10 Ways to Rebuild Trust in a Marriage on the Rocks
Trust is the bedrock of marriage. But what do you do if trust has been damaged or completely obliterated? I found myself asking that same question 18 months ago in my counselor’s office. I knew I had forgiven my husband for breaking my trust but neither one of us knew how to rebuild it. I knew forgiveness is a choice and love is a commitment but what about the very thing I needed to stay in my marriage? What about trust?
Trust is a feeling of security and safety. It’s not a choice but the result of building a bridge under your partner’s feet through daily interactions, choices, funneled through Christ at the center of our marriage. It is like being blindfolded yet armed with the resolute knowledge your partner will lead you safely through an obstacle course.
Broken trust isn’t isolated to obvious trusting breaking situations like affairs. Like our marriage it can be broken in far more subtle ways: lack of empathy, not being dependable, dishonesty or erratic behavior.
Once trust has been damaged, it is not easily restored. Often, we found ourselves moving one step forward only to move three steps back. Yet, because we continued to focus on Christ at the center of our marriage on top of Biblical counseling and supportive friends, we were able to build a stronger foundation of trust.
Rebuilding trust is not impossible, but it requires commitment, humility, consistency and intentionality of the offending partner. However, it’s not just the offending partner who needs to rebuild trust. The wounded spouse also needs to become a willing partner in the process too. Here are 10 trusting building tools to get you started.
1. Actions speak louder than words.
Be mindful your actions will either build up or break down trust. Show your spouse their value through intentional decisions, big or small with her or him in mind. It may be helpful to make a list or chart of trust building behaviors you both need from each other. It could include cutting out toxic relationships, complete and full access to your phone and email. It could be increased accountability throughout the day, limited use of social media or increased openness about your feelings and desires. It could also include more time together or date nights, more verbal or physical affection or seeing a biblically based counselor.
James 1:22-25 ESV: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
2. Meet their needs.
Relationships falter when needs are not met. The key here is to take your partner’s needs into account while expressing yours too. Successful relationships come down to meeting our core needs. What do you need in your relationship in order to feel loved, fulfilled and secure? What does your partner need from you? This often comes down to how each of us are wired to love. While your core need may be physical touch, your spouse may need words of affirmation.
Consider starting by taking an inventory of your spouse’s needs. Start with discovering your primary love language and ask your spouse to do the same. Visit: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Share your results and make it a goal to meet each other’s needs. By understanding your love language, your spouse’s and owning your lack of follow-through creates a bridge to rebuilding trust. This vulnerability helps your spouse feel significant and understood.
Philippians 2:1-4 NIV: “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
3. Mean what you say and do.
If you have trouble following through on your words or actions, you need to own it. We all fall short, none of us are perfect. Because we are not Christ, because we are mere human beings, we will never be perfect but when we choose to make excuses or justify our actions, we become tools that destroy the trust we are attempting to rebuild. Empty or failed promises exacerbate the strain in your marriage and further alienate your partner from you.
When you admit you made a mistake or that you messed up creates big impact on regaining trust. It essentially sends a white flag to your spouse demonstrating awareness of your shortcomings and actions. With this in mind: Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Let your thoughts and actions be measured against fulfilling your marriage covenant.
Matthew 5:37 ESV: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
4. Your partner comes first.
In today’s world where burning the candle at both ends is considered a great value, it’s easy to put work, kids, or other outside commitments ahead of your spouse. This destroys any progress you’ve gained in building a bridge of trust. It shakes the very foundation and way God designed marriage.
Like Christ, your attitude and efforts in marriage should be serving your spouse above all else. While the world may think marriage is about personal fulfillment and happiness, the Bible is filled with examples of God’s other-centered union in a me-centered world. Living this way is a challenge. In order to rebuild trust and a thriving partnership, the needs of your spouse must come first. It’s one of the ways God designed marriage in order to provide partnership and intimacy.
It’s not about giving in but rather treating your spouse in a way that you need to be treated. When you put your partner’s needs ahead of your own, you’re comminuting respect, courtesy, and love. This is the foundation above all else. An other-centered attitude creates unwavering communication that your spouse is significant above all else.
Ephesians 5:25 NIV: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
5. Kill familiarity.
Familiarity is a silent killer eroding marriage. The law of familiarity blends one day into another, meaning you stop doing the things you used to do before. For example, you stop trying to attract your spouse. You stop dressing up or wearing their favorite perfume. You scroll through your phone instead of giving your spouse undivided attention. You continue with behaviors that offend your spouse. In other words, you began to take your partner for granted.
If there are things you know that are a put off to your partner, stop it immediately.
Instead of assuming you know everything about your spouse, study your partner. Set a goal to learn something new about them. Then be intentional in showing your spouse what you’ve learned about them. This kills familiarity and creates an environment in which can begin to thrive.
