We each have a “Trust Bank” inside of us with accounts for every person we know. Our interactions with other people lead to “trust deposits” or “trust withdrawals.” The more we interact with people the more opportunities they (and we) have to make deposits or withdrawals. This determines how much “credit” they have with us. This also determines if we can lend them more trust or not.
When we first married our partners, we each had a certain amount of capital that had built up in that bank. A lot of this trust was “credit” based on assumptions. However, as we continue in our marriages, there are certain behaviors that increase dependability and reliability (as deposits are made). There are also certain behaviors that withdraw trust from that bank.
This is happening every day whether we realize it or not. When we pick up items from the store like we said we would, we make a deposit. When we arrive late to our daughter’s dance recital, we make a withdrawal. When we are responsible with the family finances, we make a deposit. When we are frivolous or go outside of the budget, we make a withdrawal. When we patiently listen to our spouse’s concerns, we make deposits. When we respond with ridicule or lecture, we make withdrawals, proving that we are not safe places to confide in.
Over time, husbands and wives will make millions of deposits and withdrawals. However, like any bank balance, the goal is that there will be many more deposits than withdrawals. As that happens, the trust bank balance will grow. It should grow to the point where, should we arrive late to the recital, or should we forget to pick up the items that we promised, our trust bank will be healthy enough to absorb that withdrawal without doing too much damage. However, if we already have a low trust bank balance, the same behavior could result in an overdraft.
However, no matter how much of a balance has been built up, there are some behaviors which completely shatter the trust bank. An affair is one of those behaviors. In fact, not only does it take the trust bank balance down to zero, it actually bankrupts us, proving us unworthy of trust. It leaves us in the red. No bank is going to lend currency to someone who has declared bankruptcy, at least not right away. It is not the bank’s job to trust you. It’s your job to rebuild your credit score.
And so, how do we rebuild trust?
There is only one way. The long way. The slow way. By making trust deposits. By rebuilding your credit. The unfaithful partner has already shattered his/her trust bank account. He or she has broken the bank. It is up to him now to rebuild trust one transaction at a time.
Think about the analogy of a porcelain penny bank. It can get emptied two ways. One way is that small withdrawals can be made over time without making the necessary deposits. Eventually, after a slow fade, there is no more trust in the relationship. Second, the penny bank can get broken all at once. It can fall off a table, and shatter, and all the coins go everywhere all at once. This is what happens in the case of an affair. Even if there is genuine repentance, forgiveness, and restoration, trust isn’t necessarily rebuilt. When the broken bank is repaired and restored, you can’t make one big deposit and restore the entire trust balance all at once. You can’t just open up the bottom of the penny bank and start shoving in fistfulls of pennies. You can’t pour all the pennies into the bank with a funnel. You make deposits one penny at a time through that little slot on the top. It’s incremental. This takes lots of pennies and lots of time.
Consistent behavior over time is the key to rebuilding trust.
You must be open and honest about absolutely every area of your life. This means being honest about your emotions, being transparent about your day, being vulnerable about your thoughts, dreams, attractions, etc. Even if you share your screw ups and mess ups, it will help rebuild your credibility in the long run. Make a commitment to your spouse that you plan on being completely transparent with him or her as you move into the future.
So, let’s look at some practical ways that you can do this.
1. Share Your Emotions
Share your emotions with your spouse. Be honest about what you need. Be honest about how you feel.
If you’re still hiding your needs and your emotions from your spouse, you’ll be vulnerable to another affair. If you think, “I will be honest about this area of my life, but I will be closed and stand offish in this other area of my life,” you will not build trust with your spouse. The more transparent you are the more trust you will rebuild
2. Share Your Attractions
This may sound counterintuitive at first. How could you rebuild trust with your spouse by sharing with your spouse that you find someone else attractive? Because you’re being honest. Affairs thrive in secrecy. Affairs grow and develop first in the mind before they ever sprout and bear fruit in real life. However, once that fantasy is exposed to reality, the bubble bursts and it’s no longer as appealing as you thought it was. And there is nothing that pops the illusion of how intriguing and interesting it might be to hook up with this or that person than to share that illusion with your spouse!
