Rebuilding the Trust

One of the fast disappearing qualities in the self centered, “freedom” seeking, “modern” human beings in the fast paced present day Indian society is trust. Trust is becoming a rare character trait. Someone asked what it means to trust another person. How should one react when a spouse or a loved one is found dishonest, unfaithful, lying, selfish and inconsiderate? Is it possible to rebuild trust in the person who disappointed us greatly?

What does trusting someone mean?

Trust, along with honesty, is very essential to maintain a strong, healthy relationship, be it between wife and husband, or parents and children, or friends or business partners.

Trust, in a practical sense, means that you place confidence in someone to be honest with you, faithful to you, and keep promises, vows and confidences. It is where you expose your vulnerabilities to the other, believing that s/he will not take advantage of your openness.

However, trusting another person requires a realistic perspective about that person. Because we all define and understand what is right and acceptable in a slightly different way than the other. Depending on a person’s perspective about right and wrong, what is right and acceptable for one person may be considered wrong by the other. Therefore, having a better knowledge about a person’s perspective of what is acceptable and right is helpful to have a better understanding of that person.

A person’ perspective is generally based on her/his belief system, value system and experiences. We need to consider other person’s fears, belief system and value system that may cause her/him to act differently than what we would expect. Understand that the other person may have her/his own set of fears, expectations and judgments, all unrelated to ours. These things influence the choices s/he makes. Even if s/he tries to do what we expect or want her/him to do, s/he can only define what we want based on her/his belief system and value system, which may be different from ours. Because of this s/he fails to meet our precise expectations, thus leading to disappointment and heartache. So be prepared for all possible outcomes. We are all humans who make mistakes or make decisions that have consequences that we don’t expect or don’t like.

Therefore, trust needs to be combined with a willingness to forgive and reconcile. However, forgiveness FOLLOWS confession and repentance of the offender. As Joan Borysenko rightly says, “Forgiveness is not the misguided act of condoning irresponsible, hurtful behaviour. Nor is it a superficial turning of the other cheek that leaves us feeling victimized and martyred. Rather it is the finishing of the old business that allows us to experience the present, free of all contamination from the past.” The “finishing of the old business” should happen in an environment of love, transparency, commitment, acceptance and empathy.

Trust grows over time. As the concerned persons spend time together, they grow up in knowledge, understanding and authenticity. Each person gains insight into the other person’s character, needs, motivations and fears. Someone said, “Trust is a peculiar resource; it is built rather than depleted by use.” People are complex. Their previous hurts, fears or losses can hinder their determination to trust and/or be truthful in a relationship.

But human beings have ability to change and to grow in trust and truthfulness. We can rebuild trust in broken relationships when we make a choice to do so with the help of God.

Trust Violations

Trust violations occur when a person’s confident positive expectations of the other are proved wrong. This results in the reduced trust level, which in turn stifles mutual support and information sharing. The offended person experiences a distressed emotional state which is likely to be composed of a mixture of anger, disappointment and frustration at herself/himself for trusting the other person and also at the offender for exploiting the trust.

In some cases, a single trust violation may seriously damage or irreparably destroy trust. In other cases, one trust violation may not be that damaging when considered in isolation, but a pattern of violations create a serious damage to the relationship. That means, the degree of effect of trust violations vary, depending on the kind of offense.

For example, minor offenses may be met with simply a reduced level of trust. Even though the relationship is not terminated, it continues with reduced cooperation and information sharing.

However, serious trust violations cause greater damage to the level of trust and relationship. The offended person is more likely to engage in severe negative reactions, including exacting vengeance and/or terminating relationship. Violations of integrity and benevolence are more severe and damaging. Examples may include intentional deception, purposefully breaking a promise or obligation, and rude, disrespectful treatment.

Rebuilding the trust

Can broken trust be rebuilt? Yes. Rebuilding trust is, however, not as straightforward as building trust. The key question is whether the victim wants to reconcile. Only if the victim is willing to reconcile, rebuilding trust is possible. If the victim believes that the offender will not make any effort at righting the wrongs and minimizing future violations, s/he will not be encouraged to reconcile and restore trust. So rebuilding of trust requires or demands commitment and effort from both the offender and the offended.

Reconciliation occurs only when both the offended and the offender make determined effort to settle the issues that disrupted the relationship. This should take place in an atmosphere of transparency, honesty and willingness to listen and understand.

Actions speak louder than words. So it is imperative for the offender to show in actions that s/he is serious about honouring the trust, and correcting her/his misguided belief systems, value system and behaviour. Remember that communication and action are central elements in reconciliation and rebuilding trust.

The offender should voluntarily offer a thorough and sincere apology which conveys remorse for harm inflicted, and an explanation of the details surrounding the betrayal, and a promise to honour trust. Both the offender and the offended should recommit themselves to the ideals and values upon which the relationship is built.

Some salient points to rebuild the trust:

–          Stop lying: Continuing to lie, twist or deny is simply adding insult to injury. If you want the relationship to work, then you can not continue to lie about your secret relationship or marital infidelity. Marital unfaithfulness can be anything: sexual involvement with another person, or secret exchange of emails, text messages and phone conversations with a friend or an acquaintance or a complete stranger. Whether the extra marital cheating is a passionate sexual affair or an emotional affair, it will greatly undermine the trust in your marriage.

The only hope of regaining trust of the offended person is to share the truth, thus demonstrating your commitment to being honest and to restore relationship.

–          Do not get defensive or blame others: Do not blame anyone or anything for your actions or wayward behaviour. If you blame someone or something for your errant behaviour, the offended person will view it as an attempt to continue to keep her/him in the dark and to make her/him a fool.

Skip the excuses and just take responsibility. Justifying and making excuses may help you in the short term, but in the long run it does nothing for your character or the level of trust you are given. Accountability is a rare trait these days with most people wanting to avoid negative consequences at all costs. Dare to be different and you will win the trust of others.

This is the time to be contrite, repentant and honest. The best way to effectively start the process of rebuilding trust is to take complete and full ownership of your own selfishness, immaturity and basic destructive relationship behaviour.

–          Establish consistency: Every effort should be made to ensure that words are consistent with actions. This determines your integrity and determination to honour the trust.

Be consistent in your behaviour. Don’t engage in the behaviour once in a while when it seems convenient. Your consistency is the key to your trustworthiness. Small actions add up and a track record of good character is invaluable in any relationship. Become intensely principle-centered and trust will follow easily and consistently.

–          Communicate accurately, openly and transparently: Act transparently and be willing to communicate your motives and intentions for your actions.

–          Show concern for the other: Trust often grows when you show sensitivity to the needs, desires and interests of the other. Refrain from engaging in self interested pursuits to the detriment of the other.

–          Show unconditional love: Unconditional love develops trust. As you show it to the other, s/he will sense your acceptance and feel comfortable to be vulnerable and honest about her/his feelings, fears, failures and opinions. It builds self esteem in the other person and alleviates fears of rejection. This results in growing trust in the other person.

Apostle Paul clearly describes the unconditional love: “Love is patient, kind, not envious, or boastful, or arrogant, or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Cor. 11.4-7).

–          Take an honest look at yourself as well

You are not perfect and so will probably disappoint your loved one as well. You can promise never to say something hurtful or never tell a lie or always keep confidentialities and keep up promises. This will result as both the persons grow in God, seek God and ask him for strength to change so that they may be humble, honest and trustworthy to each other.

The ability to reconcile and spirit of humbleness prove your love and commitment for each other.


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