How Do I Forgive When Trust Is Broken?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 5, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Trust is a crucial feature of healthy relationships. So, when someone has violated yours, it can be difficult to work through your feelings, address the situation, and forgive them. You may struggle to see them in the same light, wonder whether something similar will happen in the future, or feel too wounded to forgive.

Despite these obstacles, though, there are ways you can address a breach of trust in a constructive, healthy manner. Below, we’re discussing why moving forward from a betrayal of trust can be challenging and outlining steps you can take to process your emotions, talk through the situation, and reach a place of forgiveness. 

Rebuilding trust is possible with the right support

Why forgiveness can be hard

To understand how to forgive after a betrayal, it may help to understand the nature of forgiveness. Indeed, it can be one of the more difficult emotional processes to navigate—particularly after a significant breach of trust. As you think about how to approach forgiving whomever wronged you, consider the following:

  1. Forgiveness is a choice: Rather than an emotion, forgiveness is a decision—we can choose to forgive while feeling hurt, sad, disappointed, or insecure. Believing otherwise can cause us to believe that we must repress our feelings—or wait until they pass—in order to forgive. 

  2. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting: It’s important to remember that forgiving does not imply erasing the memory of what happened or diminishing its severity. Rather, it relieves the other person of the burden of potential negative feelings on your part, but it is not meant to excuse their behavior

  3. Forgiveness involves trust: We often find it difficult to forgive because we fear being hurt in a similar way again. However, we cannot control others, so there is no way for us to have complete confidence that we will not experience a similar betrayal in the future. If these challenges are making it hard for you to forgive those who have violated your trust, the below tips may help.

How to forgive after trust is broken

It’s important to note that you do not have to wait to forgive someone who has betrayed your trust. In fact, forgiveness can be the first thing you choose to do when you find out about the breach. This does not mean that you must move on without addressing the situation, though. 

Forgiveness can be a way of relieving you of the emotional burden of hanging on to resentment and other potentially negative feelings. This may free you up to address other emotions you’re experiencing. 

The following are steps you can take toward forgiving someone who has breached your trust. 

  1. Know what a breach of trust means to you

First, think about the circumstances that led to the betrayal of trust. Had you set boundaries before that they did not respect? Did they know what they were doing would be considered a breach of trust? Did you play a part in the situation? Understanding why you perceive that your trust was violated can help you communicate your feelings—which we’ll discuss below—and work to resolve the conflict. 

For example, in an open relationship with clearly defined boundaries, one partner being intimate with someone else may not itself constitute a breach of trust; but being dishonest about the situation might cross the established boundaries. 

  1. Open the lines of communication

Talking through your concerns with the person who has broken your trust is crucial throughout the process of repairing your relationship.

Ideally, communication might begin as soon as you learn about the breach of trust. Try to approach the discussion with the goal of understanding their motivations. If you need some time to think and work through your feelings, this might be a good time to communicate your wishes.

The dialogue can continue when you’re ready to learn more about what happened and talk about how it has affected your relationship.

  1. Process your emotions

Taking time to address your feelings regarding the breach of trust can help you be ready to forgive the other person. There are several ways you can effectively address your emotions. You may want to discuss the situation with friends or family members. Your loved ones may have perspectives on your relationship that help you understand your feelings. They can also provide emotional support if sadness, loneliness, or worry are affecting you. 

Journaling can also provide an outlet for your emotions and help you let go of negativity surrounding the betrayal of trust. Research suggests that putting your thoughts and feelings on paper can help you develop a positive outlook on a stressful situation.  Working with a mental health professional can also be an effective method of addressing difficult emotions. 

  1. Forgive and take next steps

Once you’ve worked through your emotions, learned more about the situation, and talked to the other person about what happened, you may be ready to forgive them. While you might want to assure them that your forgiveness is not conditional, you may also want to let them know that there is still work to be done when it comes to rebuilding the relationship. Remember that you can forgive without forgetting. 

Moving forward after forgiveness may include recommitting to each other, establishing new boundaries, and addressing related conflicts that may be impacting the relationship. Additionally, if the betrayal of trust occurred in a romantic or family relationship, you may consider attending therapy. Working with a counselor can help you both better understand underlying challenges that led to the violation, improve communication, and rebuild trust. 

Tips for communicating following a betrayal

Communicating with the person who betrayed you can feel incredibly challenging and emotionally charged. Approaching this communication requires a delicate balance of honesty, vulnerability, and self-protection. Here are some tips for navigating these difficult conversations:

  • Be charitable: Bear in mind that the other person may not know why their actions constituted a breach of trust. For example, if your partner was engaging in an emotional affair, they might not realize that this can be a form of infidelity. Telling them why it hurts you can help them understand why they’ve betrayed your trust.
  • Listen closely: Knowing how to listen is a key component of communication, helping you understand the other person clearly. When listening, try to avoid formulating a response and instead focus on comprehending their key points. Once they’ve finished speaking, you can ask clarifying questions, summarize their statements, and then respond. 
  • Avoid accusatory language: Try to communicate your feelings in clear terms but avoid language that may sound accusatory. To do this, consider using “I” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You lied to me about where you were”, consider saying, “I consider it to be dishonest when you told me…”. This can help ensure your communication remains constructive and not antagonistic. 

How online therapy can help

Research suggests that online therapy can be an efficacious method of addressing different types of relationship conflict, such as tension arising out of a breach of trust. For example, researchers in one study concluded that online therapy is as effective as in-person counseling for couples experiencing relationship distress. Participants in the study reported perceive that online therapy led to a strong therapeutic alliance and an increased ability to focus on their challenges.

Rebuilding trust is possible with the right support

If you’re finding it difficult to move forward in a relationship due to a violation of trust, online therapy can help. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can address relationship concerns remotely, which can be helpful if you’re not comfortable discussing such topics in person. BetterHelp works with a team of mental health professionals who have widely varying specialties and areas of expertise, so you’ll have a good chance of matching with someone who can address your specific concerns regarding trust, forgiveness, and other common sources of relationship conflict. Continue reading for reviews of BetterHelp therapists from those who have experienced similar challenges.

Therapist reviews

“Working with Contrina is so helpful and she has been so understanding. I’m so glad I turned to her to help me with a problem that has been years in the making. She offers me the outside perspective I need to break out of a cycle of hurt and anger that is affecting me deeply. She is wise, authentic, relatable and unfailingly kind. She has challenged me and pushed my thinking. I’m grateful to work with her in such a unique and convenient way.”

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“In the last 7 months or so, Lois has really helped me in reshaping my perspectives on my relationships and my involvement in them. I have seen a great deal of personal growth occur through her attention and guidance. I have been able to understand where my struggles had come from and deal with difficult ideas like blame and guilt. I’m very grateful for her time and attention and I’m confident that my personal relationships will be stronger and healthier as a result of working with Lois.”

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It can be hard to know how to respond when we find out a loved one has breached our trust. By knowing what a violation of trust means to you, communicating effectively, and taking time to process your feelings, you can move forward from a betrayal in a healthy way. If you’d like the advice and support of a professional as you learn to forgive, consider working with a licensed therapist online. You deserve the happiness and peace of mind that can come from both forgiveness and emotional wellness.
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