we think of broken trust, especially in marriage, only in the sexual realm. However below are three additional areas where trust can be broken and must be rebuilt if a relationship is to be restored.
1. Authenticity: People immediately mistrust someone who feels false. When you are married to someone, work with someone, or are close to someone who has one persona in public and another in private, you intuitively do not trust him, even when you have no specific reason not to. You don’t trust his public persona (i.e. great guy), because you also bear witness to his or her hypocrisy elsewhere. This person’s core self is not authentic and therefore he cannot or should not be trusted.
To rebuild trust with someone who has been inauthentic requires him or her to acknowledge his or her false image and learn to be more real. In most instances a person who has a double self will not acknowledge it nor do they typically change. When confronted, they just get more devious.
2. Reliability: When we are in a relationship with someone, personal or professional, we want to know whether we can count on that person to do what he says he will do. Or, likewise, can I trust that he will stop doing the things that he says he will stop doing?
In rebuilding broken trust with someone who has a track record of unreliability, we must look at what the person does, not what the person says that he or she will do. For example, does he say he will put filters on his computer but never does? Does she say she will stop drinking, or spending money on the credit card but does nothing? Does he say he wants restoration of the marriage but won’t go to counseling or do any work towards that end? Does she tell you she will make more efforts to call you and reach out to you in order to have a more mutual relationship but her promises don’t turn into real phone calls?
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.” It’s foolish.
John Mark was someone who was not reliable and as a result, lost the apostle Paul’s trust (See Acts 15). Later on we see that trust was restored, not because Paul gave him trust, but because John Mark proved he was reliable and Paul’s trust was restored (2 Timothy 4). In the same way, building consistent reliability into our character rebuilds broken trust, not empty promises.
3. Care: In our closest relationships we ask ourselves: can I trust that you care for my good? My well-being? When I share my thoughts and feelings do you hear me? Value me? Protect me? 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 foundations of relational 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.
A destructive person does not want to hear the other person’s grievances against him. It’s true; it does hurt our feelings (and pride) to hear how we have hurt someone. It takes effort to listen and care about the other person’s feelings when you have broken her trust. Yet without consistent compassion, empathy, and care for the other, rebuilding trust is not possible. And if we don’t trust that someone cares for our well being, a close relationship with that person is not possible.
Rebuilding broken trust takes time and specific evidence of change, not merely words or promises of change.