It’s tough to get traction for forward movement when there’s no trust in people or process. Instead of focusing on what’s ahead, you’re busy looking over your shoulder to make sure there’s no one with a knife within stabbing distance.
So, unless a compromised relationship is abusive – in which case wariness if not complete separation is called for – it’s generally worth the effort to try to rebuild trust. Here are some thoughts on how to go about it:
If your trust has been broken:
- Listen to yourself. Your limbic system has kicked in for a reason. Maybe the situation is harmless and a word or deed triggered some old trauma. Or maybe the red flags are waving to protect you from present danger.
- Be kind to yourself. You do not deserve to have your trust violated.
- Take a deep breath. It sounds so simple, but a deep, cleansing breath can interrupt a limbic loop. (Limbic loops keep us locked in survival mode, keeping us from learning more about our situation or finding a creative solution.)
- Ask for perspective. Talk with people whose counsel you value. Ask them to help you understand the situation more broadly and discern how to move forward.
- Be honest. When you’re feeling more brave – or can fake it! – tell the trust violator about the impact of her/his choices. The response will let you know what the immediate possibilities are for saving the relationship.
If you have broken someone else’s trust:
- Own up to the breach. Acknowledge – first to yourself and then to others – that you have messed up, and ask for forgiveness. Otherwise the process of rebuilding trust stops before it starts.
- Exchange stories. Share a bit about the reasons behind what you said or did, not to make excuses, but to pave the way for understanding. Invite the person whose trust you compromised to tell about how your words or actions have affected him/her.
- Change the rules. Decide together what needs to change in your relationship for there to be trust again.
- Overcommunicate. Make extra effort to be transparent. Nothing undermines rebuilding trust like guessing games.
- Give space. The person(s) who feel violated may not be ready to jump back in to relationship. Pressure will only slow down the process.
- Ask for feedback. Check in with the other person about how you’re doing and how s/he is feeling. What course corrections still need to be made?
- Be worthy of trust. Enough said.
(Note that I did not include prayer in the steps above because conversation with God – whatever that looks like for you – should be woven throughout the process.)
Rebuilding trust, at its root, requires vulnerability on both sides. The violator must be willing to admit fault and make changes, and the violatee must be willing to try again in a relationship that has brought pain. There is no cheap grace. Be brave, be patient, and be assured that the Holy Spirit will go with you.