It will also help your spouse to be wise to the situation. So, for example, if you’ve been spending a lot of time talking with someone at work, and you’ve noticed some chemistry beginning to develop between the two of you, first off, DON’T admit that chemistry to your coworker. You WILL have an affair. However, do admit that chemistry to your spouse. He or she will be alerted to the danger and can help hold you accountable. Perhaps he or she will even pop by the office every now and then. This will all be for your own good. It will also build your credibility and trust factor with your spouse because you were willing to share your attraction to someone else.
We are going to find other people attractive. Other people will find us attractive. It is insane to think that we’re only going to find one person attractive for the rest of our lives. At some point, we are going to come into contact with another human being who makes us feel good about ourselves when we are around them, and who makes us want to feel even better about ourselves. Naturally, we are going to want to be around that person even more.
The key is to admit this. Be honest about it. Share it with the person that we’ve committed to being with (our spouse). That will rebuild trust.
Now, let me talk to the betrayed spouse for a moment, if you don’t encourage this level of honesty and foster this level of honesty, it will stop. If you punish your spouse for being honest, they won’t be honest. If you get mad, scream, make him sleep on the couch, throw him out of the house because he told you that he’s struggling to keep his eyes off of his new coworker, then you will teach him to start lying and hiding again.
Reward what you want repeated. If your spouse tells you of an attraction to someone else, remember, he or she is choosing to be committed to you. That means much more than a simple infatuation with someone who smiled at him and made him feel all gooey inside. He or she is making a commitment to love you and be with you. So thank him or her for that level of honesty and don’t punish it. Reward it by listening and developing a plan going forward so that this natural, normal, attraction does not turn into something that sabotages your relationship.
Here is another seemingly counterintuitive step:
3. Share Your Failures
The road to recovery is not a perfectly straight upward trajectory. There will be some dips, some curves, some falls, and some failures. It’s not all ladders. Sometimes there will be slides. Ask anyone who has ever recovered from anything.
- Sometimes there are relapses.
- Sometimes there are setbacks.
- Sometimes we stumble.
- Be open about your stumbles.
The biggest hurt of an affair is not sex with someone else. It’s the betrayal of trust. It’s the secrecy, the lies, and the hiding. You might not be having sex with another person, but if you’re still keeping aspects of your life secret from your spouse, that is still a betrayal of trust.
Maybe you can’t imagine how sharing your screw ups is going to rebuild trust. Look at it this way, not sharing your screw ups will absolutely destroy any trust you have built up until this point. She/he will find out, sooner or later, so you might as well be honest about it now.
So, if (or when) your affair partner reaches out to you and texts you, emails you, calls you–TELL YOUR SPOUSE! If you don’t tell your spouse now, and later your spouse sees that your affair partner texted you three months ago, what do you think that is going to communicate to him or her? You’re still keeping secrets. You haven’t changed.
If you promise to never ever look at porn again, and you look at porn, tell your spouse. Tell her that you’re going to check in with your accountability partners and get the help you need. In the long run, it will help you to rebuild trust. However, if you don’t tell her, and she notices that crap on your browsing history, you’ll have destroyed all the trust you thought you had built.
If you accidently see your affair partner at the park. If she happens to show up at your work one day. If you run into her at the mall. If you see him at the grocery store. If you bump into him on the running trail, tell your spouse. If you have some kind of a stupid relapse and you call them, or text them, or try to reach out to them–tell your spouse! No more secrets. No more hiding.
Again, you might not see how this could ever possibility rebuild trust, but it will. It certainly will be a lot better than all the trust you will lose when your spouse finds out about it. And they will find out about it. Your first affair got discovered, didn’t it? This will too.
4. Share Your Schedule
Think about this–if your spouse knew where you were every single minute of every single day, would you have been able to have an affair? Of course not. In order to have an affair you need large blocks of time that are unaccounted for.
And so, to protect yourself from future affairs, and to help rebuild your credibility with your spouse, you need to be accountable to your spouse for how you use your time. Don’t make your spouse play detective with you or only share the answers to the questions she asks. Give the answers before she asks.
So share your schedule with your spouse. Tell him or her your plans for the day. If those plans change, communicate that change. Tell your spouse about your meetings, who your meetings are with, what your lunch plans are, who your lunch plans are with, when you plan on getting off work, when you plan on getting home. By the way, keep your phone on so that she can call you and contact you whenever she needs to.
Being completely honest about your schedule and how you use the hours of your day will both help your spouse heal and it will also help you rebuild trust.
