Can Couples Recover from Violations of Trust?

Couples and individuals often seek treatment to address the emotional upset and relational disruption stemming from trust violations.  Although emotional and physical affairs are one type of violation, they are by no means the only type. Withholding information which impacts the partner/family often results in undermining trust. Obviously, lies of any form lead to the question of “what other deceit might there be?”

Financial issues like secret accounts, hiding debt and/or spending, and/or not providing access to financial information often are sources of violation and conflict. It is not unusual for a partner to sense that something is amiss and to have been told, in one way or another, that he or she is just imagining things.

In my experience, the emotional reactions to uncovering or discovering a trust violation are similar regardless of the nature of the violation.  Although affairs typically have additional complexities,  in moat trust violations, one’s feelings of security are undermined. This can affect trust in the partner but also trust in one’s own judgment and perceptions.

People may question what their partner must think/feel about them if the partner is willing to deceive them. Clearly this also raises questions concerning “what sort of person” the partner is. The way they  believed their situation to be and their place in the relationship is often turned upside down. People find themselves on an emotional roller coaster,  and often feel that they are “losing it.” Typically, they aren’t.   I believe strong, conflicting, rapidly shifting emotions are typical in trust violation situations. Such feelings may persist long after the situation has been discovered and confronted.

The good news is that often, people and relationships can recover from trust violations. The emotional injuries to the partner whose trust has been violated must be acknowledged and understood. This is distinct from the “violator” acknowledging their behavior. Questions such as “If you care, how could you have done this?” must be addressed.  Questions necessary to reestablish feelings of safety and security such as “How can I trust you going forward?” must be dealt with. When people believe that a relationship is of sufficient value to work out difficult and painful emotions, they can emerge stronger on the other end.  I find that in situations of trust violation, having a professional to help each person be heard and acknowledged, and to guide dialogue in a productive way can be exceptionally effective.