Once Trust is Lost in a Relationship, is it Possible to Regain it Back?

By Dr. Jacobson

“Once Trust is Lost in a Relationship, is it Possible to Regain it Back?”

Yes, it is possible to restore trust and rebuild a relationship. Were I to have some specifics regarding the relationship, the incident that was a breach of trust, whether this was a single incident versus one of many, whether the person who broke the trust has engaged in some form of treatment or intends to, I would be better able to give the odds, so to speak, that trust could be restored and the relationship repaired.

In general, there are many factors which would encourage one to believe that rebuilding trust in a relationship is possible. Probably the most significant factor is the motivation of the individuals involved, specifically the motivation of the individual who committed the offense, the betrayal.

If that person truly wants to restore the trust, he or she must first acknowledge and take full responsibility for what was done, regardless of the actions of the other person. For example, oftentimes people will act out and do hurtful things, and later try to avoid full responsibility by claiming that the other person provoked them. This is not an acceptable excuse.

Regardless of whether one is provoked or not, one has the responsibility to do the right thing and maintain propriety, loyalty, honesty and integrity. If the person is not willing to recognize this, then it is unlikely that he or she will be motivated and capable of changing to the degree that is necessary.

If the person does acknowledge fully their responsibility, regardless of how the other person behaved, it then depends on how motivated they are to changing themselves and demonstrating their loyalty and commitment to the relationship.

Motivation is not simply, “I don’t want to behave that way anymore and I’ll do the best I can to not repeat that behavior.” Motivation requires follow-through if trust repair is to have any potential.

Follow-through means taking actions that will lead to change, awareness, insight, impulse control, and improved communication skills. Such actions might include individual psychotherapy, spiritual or religious counseling, stress management, anger management, 12-Step meetings, couples therapy and medication management. If one is unwilling to take such actions and, particularly if this was not the first breach and past efforts to change on one’s own have failed, the successful repair of the relationship is unlikely.

Additionally, it is not sufficient to engage in the above activities and not do the work. By this I mean, oftentimes people show up at meetings or therapy sessions but they either don’t or won’t do the hard work involved in changing and growing.

Change and growth requires letting down one’s defenses, letting go of one’s ego, developing humility, being vigilant over one’s thoughts and actions on a moment-to-moment basis, and practicing, practicing, practicing rigorous honesty, compassion, consideration, respect and selflessness. One’s whole perspective must change from “What’s in it for me?” to “What can I do for you?”

It is not easy to change. But if one is motivated and dedicated, and does the work, and demonstrates consistently their love and devotion through their willingness and full commitment to the process despite how much time and energy it requires, there is hope.

There is an expression in 12-Step programs that “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” If the person has breached the trust on several occasions and does not make a commitment to do something different this time, something they haven’t done in the past that might effect change in themselves, it is unrealistic to anticipate that things will get better.

Sometimes, in co-dependent relationships where one member is repeatedly abused emotionally but is afraid to leave the relationship, it may indeed become necessary to separate nonetheless, in order for the abuser, the offender to appreciate the necessity of his or her changing, to appreciate what is truly at stake.

There is another action on the part of the injured party that can impact on the success or failure of the repair of broken trust, and that is the willingness of the injured party to release resentment and anger. If one is either unwilling or unable to let go of their anger and extend forgiveness, then despite the efforts, sincerity and dedication of the offender, the repair of trust is unlikely.

Walter E. Jacobson, MD is a Board Certified Psychiatrist who has been in private practice in the Los Angeles area since 1999. Dr. Jacobson specializes in insight oriented psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, marriage counseling, medication management and spiritual psychotherapy. He was Editor of the The Southern California Psychiatrist, the monthly newsletter of the Southern California Psychiatric Society for two years and has written dozens of articles about psychiatry and mental health. Dr. Jacobson currently teaches The Art of Forgiveness as part of the Northridge Hospital Integrative Medicine program, and he is also Chairman of the Northridge Hospital Physician Well-Being Committee. Dr. Jacobson is a member of the National Association of Medical Communicators.

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