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Rebuilding Trust after Betrayal

  • Dr. David Hawkins Director, The Marriage Recovery Center
  • 2009 20 Jan
Rebuilding Trust after Betrayal

Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question t

Trust is something we take for granted.  

Trust is an invaluable commodity in a relationship. When you have it, you rest easily. When you lose it, you lie awake and wonder. You spin endless tales in your mind, hoping beyond hope none of them are true. You torture yourself with possibilities, and wonder if you are making everything up, or worry about the possibility that it really is true—your mate is being unfaithful.

In a world where we all know someone who has cheated, or perhaps even been there ourselves, it is no wonder that trust can be hard to find. The gossip at the water cooler is rampant with stories about people sneaking around. This, of course, doesn’t help your worries.

How can you know if you can trust your mate? Are there signs to look for? How does our Christian faith come to bear on such a topic? As we reflect on this sensitive topic, read this recent email from a reader.

Dear Dr. David:

I have been dating my girlfriend for about two years and we’ve had a good relationship. During our early dating I cheated on her and she cheated on me once. We’ve both been faithful in the past year and want to move forward toward marriage. The problem is, I’m not sure I can trust her. She is still flirtatious, and I know other guys are attracted to her. I think she likes the attention, but says she will never cheat on me again. How can I be sure? What can I do to settle the insecurities and jealousy I feel? -- Afraid to Commit

Dear Afraid:

You raise several issues worthy of your consideration. Let’s tackle them one at a time.

First, you say you cheated early in your dating relationship. It’s important to note here that God designed sexual intimacy for the covenant of marriage. Sexual involvement with anyone outside that covenant – even with your girlfriend whom you love – is harmful to you, your girlfriend, and your relationship with God. When a couple waits to become sexually involved until marriage, trust builds in the relationship because you are honoring God above your personal desires and demonstrating self-control to each other. Are you currently practicing sexual purity in your relationship? If not, make a commitment to discontinue sexual involvement until you've exchanged vows.

Second, what should you do about your past unfaithfulness? The fact that you’ve already been unfaithful brings up several questions: What caused you to be unfaithful in the beginning of your relationship? Have you and your mate settled those issues? Have you been extremely clear with each other that unfaithfulness can have no place in your relationship and you now must make even greater efforts to rebuild a trusting relationship? 

Betrayal brings many wounds. Broken trust leaves scars that last a long time. Many believe unfaithfulness is common and therefore not that harmful. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sexual unfaithfulness is one of the most difficult betrayals from which to recover. Have you and your girlfriend talked out your hurt and pain? Have you resolved the pain and trauma you experienced from having been unfaithful, and your girlfriend being unfaithful to you? Have you reassured each other you will never hurt one another like this again?

Hedge of protection. In Biblical times, people built a hedge of thorns around their gardens and even their houses as a method of protection. Likewise, we need to build hedges of protection around our marriages. “Have you not made a hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he has on every side?” (Job 1: 10) You can build a hedge of thorns, metaphorically, with your girlfriend and your future marriage. Agree not to take any chances with your relationship.  

Avoid even the appearance of evil. Make an agreement with your mate that your hedge of protection will withstand any onslaught. Agree to do nothing that would arouse suspicion in your mate. Go the extra mile for her and ask her to go the extra mile for you. This means letting go of flirtatious behavior and making it clear to others that you and your mate are not available.

Practice trusting. Trust is like a muscle that must be repaired and rebuilt. Practice using it and notice it strengthen. Notice her acting in ways that say, “I love you. You’re mine.” Practice saying those things to her. Then—take calculated risks. There are no guarantees in life. As long as you keep your marital house in order, however, there is little reason to stray.

Get counsel. If you find yourself unable to move forward, you need professional counseling. If your relationship has been marred by infidelity, of any kind, and you simply cannot move forward, seek wise counsel.  

What has helped you build or rebuild trust in your marriage? I’d love to hear from you.  

Posted January 20, 2009

Dr. Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center, where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.