Henry and Fiona have been through a lot in their ten years of marriage. They have experienced financial hardship and struggles with their young children. In recent years, his affairs have further destroyed the trust between them. Their experiences have led them onto the path of mistrust.
They are currently starting over and rebuilding their marriage and their family. They have each taken responsibility for their parts. They continue to work through the betrayal and are learning how to let go of the past. Fiona still has a hard time when Henry goes out and, being human, envisions the worst. Frustrated, Henry says, “I want you to trust me! What do I need to do so that you will trust me again?”
Trust and commitment are two fundamental pillars of a solid relationship house. If they have been damaged, they need to be strengthened or rebuilt again. That takes time.
“Successful long-term relationships
are created through small words,
small gestures, and small acts.”
– Dr. John Gottman
However, time alone is not enough. What are some of the “small words, small gestures and small acts” that Gottman mentions? Here are the main steps that can bring a couple back onto the path of mutual trust:
2. Reliability (Predictability)
When our partner is responsive, trust is rebuilt. For Henry, that means letting Fiona know where he is going, who he is hanging out with, and when he will be back. That is not to be confused with asking permission. Henry is rebuilding trust by being transparent with his actions. Fiona needs to know her concerns are taken seriously and there won’t be any secrets.
Responsiveness also includes turning towards our partners when they are reaching to connect. We might not always be able to connect in a given moment because work or family demands are getting in the way. Fiona learned that a “not now” needs to be followed up with a “how about later/tonight/tomorrow?”
We want to be clear about our plans and only make promises we can keep. A reliable or predictable partner is one that we can trust. Henry and Fiona are both working on making agreements and following through.
We always want to speak respectfully. Sarcasm is only one step away from contempt (see the “four horsemen” below) and toxic for a loving partnership. When we treat our partner like a child, that is not befitting an equal partnership either. Yelling or screaming at the other one undermines respect in the partnership as well. Finally, threatening to leave is a low blow or power move that completely destabilizes our partner. Either you are in with both feet and committed, or you go. We all need to know that our partner will work through difficult times to trust them.
We are all human and get activated into saying something from anger or not behaving at our best. Forgive yourself and repair the rift as soon as possible. What is your way to “repair”? How does your partner like to “repair”? A repair might happen in more than one way, for example:
Read my blog “How to give a heartfelt apology“.
Make a joke (if appropriate) but make sure you are laughing at yourself or both of you, not making a joke at the expense of your partner.
For example, make eye contact, touch your partner if that feels intuitively right, or ask, “Can I get a hug / give you a hug?” or “I love you.”
Antidotes to the Four Horsemen
What Gottman calls “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” also gets in the way of rebuilding trust. At times we all express one or more of these behaviours. However, if they show up frequently, they can lead to the relationship’s decline. Those four demeanours are Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling, and Contempt.
What can you do instead? The antidotes to the horsemen are:
- Instead of being critical, make I statements.
- Instead of being defensive, take responsibility for your part.
- Instead of stonewalling and shutting down, learn to self-soothe, so you can reconnect or stay connected.
- Instead of expressing contempt, own your feelings.
Doing things differently needs to be practised.
If you want to build trust and create stronger relationships,
reach out for individual sessions or couples coaching.