Mental health is made possible when we are honest with ourselves and with others. When truth is denied, trust is broken. Being open and honest in a relationship builds intimacy, while becoming defensive, argumentative, and resistant to change will damage it. Anger and counter-attacks create distrust and block both parties from hearing each other. Rebuilding trust with someone is not just a decision to be made, it is a lifestyle change that requires honesty with yourself and those you have hurt. Lying and cheating weaken the foundation of relationships and it is important to work out the issues sincerely and without anger, defensiveness, or assigning blame. Take full responsibility for your actions as an important first step to rebuild a solid foundation of trust. In this lesson we address six, actionable steps to rebuilding trust in a relationship to help you get on the right track.
Dishonesty Erodes Trust
Since consistent behavior demonstrated over a period of time builds trust, it stands to reason every dishonest gesture and lie told damages your integrity. Look through the following list and use it as an inventory to identify past problems with honesty.
Most people care about the truth, desire to be honest, and would say lying is wrong. They also genuinely want acceptance and approval. When those two values collide, a choice between honesty or approval is forced. Some people lie to retain approval. This strategy often backfires, causing further damage to the relationship. There are many emotional reasons that cause people to have trouble being upfront and truthful. However, there are more, and better, reasons for telling the truth and being honest.
When You have Been Hurt
Trust is a two-way street. Just as you have damaged relationships through dishonest and deceptive words and actions, others have likely betrayed and deceived you. In the same way, your willingness to trust them needs to be rebuilt over time. Draw a boundary and distance yourself from someone who repeatedly demonstrates they are untrustworthy. Giving your jewelry to a jewel thief is not trust, it is bad judgment. Keep your distance until they have changed their track record and can be trusted again. If they fail to change behavior, take it as an indicator your boundary needs to stay in place.
Six Steps to Rebuilding Trust in a Relationship
Rebuilding trust takes time and patience. The first priority is to be consistent, dependable, and responsible for your own actions. Avoid re-injuring the other person or becoming defensive about your behavior. These six guidelines will help you restore relationships where trust has been violated.
- Be consistent with your actions. Trust is built when your behavior is predictable and your words and actions are reliable and dependable.
- Admit what you did was wrong and harmful. Take full responsibility for your own actions. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Own your behavior: “It was me. I did it. I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Blame shifting erodes confidence and decreases your trustworthiness.
- Find out what the other person considers important and be responsive to what they need. Being considerate and understanding of the needs of others shows you care about their interests and not just your own.
- Expect a bumpy ride. You may be accused, not forgiven, misunderstood, rejected, blamed, ridiculed, and gossiped about. Don’t be shocked or over-react and do not be surprised by imperfect reactions to your previous imperfect actions.
- Keep your word, and admit when you do not. You are on a slippery slope when you make a mistake, cover it up with a lie, get caught, and invent a bigger lie to explain the first one. With every step along this progression, honesty is the best policy. Keep your word. If you are not able, or fail to keep your word, admit it quickly and sincerely.
- Get help when you get stuck. Some people deceive, lie, steal, minimize, and deny problems for so long it becomes their native language. Lying is as easy as falling down, but it takes great effort to tell the truth in difficult or compromising situations. If telling the truth consistently seems impossible, get help from a sponsor or counselor.
Written By: Hal Baumchen, PsyD, LP, LADC
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Evaluate your relationships and apply these steps to rebuilding trust in a relationship.