Rebuilding Trust After an Affair

Dear Neil: Could you address how to rebuild trust after an affair?

Reader From New Zealand

Dear New Zealand: What we actually mean when we say “I need to be able to trust you again” is really “I need to feel safe around you again.” So rebuilding trust is akin to restoring the feeling that you’re honorable, honest, truthful, trustworthy and safe.

The other relationship has to be completely over. No repair work is going to happen if your spouse/intimate partner is not confident that the affair has stopped. This is particularly challenging when the other person is someone you regularly see at work. But if you’re going to make your spouse feel safe, you will have to do whatever s/he needs. This includes you honestly confessing, telling the whole story with as much detail as your partner asks for.

Second, sincerely apologize. A sincere apology is not simply saying “I’m sorry.” A sincere apology acknowledges wrongdoing, accepts accountability for the behavior, conveys genuine sorrow that you have hurt the person you love—and communicates that you will go to the end of the Earth in order to make things up to him or her. You must include an inviolable promise that you will be honest, transparent and open about your dealings with other people from here on out, and that you will never keep a hurtful secret from your partner again.

Third, you must take the lead and offer consistent effort over time to assist the relationship in being closer, friendlier, more engaged and more deeply connected. Fourth, show your interest by being way more affectionate. Holding hands, hugging, cuddling, kissing, having your arm abound each other as you watch a movie—those are ways to be affectionate through touch.

Fifth, several times a week, tell your partner what you love, admire, respect and like about him/her. Your partner’s confidence is shaken, and I cannot overstate the importance of offering a ton of reassurance—often. Sixth, be emotionally and physically available, and compassionately listen to your partner’s hurt and pain. This may take a while, and you may hear the same “I can’t believe this” refrain many many times before it diminishes. Be understanding and patient. It will lessen over time.

Seventh, offer complete openness and transparency about phone records, texts, emails, credit card statements and bills. It will give your partner assurance that you are no longer keeping secrets or being private about your dealings with other people.

Lastly, don’t cheat again. Trust is way harder to regain if this happens more than once.

“Love is the irresistible desire to be desired irresistibly.” —Louis Ginsberg

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