Positive psychology


The Issue of Trust: Part II

In Part I of The Issue of Trust, we defined Trust as based on the assumption that other people can be relied upon. It involves interdependence with others and vulnerability.

Also discussed was trust as an emotional bond that develops in sequential stages, based on the perception that those in our lives will do what they say they are going to do, and demonstrate behavioral consistency.

Just as trust develops, it can also be undermined or destroyed by unintentional or deliberate behavior—by corporations toward employees, by companies  toward consumers, or by friends toward one another. It is in personal relationships, especially couples, that we see these kinds of dynamics up close.

Every couple has problems and disagreements. But in a strong union they work them out and become stronger for the struggle, unless there is a violation of trust.

Breaking trust in a relationship is a serious matter. A betrayal of trust violates the very essence of who “we” are as a couple, based on the emotional investment of the partners as defined by support and caring for each other.

If trust is violated, if we are taken advantage of, if we are betrayed, how do we feel and what do we do? Can this relationship be mended? Is it possible to rebuild trust that has been violated?

The answer to these questions may be “no,” “perhaps,” or “yes.”

Resuming a relationship where trust has been violated depends on a number of factors: Did the perpetrator inadvertently say or do something either deliberately, or out of ignorance, or simply not thinking of the consequences? Is the perpetrator willing to acknowledge being at fault? Is the victim complicit in the erosion of trust? Is the victim willing to reconcile and forgive? Are there incentives to continue the relationship?

In the past, social psychologists believed that shattered relationships could not be mended. However, more recent research provides hope that with patience, sustained effort and time, broken trust can be repaired.

To rehabilitate a broken relationship, there must be an acknowledgement by both the perpetrator and victim that trust has been compromised.

If the victim believes that the perpetrator will not avoid future violations of trust, or if there is no incentive for the victim to repair the relationship, then the reestablishment of trust is doomed.

Each partner must determine if the relationship is salvageable. If either party wishes to terminate the relationship, the rebuilding of trust is impossible. Both parties must be willing work toward restoring trust if the relationship between them is to continue.

Reconciliation can occur when both parties are determined to identify and resolve the issues that drove them apart, and exert concentrated efforts to rebuild the damaged relationship.

This process begins when the perpetrator admits wrongdoing, asks for forgiveness and takes steps to make amends to the victim. The victim then has two choices: 1. to forgive, but not relinquish feelings of anger and resentment or mistrust of the perpetrator, thereby probably ending the relationship, or 2. Forgive the offender, surrender negative feelings, and work toward rebuilding trust and balance in the relationship.

Assuming the latter of the two choices—that the victim and perpetrator admit that trust has been broken, that both partners want it to be rebuilt, that each is willing to work with the other to restore the trust they once had—the process of healing can begin.

Identifying the issues that led to mistrust is an opportunity for seeking introspection. Each partner may find that they have made contributions in some way to the broken trust. No strong bond is easily broken. Rarely is only one individual entirely at fault in the development of mistrust.

The next step in taking corrective action and trust-building is to make a plan that will establish confidence in the sincerity of the other. The action plan should include:

1. complete transparency demonstrated by consistent and predictable behavior. Integrity is reinforced by doing what we say that we will do, being where we say we will be, and with whom.

2. clarity about intentions and motives for one’s behavior.

3. opportunities for multiple discussions. Once trust is broken, only time and persistence can heal the relationship.

4. a creation or reaffirmation of shared goals and values. The focus must be on “we” instead of “me”.

5. spending time and resources to make the relationship a top priority.

Rebuilding trust is a process, not a one-time event. It will not be easy. There is no guarantee that the level of trust both partners presumably once had can be restored. However, following the action plan is a recommitment to the union. If both partners value the relationship, the process of reestablishing trust is worth the effort.


Contact Dr. Thompson at caroltmcc@comcast.net