How to Repair Trust

A few years ago, it was unearthed that I’d been lying to my wife since before we were married. From very small dumb things to major events.

This wasn’t an admission of my own will, one thing was discovered and it all came out. I wrote a letter to my parents and hers stating what I’d done, took a polygraph to prove I didn’t have a physical affair (I passed), and have been pretty honest since.

This past weekend, I had texted a lady I had known for a few years on FB, and was totally inappropriate chat. I then deleted it and said nothing.

My wife discovered it before I deleted the conversation and again, I didn’t say anything but she basically confronted me a few days later. Even then I only admitted that it happened, and said it wasn’t that bad.

She then told me she read the transcript and knew that it was. As an aside, I have no interest in this other person, nor have I ever touched anyone in that way. Her overall message the entire time, for years, is that it wasn’t the many activities that she was upset about, but that fact that I omitted everything, and that I’m just not an honest person is the worst part.

Now I’m at ground zero again. She has no trust in me and we are now basically uncomfortable roommates, destined to raise our kids. After two years of being good, this incident sent it all back tumbling and I don’t know what to do. I want to be with her, made a very poor mistake, and now here we are.

Response:

This is a very common situation. Trust is hard to earn and so easy to damage.

When you’ve betrayed your partner’s trust in a situation like this you need to do the following things:

  1. Apologize for your behavior. Tell your wife that what you did was wrong. Do not make excuses or minimize your actions (i.e., don’t tell her it was harmless or that it didn’t mean anything to you). You caused your wife harm—end of story. Own the fact that you hurt your wife and tell her you’re sorry.
  2. Work with your wife to create an action plan to restore trust. With your wife, identify exactly how you will behave in order to regain her trust. Develop an explicit and concrete set of actions that you will take to restore trust. For example, perhaps you won’t delete any FB messages with other women or maybe you’ll share all exchanges with your wife.
  3. Follow your plan. Don’t screw up. Keep your promises to your wife.
  4. Give your wife time. You’ve betrayed her trust and taken away her sense of security. If you keep all of your promises, you’re wife will forgive you when she feels the time is right. Don’t put pressure on her to forgive you. She needs to feel like she can trust you again—and if you put pressure on her to forgive you, it will backfire. Rebuilding trust happens on her timeline, not yours.

And see our section on rebuilding trust for more advice (see rebuilding trust).

 lying husband | trust issues

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