Any marriage that lasts long enough is almost certain, at some point, to have something happen which strains, and possibly even breaks, the trust that is vital to its continued existence.
It could be something that seems small to one person, and not to the other, like spending a significant amount of money without discussing it, or it could be something that both know is big, like cheating. Whatever it is, once that trust is strained, it takes work to repair. If it's broken, it can take a lot of work.
The good news is that if you love each other, and are both really willing to work on it (not just with words, but with real action, time, energy, and attention), trust can be restored. If it has been broken, not just strained, however, it may take a very long time to get back to where it was.
So, what do you do if you have already reached this point? How do you start to work on rebuilding the trust?
I can't tell you every detail, because it is unique to your situation, but I can give you a general process that can help you to start setting things right. So here goes for my first (first officially titled, at least) Relationship How To.
Rebuilding Trust In Your Marriage
Give Up Being Right
Any time trust is strained in a relationship, at least one person will have an "I was in the right" belief. They may even be correct.
It doesn't really matter whether you actually were in the right or not, clinging onto this belief will get in the way of rebuilding trust. It doesn't matter who was right and who was wrong… it's in the past, and if you want to rebuild the trust, you need to get rid of this limiting belief.
Let Go Of Blame
Chances are pretty good there is a lot of blame flying around when trust is strained. Some of it may be blaming each other, some of it may be blaming yourself… it doesn't really matter. The blame game is a lose-lose situation… you can't really move ahead until you start letting go of blaming your significant other and yourself.
Talk About It
After you let go of being right, and holding blame, or at least make a good start at it, then you need to talk about the trust, and all of the things that strained in on both sides… not just the one thing that caused a blow out. You really need to let it out, here… holding back anything is going to make it much harder to rebuild trust in your marriage.
Make A List Of Each Person's Needs
You both need to sit down again, after step three, and tell each other what you need in the relationship, including both things that you are not getting as well as things that you are getting. Including both pieces can help keep this from becoming confrontational, with each person going "Oh yeah, well you don't do that."
Make sure the list is written down somewhere, preferrably with each person having a copy they can (and do) look at frequently.
Re-Dedicate Yourselves To Each Other
Now is the time to move from clearing the air to actually starting to rebuild your trust. You need to give each other a new commitment, a commitment to love each other, to work on being there for each other, to keep each other first in mind, first in heart.
And this does mean explicitly, in words… if you put it in writing or say it in front of one or more witnesses, that's even better.
Re-Dedicate Yourselves To The Relationship
Once you have dedicated yourselves to each other once again, you also need to make a commitment to your relationship. This is a commitment to not just be friends, or get along, but to really be husband and wife. There's a lot of work involved, with some planning needed, as well as investments of time, energy, and attention.
It's easy to slip into just being friends… it takes much less work to be a friend than a spouse. Don't let your relationship fall into this rut.
Go Back To Dating Each Other
Your relationship has been strained, along with your trust. The best way to rebuild both is to go back to "dating" each other. That means going back to thinking about each other all the time, planning dates regularly, etc. Get to know each other again.
Going back to square one can help you to build trust the same way you originally did… from scratch.
Keep Your Priorities Straight
This is another place where it is easy to slip into bad old habits. You need to review your priorities regularly… and make sure your actions follow them. Your spouse should be your number one priority… if they are not, it's going to be difficult to build your trust back up.
In fact, it would have been very difficult to build it in the first place… falling in love (and the feelings that go with it) causes you to think about your significant all the time, keeping them your number one real priority, regardless of what you say it is.
Have Relationship "Reviews"
Once your relationship is starting to build back up, and your trust with it, you should have regular "reviews" of the status of your relationship. This should involve talking about what's good and what's bad, what needs are and are not being met, how you feel about each other and the relationship, and anything else that comes to mind that involves the relationship. It's also a good idea to discuss how far along in the recovery process you each feel you have come.
This is actually something that all relationships could use, not just ones that have had a problem. Reviews can help keep your relationship stay on the path you want.
Give It Time
The last thing you need to do is to give it time. Building trust isn't a fast process, and rebuilding trust is even slower. You shouldn't expect your relationship to be back to its peak in a week… or even a month. You should be thinking in terms of months for strained trust, and years when it has been broken.
In this, as in life in general, don't focus on how far you have left to go… always look at how far you've come.
So, there is a general plan for rebuilding trust in a relationship where it has been strained or broken. It requires commitment, time, and energy from both partners in order to succeed… the effort can't be one-sided, even if it was one person who broke the trust… that's part of letting go of blame.
Effort from both partners are essential, as is the understanding that it's not quick. If either of you expect it to be, you're likely to fail, as you won't be prepared to give it the time and effort it needs. Allow it to go at it's own pace… be patient.
The reward is worth the effort.