How Do I Forgive When Trust Is Broken?

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated October 5, 2022

When someone has violated your trust, it can be difficult to move beyond the hurt and pain of the betrayal to forgiveness. When someone commits a hurtful act, they can apologize for the act and promise to never do it again. What makes it difficult to forgive is that even if the behavior is never repeated, your trust has been violated. Trust is an incredibly important feature of meaningful relationships. This makes a betrayal of trust critically important in the health of all our significant relationships.

Separating Acts from Intentions

Knowing How To Move Forward After A Breach Of Trust Can Be Hard

It is easier to forgive a hurtful act than it is to forgive an intentional violation of trust. If your child has an accident and damages the car, you forgive the child for the accident. If the child was in the car when they were not supposed to be or not where they were supposed to be, then it is more difficult to forgive. Logic sets in, and with it, the realization that the accident would never have occurred had the child not been where they should not have been in the first place. If your spouse ends up alone at a business lunch with a colleague they found attractive, when others were supposed to also be in attendance, it is easier to understand that there was no intention to place themselves in that position. However, if your spouse actively, and intentionally, creates an opportunity to be alone with that colleague when it is not necessary for appropriate purposes that becomes a more difficult situation to overlook. This is because of the intentionality of the choice on the part of the trusted person in your life.

Natural vs. Applied/Logical Consequences

Sometimes there may be natural consequences for violations of trust. These consequences may be enough to teach the necessary lesson, but sometimes they are not. When it comes to teens, parents will need to reinforce the natural consequences of an accident that occurred because of dishonesty or disobedience. Natural consequences are always preferable when they do not involve undue damage or harm to a person or property. This is because they tend to produce a stronger connection between the infraction and the cost of that choice.

This learning can begin in the early years. For example, if a child breaks the cookie jar taking a cookie before dinner, the natural consequence is the broken cookie jar and cookies that now must be thrown away. If the child sustains a cut, the natural consequences are more severe and therefore, more memorable to the child. However, if a child leaves their bicycle behind the car rather than placing it in the garage where it belongs, the natural consequence of mom running over it on her way to work in the morning is likely more severe than we want either the parent or the child to experience.So, it might be more prudent for the child to lose the use of their bike the following day as a more logical consequence.That is still directly tied to the infraction and quite memorable to the child, without the cost of having to replace the bicycle as well as perhaps repaid damage to the family vehicle.

When we speed and get a traffic ticket that is a legal consequence. If we speed and end up rear-ending the car in front of us that is a natural consequence and will likely have more of an effect on us than the ticket. It is the same with children and teens. They respond more powerfully to the direct consequences of their actions so much more than an applied consequence by parents or other authority figures. Yes, there are formal consequences that must be applied to satisfy the law and other authorities such as schools.But the natural consequences of one’s actions always have a more lasting effect and should be recognized and reinforced by parents and other authority figures if they wish the child or teen to learn a lesson.

Reparations of Trust

It is important to separate the act from feelings when trust is involved. It does not do anyone any good to beat the proverbial dead horse. It is important to talk about the direct consequences of the act. In a relationship between parent and child, the damage to trust is often the most severe of consequences. Working toward repairing the trust is a task that is directly related to the act that the child will remember. This may mean extra check-ins with the parent(s) while out.It may mean coming in 15 minutes before curfew or providing contact details for friends or their parents. These may be actions that were not required before but are a direct result of the violation.

When someone commits an act that violates trust, it is important to determine what the natural consequences were and if these were enough. In the case of infidelity in a marriage or committed relationship, the consequences are often unclear. The severing of the relationship due to divorce or break-up is often the most extreme consequence for the infidelity. When a couple chooses to work together to repair their relationship after infidelity, there are some important factors to consider. At least in the beginning, the full responsibility for regaining trust is on the shoulders of the person who betrayed the relationship. That person will need to be willing to do everything in their power to prove themselves to be trustworthy, honest, honorable, and faithful.

