Dr. Wall discusses how trust is re-built after trust has been violated. Hang on to your hat. We’re in for a wild ride. This is part of a larger series On Healing From An Affair. For the first click here. For the entire series click here.
I don’t think I will ever be able to trust him (her) again. I don’t believe anything he (she) says.
Many clients after finding out of their spouses’ affair
(For the purposes of simplicity, person A is the one violating trust and person B is the spouse NOT violating trust. The person or thing that A is violating trust with is C.)
When trust has been violated in whatever form (lies and secrets about affairs, pornography, homosexuality, alcohol, drugs, and money, to name a few) insecurity and chaos ensue in human relationships. This is an axiomatic law of the universe. If B and A trust each other one-day and then B finds out that A violated trust (lied about something they did or didn’t do or said or didn’t say), then B loses trust in A. It will now take A quite a while to earn that trust back.
The moment that B finds out that A has broken trust, B won’t be able to trust A and B will be AUTOMATICALLY INSECURE about B’s relationship with A. If B is insecure, B will NOT be in B’s best behavior. Insecurity does not lend itself to chillin’ and 8 hours of restful sleep!
I call B’s behavior in a situation like this (e.g. B finds out that A is having an affair with C) “freaking out” (e.g. emotional craziness, yelling, snooping through A’s things, kicking A out of the bedroom or home, telling everyone and their mother about A’s violation, etc.). In an insecure situation, this is normal. However, freaking out is not a relationship enhancer either. It’s understandable. It’s not helpful, but it’s understandable. If B doesn’t freak out, that would mean to me that A’s behavior is fine to B: That A’s affair with C is acceptable, or that A’s love affair with pornography is normal, or that A’s affair with a same-sex person doesn’t matter or that A’s lying about money or whatever else is, well… that’s just who A is. A, for example, is spendy.
No. Please. Come on B. Grow some backbone. If A does secret, lying things and doesn’t tell you about them, then you should be frickin’ upset. Okay? For a long time.
This doesn’t give you the right to tear into A like you are a lion and A is a zebra. But it gives you the right to be a basket case and to cry your eyes out and to not be able to concentrate and to have sleepless nights and to wonder profusely about your future with A and to doubt if you want to be with A or not or fear that maybe A will leave you and other thoughts too numerous to mention racing through your head like debris from a tornado. Scary thoughts. Fearful thoughts. Conflicting thoughts. Up and down. All-over-the-place thoughts. Normal. Normal. Normal, any time A violates trust with B and B finds out.
Sometimes B freaks out so much that B does hurtful things to A to get back at A for the pain that A has caused B (such as B lashing out at A, B trashing A’s stuff, B snooping and going through A’s cell phone, emails, receipts, physical violence, B having a revenge affair). This is NOT helpful and it is NOT acceptable. You are NOT justified to hurt your partner if your partner has hurt you. This is how relationships self-destruct. For example, if A has an affair, A hurts B. Now let’s say that because B is hurting due to A’s affair, B hurts A in revenge. Now what’s A supposed to do? A will be really tempted to hurt B back, too, and on and on we go until there’s nothin’ left but lawyer bills for years and years. So B: Keep a lid on your anger. A’s behavior does NOT give you the right to hurt back. You have a right to be angry. You do not have the right to do angry things.
Repeat this to yourself: I have a right to be angry. I do not have the right to do angry things. I have a right to be angry. I do not have the right to do angry things. I have a right to be angry. I do not have the right to do angry things.
Now let’s look at something that sometimes happens in these situations: Let’s say A has violated trust and B is freaking out. Let’s say that A is sorry that A did whatever with C and doesn’t want to be involved with C ever again. If B gets a lecture from A at this point, that B is being unfair and that B needs to trust A, because, after all, A has admitted (hopefully!) that the behavior that A was doing was wrong and has declared and promised and sworn an oath and vowed and testified that A will no longer do whatever with C anymore, that B should trust A and if B doesn’t trust A, that the problem is no longer A, but B!!! This is A’s logic. Now, all of a sudden B is the problem!!
If you are B, I hope, if you hear this from A, after A has violated trust, that you are pissed.
Can I say pissed in a blog?
If this happens to you, here’s what just happened:
A does something selfish and hurtful in secret with C
B finds out somehow about A’s secret life with C
A apologizes and says A won’t ever do whatever with C again
B is hurt and says as much
A is mad at B for “not trusting” A because A said A was sorry and wouldn’t do C again. In other words, A has turned this around and made B the problem!!
Whoohoo for A.
Solomon wrote about this sort of craziness 3000 years ago, before Freud and all the fancy therapy psychobabble words we throw around today:
Rebuke a fool and he will hate you.
A making B the problem will NOT work. Certainly B will have to be careful to not be hurtful back to A. This will be a temptation. But look. Someone has to have some self-control here. A showed that A has no self-control with C. B needs to have enough self-control to not hurt A. Someone has to STOP the cycle.
But the bottom line is that B shouldn’t trust A until A proves to A and to B that A is trustable about C and everything else!
