Ripping down trust may take only a few minutes, but it takes a long time to rebuild it. We talked about transparency but let’s go a bit deeper into what it really means. Exhibiting total transparency in an effort to rebuild trust in a relationship means that if you say you’ll be home at 7:30 pm, you’re home at 7:30 pm. “What if there’s a traffic jam?” you ask? It used to be no big deal if you came home late because of traffic. Those days are over, my friend. If there’s a traffic jam, you call your partner and you stay on the phone as you drive home. If you don’t, you open a Pandora’s Box of other possibilities. Are you lying? Are you not lying? Your partner can’t be sure.
But here’s the thing, even if you act in a trustworthy way, your partner is still going to have a hard time trusting you because of the time(s) you betrayed that trust. Which means now is the time for going overboard, for being 100 percent committed to trust building. Not one step out of line, for it could truly mean the end of the relationship this time.
You may even consider making little agreements with your partner just so that you can keep them and show that you’re trustworthy. For example, agree that you will be home by a set time (on the dot), and if something happens to hold you up, like a downed tree on the state highway, make a phone call and tell your partner to turn on the news to verify that a tree, indeed, is blocking traffic on the highway. Or if you’re going out to lunch or to a business dinner, you might agree to let your partner know in advance where you’re going and who you will be with. If you go to the corner store, tell your partner when you’ll be back, and then stick to the schedule. You’re past the point of being able to talk with your partner about your trustworthiness—it’s going to take total transparency and follow-through honoring these agreements over and over and over again to rebuild trust.
The person who did the cheating must allow his or her partner to express anger freely—and not just once. Sure, partners in a garden-variety argument make things worse by dumping anger on each other. But this is different. The one who has been cheated on must get it all out.
Be willing to forgive.
Once both partners have met the non-negotiable conditions, the wayward partner has done the work and enough time has passed to rebuild trust, the partner who was cheated on has to take a leap of faith and offer forgiveness. Without it, the cheater may begin to feel there is no hope for rebuilding the relationship and may simply give up.
True, this step involves being vulnerable and being willing to take a risk. Be kind to yourself. Offering forgiveness is difficult. It may be one of the toughest things you ever do. It is a complex and challenging step, but it’s also necessary. Let go of the false assumption that by forgiving, you’re dismissing the pain you felt.
Let go of the belief that if you forgive your partner, you’re condoning the behavior. I know it’s difficult and very normal and human to feel that way. You may never forget. The memories may never fade entirely. But at some point the partner who was cheated on will have to say, “Enough” and will have to return to the relationship with an open heart.
Honestly and truly, it is possible to survive the crushing heartache and the struggle, and make it to the other side of an affair with a strengthened bond and a newfound loving partnership. Both my own heart and my experience of working with many couples have shown me this.