Rebuilding Trust Requires Understanding A Partner’s Feelings

couple listeningThe loss of trust is a very painful experience. It often involves a lot of hurt, confusion, anger, and sadness.

Dealing with these emotions is critical when trying to rebuild trust. When upset, we want our partners to understand our point of view—to understand our feelings and emotions.

Having a spouse or partner understand how we feel is important (see Reis & Shaver; Cole and Teboul; Fincham, Paleari & Regalia). Having a partner understand our hurt and pain helps us move beyond such negative feelings.

If a partner does not take the time to make us feel understood—we try to get even—we try to make our partners feel as bad as we do. Even though it sounds childish, when someone does not understand our pain—we try to make them feel our pain (Axelrod and Hamilton, Gouldner).

Often partners do not take the time to make us feel understood because they do not know how to do it or because they get defensive (feel under attack).

When accused of wrongdoing, people often try to...

  • apologize
  • offer excuses and explanations
  • withdraw
  • or even attack back....

These strategies do not work very well in the long run because they fail to create real understanding.

When trying to build or repair trust—it helps to see the situation from the other’s point of view. Try to understand why the other person is so upset—directly acknowledge his or her feelings ("you are angry, hurt, confused") and interpretation of the situation ("and, you have every right to be upset, because what I did was wrong.")

You basically have to agree that your partner’s feelings are legitimate and fair—let the other person know that you get it. If you can do this, trust is going to be much easier to regain.

If you can make someone feel understood when they are upset, they are more likely to...

  • calm down
  • forgive you
  • feel closer
  • listen to your side of the story...

If you don’t take the time to understand your partner’s feelings, rebuilding trust is much more difficult to do.