Remember, forgiveness is a process. It will take a while as you regularly look back at your deep hurts and see your partner as weak and fallible, and separate what he/she did from who he/she is.
If you are helping your partner forgive you, you might consider taking the time to put yourself in his/her shoes for a moment and feel what your partner must have felt when you hurt him/her so deeply. Write your partner a letter, describing what you felt (use feeling words), apologize for hurting him/her that way, promise to never hurt him/her that way again and ask him/her if they will start forgiving you.
Next, rebuilding trust must occur. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that you must feel safe before you can feel genuine love. When we begin most relationships, we give a person a full tub of trust — for free. They do not have to earn it. We give it to them in a full state.
The tub will stay full, even though we make mistakes and hurt the person we give it to. Normal hurts of everyday life do not tend to affect our partner’s trust.
But, if we ever dump that tub through betrayal, we have hard work ahead of us. We only get one tub per relationship. If we dump it, we must refill it. It is just not possible to say, “Let’s start all over again” and expect your partner to make him/herself trust you fully again. It is hard work to refill a trust tub, and it can take a long time.
If what we have covered so far makes sense, let’s move on to the actual process of rebuilding trust. It will start with you asking your partner to make you a trust list. Ask for a long and comprehensive list. The longer, the better.
This is not like a punch list on a house where you do each thing once, mark it off and continue until you finish the list and then “move in.” Hopefully, there will be things on this list that you can do several times a day. You are in the process of refilling a giant tub with little thimble-sized containers. There are not “big buckets” of things you can do, typically. It is the little things done over and over that refill a trust tub.
I also want you to consider developing what I call an “attitude of the exceptional.” This is an attitude that understands the importance of exceptional effort during this trust-building time. If you call before leaving your office and say you will be home by 6:00, even if it is only a matter of being 15 seconds late, you call and let your spouse know how much later you will be than you promised.
If you tell your spouse you are going to a restaurant to celebrate a coworker’s birthday, and when you get there, you discover it is temporarily closed for renovations, you call on your way to the alternate restaurant and let your spouse know about the change. Remember, it will get better eventually.
Until you refill your partner’s trust tub to his/her satisfaction, you are always looking for an opportunity to exceed normal expectations in trustworthy behavior. Ask your partner to feel free to add more things to the trust list. Ask your partner to put a star beside the ones that are most important to him/her. When your days are hectic, making sure a starred item gets done may make more of a difference that day than the three you had previously planned to do.
If either of you becomes lax in doing the tasks or noticing the effort, journal what you do as the trust builder or what you notice as the receiver, and then compare notes periodically. Since rebuilding trust can take a long time, it is easy to lose your drive and motivation to work the trust list. It is also easy to take your partner’s efforts to rebuild trust for granted.
Next week, we will talk about how to deal with repetitive hurts in a relationship.
Remember, recovery is hard work, but it is good work.