Essentials of Rebuilding Trust in Marriage

Contrary to the popular notion, time doesn't heal all wounds. Rose Kennedy put it this way: 

"It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone."1

Her statement precisely illustrates what I see married couples experience when the trust between them is lost. Though they try masking the emotional pain, uncertainty and anxiety which results from such a loss, these effects remain until spouses dedicate the time needed to address them directly. Moreover, there is a high likelihood that avoiding these underlying issues will lead to further points of tension and additional breaches of trust.

When Marital Connection is Lost

Dr. Sue Johnson, a brilliant researcher on couples attachment, describes how "losing connection with our loved one jeopardizes our our sense of security." She also explains how this loss of security and connection can be overwhelming, contributing to the development of a "primal panic" and "vicious spirals of insecurity."2

These spirals can easily become pervasive, characterizing the majority of interactions between spouses and involving what Dr. John Gottman terms the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.3

Starting to Rebuild Trust

It is essential married couples recognize when their attempts to connect emotionally, and to ultimately rebuild trust, are being affected by the patterns identified by Dr. Johnson and Dr. Gottman. Why? Because trust cannot effectively be rebuilt until there is a consistent display of responsiveness, love and understanding allowing a necessary re-bonding to occur. This is why spouses must work at creating a context enabling each member to move from a place of self protection to a place of security. Let's look at how this is made possible. 

A Mind-Set to Heal

There is a process to healing broken emotional bonds and rebuilding trust, and it involves having a heart (mindset) that is open to the needs, wants and desires of the other. I make this statement knowing our natural tendency is to focus on ourselves when we are hurt by our spouse, however when a couple takes the risk of applying an other-focused mentality, they invoke a mutual respect that in turn creates a context for open communication. 

There are specific elements comprising the heart or mindset I'm referring to, and I've seen couples use them to great effect in rebuilding trust:  

  • Love: remembering the love that brought you together and affirming your commitment to honor, serve and be loyal to your spouse all the days of your life.
  • Humility: casting aside all pride, acknowledging the impact your actions had on your spouse, maintaining the fear of the Lord, and remembering the undeserved grace and love God has extended to you. 
  • Vulnerability: taking the risk of speaking to the underlying thoughts and emotions driving your responses toward your spouse; allowing them to see who you really are. 
  • Tenderness: Approaching each other with great care and tenderness as you share your experiences, needs, wants and desires.  

I would also encourage you to consider the following verses and see how they relate to having a mind-set to heal.  

"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." 
Proverbs 15:1 (ESV)

"By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and
by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil."

Proverbs 16:6 (ESV)

"Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness
to the soul and health to the body.
Proverbs 16:24 (ESV)

There is incredible wisdom found in these scriptures, making them more than a series of nice sounding words. One the contrary, they serve as the basis of the Love, Humility, Vulnerability and Tenderness described above. 

Consistency Over Time

I wanted to end this article by affirming there isn't a time-frame anyone can specify for how long it takes to rebuild marital trust. What I can say is that the couples I've worked with who have consistently applied the heart related principles addressed above, are those who recover more rapidly than those who do otherwise. That is my observation, and I applaud every couple who has walked through my office doors and had the courage to love each other greatly, and show it, in the midst seeking to heal from the unspeakable pain of broken trust. You are truly incredibly people.  

Very Best,

Eric Gomez, MS LMFT MHP
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Fulfilled Christian Counseling

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  1. Rose Kennedy Quote
  2. Johnson, S. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. Little, Brown. Chicago.

  3. Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the countries foremost relationship expert.