And this will take some time.
You can lose trust in a moment. It takes a long time to EARN back. You shouldn’t be trusted unless you are trustable.
If A thinks what A is doing with C is fine and is going to continue to have intimate contact with C, then trust will NOT be built, even if A is honest about A’s involvement with C. As long as A is involved with C we are NOT going to be doing any marital therapy. I call it “Chaos Management.” As long as A is involved with C, B will be in perpetual freak out mode and NO healing will take place. This is a common scenario with men who do porn and want their wives to be fine with it or spouses who fall in love with their affairee and want all their family to love C, or spouses who announce they are gay and want their spouses (and children and other loved ones) to be Okay with it and if everyone isn’t Okay with it, then A turns B into the problem: You are persecuting me. In scenarios like these chaos ensues throughout the entire family. It doesn’t matter WHAT C A is involved with: The results are the same.
But, if A is done with C, here’s the formula to earn trust back:
Trust equals what you say matches what you do over time as long as the relationship is improving (including A no longer being involved with C).
Trustable = what you say = what you do + time + relationship improvement (including A no longer being involved with C)
If what you say matches what you do, but A violated trust yesterday, it is too soon for B to trust A. Once trust is lost, trust has to be EARNED back.
If what you say matches what you do, but the relationship is not improving it will be difficult for B to trust A.
If what you say does not match what you do, then B won’t trust A.
If what A says matches what A does, but A is still involved with C, or stops being involved with C and then goes back to C, but all along is honest with B about A’s involvement with C, then trust will not be built.
If any of these elements is missing trust will not be forthcoming.
NOR SHOULD IT. And A has no business making B feel guilty for not trusting A, if the elements of the formula aren’t all there.
If B trusts A and any of the elements are missing, then what we have is, at best, wishful thinking. You can’t build a relationship on wishful thinking. You build a relationship on both parties (A and B) being trustable and both parties (A and B) trusting the other party over time.
Now, if what A says matches what A does over time and the relationship between A and B is improving over a long time and A is no longer involved with C, and B is still madder than a pistol or still freaking out and losing it, well, then, B may need some guidance on how to put B’s life back together. That certainly can happen, but I’m not worried about B being upset for quite a while.
How long is a while?
This varies from person to person, but I usually would say:
For six weeks to 3 months B will obsess about what A and C did 24/7 from the moment that B finds out that A’s involvement with C is over.
If A lied about C for a LONG time or A’s behavior with C is with B’s sister or brother or best friend or pastor (!), then B will think about A and C for longer than 3 months. Six months? Maybe longer.
Why so long? What A did is create an emotional wound for B. Emotional wounds take time to heal, just like physical wounds. A broken leg takes a long time to heal. So does a broken heart. This is NORMAL!
After the 6 weeks to 3 months, B will think about it randomly for a year, like when A’s behavior with C is on the news (such as Tiger Woods’ recent problems) or in a song on the radio or a TV sitcom. The first year will have some rough spots here and there. The second year should go better. This is assuming A’s behavior and contact with C has STOPPED, the couple is in therapy learning how to deal with all this hurt in helpful ways and that they are growing and reconnecting as a couple and that A’s behavior matches what A says over time.
If A has a relapse and does whatever with C again, well then, B’s healing will take longer. Much longer. Not additionally longer, but multitudinally longer. Some B’s cannot take a second violation for fear that A has an habitual problem and that B will never be able to trust A again. It would behoove A to not do C ever again, if A wants a long-term relationship with B. Sometimes, if A goes back to C in whatever manner, B says, Okay, I can see what is important to you and B divorces A. This can be particularly sad, if A was having a hard time ending A’s involvement with C and then A finally gets it and breaks off contact with C for good, but by then A and B are divorced. Too little, too late. We could say that A did not learn A’s lesson soon enough. That would be a bummer.
The key to the relationship healing after A has violated trust is for A to be trustable over time, for A’s words to match A’s deeds, for A to tell B what A is doing and thinking, for A to stop all contact with C and for A and B to work on improving their relationship. This isn’t an easy thing to figure out on your own.
This is where a therapist like myself can help. We can give you a road map through this scary wilderness.
If your therapist doesn’t give you a road map and just nods and says eh-ha, then fire his sorry butt and give us a call.
This is part of a larger series On Healing From An Affair. The first in the series is:
In this first in a series Dr. Wall explains a very important step that must take place for healing to occur after an affair. For the others in the series click here.
Check out these other blogs by Dr. Wall on similar topics:
Dr. Wall ponders how little lies ruin our lives. Let your words and actions match instead.
Dr. Wall expresses doubt that anyone who hurts his or her spouse really “loves” that spouse.
Dr Wall laments the cheapening of sexuality in our society and proposes a better way.
Dr. Wall mourns those who are willing to sacrifice the dignity of marriage between a husband and wife for a life of perversion.
Dr. Wall advises couples to let each other know what’s going on without having to be asked. The options aren’t recommended unless you are bound and determined to ruin your life and everyone in it.