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.
Why Forgiveness Can Be Difficult
There are many reasons we may find it difficult to forgive after a breach of trust. One is that we often confuse forgiveness with feelings. Forgiveness is a decision, not an emotion. We can choose to forgive while feeling hurt, sad, disappointed, insecure, etc. Believing otherwise can cause us to believe that we must repress our feelings—or wait until they pass—in order to forgive.
Another reason it can be difficult to forgive is that we may interpret forgiveness as forgetting or acting as though the infraction never occurred. Forgiveness relieves the other person of the burden of potential negative feelings on your part, but it is not meant to excuse their behavior. In some situations, we may worry that forgiveness will allow the other person to move on without addressing the situation.
Additionally, we often find it difficult to forgive because we fear being hurt in a similar way again. 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. Instead, 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.
For many people, though, the above obstacles can stand in the way of the ability to forgive. Although it can be hard to rebuild trust after it has been violated, it is possible when you communicate, address your feelings, and take productive action. The following are steps you can take toward forgiving someone who has breached your trust.
Know What A Breach Of Trust Means To You
Understanding what a violation of trust is and how the other person’s behaviors rose to that level can be helpful. This will generally depend on the specific relationship and the exact actions taken. 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.
Think about the circumstances that led to the betrayal of trust. Have 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.
Maintain Open Lines Of Communication
This can be the case from the beginning, when you’ve learned about the breach of trust. You may discuss the situation initially to better understand the motivations for their actions. Then, you might communicate your wishes to have some time to yourself so you can work through your feelings and determine how to proceed.
The dialogue can continue when you’re ready to learn more about what happened and talk about how it has affected your relationship. 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—in which they were emotionally intimate with another person, without being physically intimate—they might not realize that this can be a form of infidelity. Telling them why it hurts you that they went to someone else to fulfill their emotional needs can help them understand why they’ve betrayed your trust.
There are several steps you can take to facilitate effective communication as you work to rebuild trust. Knowing how to listen is a key component, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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