Trust is often one of those things we don’t think about until we don’t have it. Much like oxygen, we take it for granted, but once it’s gone…YIKES! We suddenly realize how critically important it is and we’ll do just about anything to get it back.
The good news about broken trust, if there is any, is that it can be rebuilt in most circumstances. Trust is incredibly resilient when it’s been properly nurtured in healthy relationships. With the exception of the most willful, intentional acts of betrayal, trust can usually be rebuilt if both parties are willing to put in the effort. However, in order to rebuild it, you must address three important things.
The first thing to deal with to restore trust is the past. As the 12-step recovery process has taught us, the first step in fixing a problem is to acknowledge you have one. When violations of trust occur, it is tempting to sweep the fallout under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. Breaches of trust need to be met head-on and burying your head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist only makes the wound fester and become infected. It’s helpful to assess which of the four elements of trust has been eroded and then admit your mistakes. There are few trust-building behaviors more powerful than admitting and owning your mistakes. After your admission, let others express their feelings. Listen with empathy and understanding; don’t debate and argue.
The second thing to address in restoring trust is the present. You can reconcile the past with the present when you apologize. The apology is a make it or break it moment in the process of rebuilding trust. If you apologize well, you set the course for healing and higher levels of trust in the future. If you botch the apology, you can dig yourself into an even deeper hole of hurt and dysfunction. Effective apologies have three basic components: admitting your fault, expressing remorse for the harm caused, and committing to repairing the damage. Check out The Most Successful Apologies Have These 8 Elements for more tips on apologizing.
The third thing to address when restoring trust is the future and you do this by determining how you’re going to act moving forward. This is where the rubber hits the road in rebuilding trust. You can articulate the most awesome apology in the world, but the relationship will suffer permanent harm if you don’t change your behavior. The key success factor is to have a plan of action that is agreed upon with the person you offended. Outline how each of you will move forward in the relationship, what accountability looks like, and how you’ll know when the breach of trust has been repaired. The time it takes to repair trust is usually proportional to the severity of the offense.
Rebuilding trust in relationships requires us to be vulnerable and courageous. We must deal with the past and acknowledge we did something wrong, address the present and apologize for our behavior, and move into the future and act in ways that repair the damage we caused. However, the net result can be even stronger levels of trust. Relationships that have experienced the crucible of broken trust can come out stronger on the other side if both parties are willing to engage in this hard work to get to a place of healing and restoration.