The betrayed party cannot be expected to trust without strong, consistent, persuasive evidence that their renewed trust is warranted. There may come a time in which it becomes more reasonable to consider the extent to which the betrayed partner is unwilling to trust again. But that would only occur after the unfaithful partner has made diligent, consistent, meaningful efforts to be trustworthy. All relationships require both time to directly address issues that arise and time to nurture the relationship. When recovering from infidelity, it is very easy for the majority of our time and attention to be on the betrayal. Few relationships can tolerate such unremitting focus. So, it is important for both partners to be intentional to find meaningful time for pleasure, enjoyment, dating, flirting, and just having fun together. At the same time, they can prioritize time on a consistent basis for the important recovery work to be done in the relationship.

There are many reasons we often find it difficult to forgive. One is that we confuse forgiveness with feelings. Forgiveness is a choice. It is not a feeling. We can absolutely choose to forgive, regardless of our feelings. Choosing to extend forgiveness will not at all mean that our feelings automatically, or quickly, disappear. We may remain hurt, sad, disappointed, insecure, etc., for a while. But that does not, necessarily, mean that we have not legitimately chosen to offer forgiveness. In fact, we can use our feelings as a gentle reminder to ourselves that we have forgiven the other person.

A second reason it can be difficult to forgive is that we interpret forgiveness as forgetting or acting as if the infraction never occurred. It is true that for forgiveness to be effective, it does require that we release the person who harmed us from the debt they would have owed for the infraction. However, if a meaningful infraction had not occurred, forgiveness would not be necessary, right?

Another reason we often find it difficult to forgive is we fear being betrayed in a similar way again. We certainly cannot control others. So, there is no way for us to have complete confidence that we will not experience similar betrayal, perhaps even by the same person, in the future. In fact, sometimes we tend to get exactly what we expect. This does not mean that we are responsible for the choices of others. But it is true that if we treat someone as trustworthy, that could encourage the other person to behave as trustworthy and vice versa.

Perhaps the most important reason for us to accept responsibility for our control over whether we choose to forgive others is that hanging onto unforgiveness is more harmful to us, and our relationships, than it often is to the other person. An oft-quoted saying is as follows:“Hanging onto unforgiveness is like drinking poison, while hoping the other person dies.” The earliest origin of this saying seems to be from a book written in 1980by Bert Ghezzi entitled The Angry Christian.In the book, Ghezzi states,“Resentment is like a poison we carry around inside us with the hope that when we get the chance we can deposit it where it will harm another who has injured us. The fact is that we carry this poison at extreme risk to ourselves.”

We can often work through violations of trust with our children and use these as opportunities for growth. It is not so easy when the violations are adult size. In either case, there may be a need to turn to an in-person or online therapist to help sort things through and separate the act from the feelings, so that true forgiveness and closure can take place.

Couples counseling can be a safe space for you and your partner to talk about trust issues and forgiveness within your relationship. If finding time for the both of you is problematic, you might want to try online couples counseling. A study has shown that online couples counseling is as effective as face-to-face therapy. In some cases, couples found online therapy more productive because they were able to focus on their issues more intently. They also experienced feeling less judged than they would have with traditional therapy. Although there was a screen between them and the therapists, clients, overall, had a more positive experience with online therapy. This study also indicated that online therapy is also effective for treating mental illnesses, such as PTSD.

How BetterHelp Can Support You

Knowing How To Move Forward After A Breach Of Trust Can Be Hard

If you’re finding it difficult to move forward because you’re holding onto resentment and bitterness over a violation of trust, an online licensed therapist at BetterHelp can help. Your therapist will offer support and understanding as you explore the violation of trust and its consequences on you and your relationship. Your therapist will also teach you practical techniques to address your thoughts and behaviors that can lead you to finally forgiving the person who violated your trust. BetterHelp allows you to receive help from the comfort of your own home and at a time that works for you. You can read some reviews about BetterHelp counselors below from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor 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.”

“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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