Trust is a crucial factor in many divorces and often is the core reason many people cite for their divorces.
For example, 21.6% of people in one study listed infidelity as a reason for their divorce, 21.2% reported domestic violence, and 12.1% cited substance abuse. Each of these issues - infidelity, domestic violence, and substance abuse involve trust problems.
If you feel as though you don’t trust your spouse, can your marriage survive? What about the reverse? If your spouse does not trust you, can your marriage survive?
It is possible to reestablish trust and keep your marriage alive, but it can be a challenging road and requires BOTH spouses to take an honest look at themselves and do the work towards healing and repair.
- Trust is foundational to marriage, encompassing core values of faithfulness, respect, and honesty.
- Common trust issues include infidelity, jealousy, substance abuse, and financial deceit.
- Trauma, family history, and attachment styles can influence trust.
- Therapy, open communication, and honesty are pivotal in rebuilding trust.
- Addressing core issues, expressing emotions safely, and mutual validation aid in restoring trust.
- Forgiveness, quality time, and clear boundaries are essential for repairing a marriage in which trust has been broken and restoring a healthy marriage.
The Foundation of Trust in Marriages
John Gottman, a nationally recognized relationship expert, states that trust and betrayal are the number one issues in marriage. Trust is also the number one thing people say they are looking for in a partner when they are dating.
Marriage is based on a foundation of trust; without it, no marriage can survive.
To have a successful marriage, you must trust that:
- You are emotionally and physically safe with your spouse
- Your spouse will respect you and you will respect your spouse
- You and your spouse are working towards the same goals
- You and your spouse will be faithful
- You and your spouse love one another
- You and your spouse can resolve the conflict together
- You and your spouse will support each other
- You and your spouse are honest with each other
- You and your spouse will parent together if you have children
Marriage is about teamwork, and to be a team with your spouse, you must have a foundation of trust to build on.
The Common Reasons for Trust Problems in Marriage
There are many reasons why trust can disappear or be damaged in a marriage.
Both physical and emotional infidelity can harm a marriage. Whether your spouse has had an affair or has formed an intimate emotional bond with someone else, this damages the very core of your marriage.
Whether jealousy is rooted in truth or not, it can disrupt trust in a marriage and result in a vicious cycle. If you constantly worry your spouse is cheating because you don’t trust them, and your spouse picks up on that lack of trust, that may erode their sense of safety in the marriage.
In fact, even if nothing ever happens, jealousy can cause severe problems.
A spouse who is controlled by substance abuse cannot be completely trusted. Their actions are not wholly their own, and they are likely to lie, hurt you, and damage the marriage in pursuit of their addiction.
While addiction can be treated, if your spouse actively engages in their addiction, with or without treatment, that addiction dictates their decisions, no matter how much they love you or want to build trust.
In most marriages, the couple has joint financial goals and agreements. Violating those can damage trust. If one partner has a spending problem or one person doesn’t trust how the other manages money, it can erode the basis of the marriage.
This can include verbal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, manipulation, lies, and more. Any behavior that makes one spouse fearful, hurt, or scared will damage the marriage and break down any trust between spouses.
If one partner comes into the marriage with a history of trauma (past abuse, serious illness, mental health issues, etc.), developing and maintaining trust with their spouse can be challenging, especially if they have not disclosed their history of trauma.
A spouse abandoned physically or emotionally by a parent, caregiver, or previous partner is likely to have trust issues in marriage due to their past experiences. Unless they have addressed this in therapy, their history may hinder their emotional capability to trust that their partner will stay.
A spouse who has parents who divorced is likely to have a more challenging time with trust in their own marriage. Females whose parents divorced have a 60% higher divorce rate, while males of divorced parents have a 35% higher divorce rate.
Different Attachment Styles
As children, we develop our attachment style, and if there is a mismatch between spouses, it can be challenging for trust to thrive in the marriage because the spouses don’t bond similarly. If you don’t feel bonded to your spouse, you may experience feelings of mistrust.
Rebuilding Trust in a Marriage
If you are experiencing a lack of trust in marriage, you do NOT have to give up on your relationship. There are ways to rebuild trust and repair your relationship.
Couples therapy can help you isolate the problems in your relationship, improve communication, and work together to overcome the loss of trust. If your spouse doesn’t go, you can see a therapist on your own to get help in coping and learn tools to help you connect on a new level with your partner.
If you are dealing with issues from your childhood or past that are affecting trust in your marriage, individual therapy can help you work through them, positively impacting your relationship with your spouse.
Alternatively, it can help you understand your spouse better and change your reaction to certain issues in your marriage, again creating a positive cycle that builds trust.
Learn to be open with your spouse and to actively listen when they speak. One study found that 58% of couples who discussed the situation that caused the lack of trust in great detail were able to rebuild their trust. All of us want to be heard - spouses are no different - and feeling heard and understood increases trust.
Agree to be transparent with each other. A study found that 86% of couples who were completely honest and vulnerable with each other after betrayal were able to stay together. The vulnerability that comes with honesty builds trust in both directions.
Resolve Underlying Issues
Trust cannot be rebuilt if infidelity, substance abuse, or deceit is ongoing. Get help resolving those problems through treatment, therapy, or simply by deciding to work on them together. If your spouse has a problem, it might be reasonable to consider an intervention.
Ignoring the underlying issue will only erode trust more and potentially lead to harm.
Learn to Express Emotions Safely
Everyone experiences emotions such as anger, sadness, disappointment, and fear. Finding a way to share those feelings with your spouse is crucial without causing arguments or hurt feelings.
By creating a safe space for both of you to express emotions, you can help reestablish trust.
Validate Each Other
Learn how to hear and accept what your spouse says and support them in how they feel. Acknowledge that their feelings are valid. Remember, your feelings are your feelings, they are neither right nor wrong! If each spouse has the opportunity to be fully heard and understood by their partner, trust can be rebuilt.
Actively deciding to forgive each other’s mistakes can allow you to start on a new path. This may not be simple and may take time, but forgiveness is at the heart of recovering from trust problems in marriage.
Spend Time Together
Reestablish your connection by doing things together and enjoying each other’s company. Schedule dates. Maybe even recreate your first date. Find time to focus just on each other and rekindle what brought you together in the first place.
Appreciate Each Other
Focus on the positives about each other and verbalize them. Giving positive feedback to your spouse helps them feel good about themselves and makes it easier for them to reflect that to you. Write a letter to your spouse and list what you love about them.
Commit to each other and to the process of rebuilding trust. Some couples choose to renew their vows. Others decide to make a fresh start, leaving the past behind simply.
Establish Rules and Boundaries
You may have thought you had unspoken rules in your marriage, but unless things are clearly stated, you can’t be sure you are both in agreement. Discuss and clearly note the boundaries you will both adhere to and respect moving forward.
It takes time to rebuild trust. Don’t expect immediate change. Instead, work slowly towards your goal together.
Should You Stay in a Marriage With Trust Problems?
The only person who can decide if your marriage can continue is you. Some marriages can be repaired, while others cannot.
Here are some warning signs that you may be unable to rebuild your lost trust.
- You no longer have an emotional connection to your spouse.
- Your spouse is unwilling to do what you feel is necessary to rebuild trust.
- The issue that broke the trust continues (such as infidelity or abuse).
- The relationship is toxic.
- You want to date someone else.
- Your needs continue to be unmet in the marriage.
- You are happier while separated.
Without trust, a marriage cannot survive. While working through a breach of trust in your marriage can be challenging, relationships often strengthen during the repair process. They can emerge even more resilient, trustworthy, and beautiful than before.