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7 Steps to Rebuild Lost Trust

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By Chelsea Badeau, Comcast.net Relationships Editor

March 23, 2005

You meet that special someone who gives you butterflies and makes you feel lightheaded and euphoric whenever he or she is in the same room as you. The early days of a new relationship! Full of excitement and anticipation, it's nearly impossible to think about anything except that person and the next time you will be together.

Slowly, but surely, the butterflies stop flapping their wings quite so fast. A different feeling sets in when you and your mate have been together awhile. After spending a certain amount of time with someone and opening up your life and heart, you may feel content, happy, and safe.

A bond is formed. You develop a level of trust that grows stronger every day. When you trust someone in a romantic relationship, you expect honesty and faithfulness. You are confident your mate would not do anything to intentionally hurt you.

Trust is an essential part of a lasting relationship. If you don't have trust, you will question everything your mate says and does. Intimacy can only truly grow when two people have faith in one another.

However, sometimes one of you does something to breach that trust. While it is very easy to break trust, it's also very hard to restore it. Luckily, rebuilding it is not impossible. It does however, take time, patience, and commitment.

Infidelity is one of the main reasons relationships don't last. In addition to the deception that usually accompanies cheating, it is extremely painful and difficult to think of someone you love being intimate with someone else. It can really eat at you if you let it.

When I was younger, I had been in a one-year relationship with a guy when I decided to move from Philadelphia to Chicago to participate in a 10-month Americorps program.

Before I left, we sat down and had a long conversation about our relationship and how we wanted to handle this time apart. We both agreed that we wanted to stay in a committed relationship.

After I left in August, we still talked regularly, e-mailed each other daily, and even sent letters through snail mail on occasion. But in October, the communication between us became less and less frequent. I often had difficulty trying to contact him and by the end of the month, I realized I hadn't spoken with him in over two weeks.

My father came to visit me in the beginning of November. It was then that I learned that my boyfriend had been seeing someone else. My dad had heard it from one of my siblings who went to school with the young woman he was creeping with.

It was awful. To find out that your mate is cheating on you is bad enough, but to hear it from your father makes it even worse. I was mad, hurt, and humiliated. I hadn't even been gone that long!

Did he ever even care about me? Why had I bothered being faithful when he was playing games? How could he just be willing to throw away everything we had? I had so many questions and no answers. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I wanted to talk to him, to find out what was going on and to confirm the situation. But then again, I didn't want to talk to him ever again.

I decided to wait until he tried to contact me. He finally called. He knew that I knew. The conversation was very strained and I couldn't get a straight answer out of him. He said he was sorry and that he was just lonely without me. He swore up and down that he would never do it again and that he still wanted to be with me.

Initially, I didn't want anything to do with him. But it was really hard for me. In addition to him being my boyfriend, I considered him my best friend. It felt like a double loss. But he wouldn't give up. He continued to call me and ask for another chance.

Eventually, little by little, I let him back into my life. I realized that I wanted to make it work if he was ready to be honest and faithful. It wasn't easy, but over time I learned to trust him again. These are the steps I found to be most important for rebuilding trust:

1. Make a decision and stick with it: Decide if you really want to make your relationship work. Do you think it's worth it? Do you think the betrayal was an honest mistake or is it something that could easily happen again? If you don't think that anything your mate could say or do will ever make you trust him or her again, then it might be a good idea to call it quits. However, if you think that there is hope for fixing your relationship, you and your mate need to be 100 percent committed to making that happen. Otherwise, you will be miserable if you see-saw back and forth about whether you want to stay in the relationship.

2. Confront your emotions: It doesn't do you or your mate any good to keep your feelings bottled up. Don't be afraid to admit to the anger, pain, embarrassment, or whatever feelings you may be experiencing during this difficult time. If you ignore these feelings, you will never be able to let go of them and truly work on restoring trust. In time, lingering feelings of mistrust and betrayal will destroy your relationship.

3. Communicate honestly: This seems obvious, but sometimes it takes something drastic, like cheating, to get people to open up and be truthful with one another. Maybe you will realize that you haven't really sat down and talked in quite some time. Too often, people tend to get lazy in conversation and forget to talk about what's actually important in life. Get in the habit of regularly filling your mate in on what's going on in your life. Avoid telling "little white lies." Small untruths can eventually spiral into major deceptions. If you and your mate have never really been able to communicate, it may be worth talking to a relationship counselor.

4. Be willing to forgive: This is hard, really hard. You won't be able to forgive your partner overnight. However, you should be open to the possibility of sincerely accepting your mate's apologies. Do not hold the betrayal over your mate's head and continue to bring it up in a negative manner during unrelated disagreements. That will only serve to break down whatever repairs you may have made to your relationship. Recognize that your mate is human and will make mistakes. Despite our best efforts, humans can be weak and fail to do what's right at times.

5. Make a plan: Don't just sit back and hope that things will magically get better. Believe me--they won't. Unfortunately, there is no trust-building pixie dust. Sit down with your mate and actually write out a checklist of what you expect from one another. If there are things your mate does that bother you, now is the time to confront them. Once you identify what you both need to make the relationship successful, it will be easier to make it work. And remember, actions mean more than words. So stick to the plan and follow through on your promises.

6. Spend more time together: The more quality time you spend together, the easier it will be to communicate. You will also begin to recall what attracted you to your mate in the first place. Your understanding of each other's needs, motivations, and fears may become deeper with the additional attention. Couples that spend more time together know each other better and are less likely to be deceptive.

7. Work hard and be patient: No real trust can be rebuilt without hard work. You must be willing to forgive and your mate must be willing to truly change. He or she must be committed to slowly earning your trust back. Realize that this may be a very slow process and there may be times when you take two steps forward and one step backwards. But the important thing is to keep trying and to be honest with each other. Think about it in terms of building a house: A house can be destroyed in minutes, but it takes weeks, months, or even years to rebuild it.

These steps will only work if both parties want to save the relationship and are ready to work at it. It can definitely be worth it. Like a broken bone, your relationship may become stronger than ever when it finally does heal.

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