Proverbs 30:18-19 NLT: “There are three things that amaze me—no, four things that I don’t understand: how an eagle glides through the sky, how a snake slithers on a rock, how a ship navigates the ocean, how a man loves a woman.”
6. Surround yourself with biblically marriage minded friends.
The saying goes you are who you hang out with. The same goes with your marriage. My attitude toward my husband changed after I limited my interactions with church friends and family who constantly reminded me of what happened in our marriage. I sought out supportive and wise friendships instead.
Surround yourself with those who support your marriage and your spouse. This creates a community of trust, accountability and support. They will remind you God is at the center of your marriage—not yourself or what your spouse has done.
Take inventory of the relationships in your life. What relationships influence the efforts you are making in your marriage? Who is willing to hold you accountable? Identify toxic relationships and limit contact. Otherwise you’re likely to stay stuck in the past instead of building a bridge forward.
Proverbs 27:17 NIV: “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”
7. Vulnerability is Key
Vulnerability is scared and scary all at once because you’re essentially giving another human being access to your weaknesses, your fears, your thoughts, emotions, and soul. If you Google the definition of vulnerability, it is defined as “being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”
Vulnerability is the mortar to building the bricks of trust. When you choose to be vulnerable it allows your spouse to feel more comfortable being open and honest with sharing his or her heart, hurts, mistakes or roadblocks. Considering giving your spouse full access to your heart because vulnerability is an active brick in the foundation of trust.
Stephen Covey, author of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once said: “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate, we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.” In other words, vulnerability goes hand in hand with trust.
Ephesians 4:32 NLT: “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
8. Set Realistic Expectations
Broken trust is often the aftermath of unrealistic expectations. In general, trust is broken when your spouse acts in a way that didn’t meet your expectations. More often than that, individuals do enter marriage with unrealistic expectations thinking their spouse would be the source of happiness.
Some even thought their spouse was perfect and would never do any harm. Maybe you assumed your marriage would be always be filled with fireworks between the sheets and candlelight dinners every night of the week. Maybe you assumed that all you needed to do was show remorse for breaking your spouse’s trust and life would be back to normal.
Rebuilding a marriage on the rocks often includes letting go of all unrealistic expectations in order to make a fresh start.
Expect it will take time to rebuild your marriage. Except your marriage may not be the same as before. Expect that it may take several months of moving one step forward while moving two steps back. Not only it is important to have realistic expectations to build a thriving marriage after a rocky road, it is the realization your partner may not be perfect but is making an effort to grow in character, integrity, and honesty.
1 Peter 4:8 NLT: “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
9. Fight fair.
When arguments and hurt feelings arise, remember you are fighting for your spouse, not with your spouse. The goal isn’t to prove your point or be right, the goal is to win for your marriage.
When your spouse raises a complaint, actively listen to what she is saying. Use statements like, “I hear you saying,” or “I feel.”
Active listening is a vital tool in learning to fight fair. It will help you avoid the pitfalls of defending yourself or counter-attacking your spouse. Learning to fight fair helps prevent both of you from potentially escalating the argument.
Remember to be the calming force in the fight. Avoid becoming emotionally heated and reacting with negative words or actions. Brace yourself for the emotions and the words that may be welling up within yourself and within your spouse. Ask God to give you the tools to not only fight fair but to fight for your marriage.
Ephesians 4:15 NIV: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
10. The past stays in the past.
No one wants to be reminded of their past mistakes. It negates bitter feelings and the thought process that nothing will change. It’s vital to not bring up your spouse’s past mistakes. Both of you are new creations in Christ, therefore both of you are not who you used to be.
If you remind your partner of their mistakes, they will eventually feel defeated. The same goes for yourself, if you continue to dwell on what your spouse did, you’ll find bitterness, anger, and resentment taking root in your heart. This is dangerous ground because these feelings will obliterate any progress made in your relationship.
If the past threatens to invade the present, focus on things your partner is doing. Are they holding themselves accountable, are they being transparent? How has your spouse’ character changed? How are they showing remorse, empathy or their love towards you?
Isaiah 43:18 ESV: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.”
10 Ways to Rebuild Trust in a Marriage on the Rocks
Heather Riggleman calls Nebraska home (Hey, it’s not for everyone). She roams small towns looking for stories and coffee with her husband and three kids. She writes to bring the perspective of bold truths and raw faith into universal concepts women face from marriage, career, mental health, depression, faith, relationships, to celebration and heartache. Heather is a former national award-winning journalist and is the author of Mama Needs a Time Out and Let’s Talk About Prayer. Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today’s Christian Woman and Focus On the Family. You can find her at heatherriggleman.com.