5. Share Your Finances
The reality is that affairs cost money. Hotels, dinners, gifts, getaways–these things can add up. Not only did large blocks of unaccounted for time make an affair possible, but unaccounted for finances made it possible as well.
Don’t keep a secret stash of cash from your spouse. Let him or her see your receipts. Let him or her check your bank balance. Let your spouse see what you’ve been spending your money on, where you’ve been spending it, who you’ve been spending it on.
If they have questions, answer them honestly.
I said earlier that being accountable for your time will both help her heal and you rebuild trust, but a third factor is true as well. It will bring you closer together as a couple because you’ll be discussing things that really matter. Talking about our time and our money together as a couple will make us more intimate with one another. It will create emotional bonding between us.
6. Share Your Communications
This means no private passwords for your phone, your emails, your computer–anything. Your spouse has access to it all. When I was having my affair, I had to keep such a tight watch on my phone. It was my pipeline to my affair partner. We traded dozens of emails a day, hundreds a week, and thousands a month. My phone was never out of my sight.
It is now such a relief to know that I don’t have to hide anything from my wife. It is such a relief now, whenever I misplace my phone, not to be afraid that someone is going to find it. And one of the ways I stay honest in this area is allowing her to see it whenever she wants to see it.
I never have to clean it up first. I never have to close any browsers first. I never have to delete any messages first. That’s freedom.
So give your spouse open and easy access to all of your communication channels. He or she may or may not want to check up on you from time to time. That’s their prerogative. Do not claim some fake right to privacy. You have no right to privacy. You lost that privilege. Do not whine about him or her not trusting you. You have proven yourself untrustworthy in the past and the only way to prove yourself trustworthy now is to do just that–prove it.
Listen, if you happen to get a text from your affair partner and instead of deleting it, you actually let your spouse see it, what do you think that is going to do for your credibility factor? Make it grow, right?
It’s not enough to do the right things. You have to prove that you are doing the right things. This means sharing all of your correspondence and communications with your spouse. Let him or her monitor everything. It will go a long way in rebuilding trust and adding more and more coins to that trust bank.
7. Keep Your Word
This is so important. You need to keep your word in every single area of your life. If you say you are going to be home at 5:15, be home at 5:15. Don’t be home at 5:20. If you’re going to be late, call her. Five minutes late might not seem long to you, but it feels like five hours to a betrayed spouse. If you say you’re going to lunch with Larry and your plans fall through and you end up going to lunch with Bob, tell your spouse. I know you think it’s no big deal, but we’re after radical honesty here. Practice telling the truth about every single detail of your life.
Deliver on every promise. Keep every commitment. You will fail at times. You will make little withdrawals from the trust bank account along the way, but the more deposits you make the more you will rebuild trust.
8. Do the Work
By coming clean, by manning up, by taking responsibility, by being emotionally available for your spouse, by helping her/him heal the trauma that they have experienced, by being willing to do the hard work of understanding why the affair happened, by being willing to work on your relationship–all of these factors are huge in building trust.
Keep doing this. Keep doing these things. Consistent behavior over time will increase your trustworthiness. Keep doing the work. Read the books. Get coaching. Your credibility will grow and your spouse’s respect for you will grow.
Keep making those trust deposits and keep avoiding those trust withdrawals.
Think about the analogy of bankruptcy.
When someone can’t pay their debts they are given a second chance by declaring bankruptcy. They are forgiven. They get a redo.
And that’s kind of where you are now as the unfaithful spouse. However, no one is going to sell you a house right away, are they? No one is going to let you take out a loan for a brand new car, right? You have to rebuild your credit score, don’t you?
In the same way, your spouse may have forgiven you, but that doesn’t mean that they have to trust you right away. You need to rebuild your credit score with them. And that takes consistent behavior over time.
Build Your Credibility Score Through….
- Taking responsibility
- Being accountable
- Keeping promises
- Getting involved
Your credibility score will continue to erode through…
- Lack of devotion
- No concern for time
- Unethical behavior
- Breaking promises
- Denying responsibility for behavior
- Not involved/Apathy
- Blaming your spouse and others
- Refusing to talk about the affair
As your credibility goes up, so does your spouse’s willingness to…
- Understand you
- Support you
- Be influenced by you
- Be honest with you
- Trust you
- Help you achieve your goals
- Listen to you
Again, the only way to rebuild trust is proven behavior over time.