Rebuilding Trust After Betrayal

Tim Jackson —  February 18, 2013 — 7 Comments

When I’m talking with someone who has been deeply betrayed by a friend, a family member, or a coworker, they often ask, “How can I ever trust him again? He said he was sorry, but how do I know if he is truly sorry about the damage he’s done or if he’s just sorry he got caught? I don’t want to get burned again.”

Those are tough questions, because there’s a lot at stake for both the betrayer and the betrayed.

Rebuilding trust in a relationship after a bitter betrayal almost feels like an insurmountable task. No one in his right mind would dare trust a spouse who was unfaithful, a coworker who stole his good idea, or a friend who lied about him behind his back. Would you?

But what if that person apologizes? Then what? How can you know if someone has truly repented?

As Jesus’ followers, we talk about repentance—that radical change of heart and mind that alters one’s perspective and reshapes behavior patterns to look more like Jesus.  It’s been a part of the Jesus story from the beginning. John the Baptist referred to it as “producing fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8).

Testing repentance is vital to rebuilding trust in a broken relationship. So what are some of the signs of a repentant heart?

King David—a man whose deceit betrayed his wife and his nation—said it best: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

One place to begin looking for “fruit” that reveals a deeply rooted heart of repentance is in how the repentant betrayer responds when questioned. A repentant person demonstrates a humble attitude that is neither demanding nor defensive when questioned. There is an openness that replaces deceit, a willingness to be accountable for his or her actions on multiple levels without resorting to blaming others or making excuses for failures.

It’s only through experiencing a consistency in both attitudes and actions that reflect repentance that the betrayed individual will over time begin to take the risky steps towards trusting again.

How much time? As much as it takes.

And the repentant person will humbly wait for as long as it takes, knowing that the celebration over restoration will be a sweet harvest for both parties—a harvest that repentance and forgiveness has made possible because of Jesus’ example.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:10).

Tim Jackson

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Tim Jackson is married to his college sweetheart, Cole. They have 3 adult children. Tim is the producer for the HelpForMyLife.org website, writes Discover Series booklets on a variety of counseling issues and hosts webinars for RBC Ministries. He's also the founder and president of Still Waters Counseling & Equipping Ministries, PC, a local counseling practice serving individuals, couples and families. When not in the office, you will probably find him up a tree with a bow, in a duck blind or fly fishing on one of Michigan's many rivers.

7 responses to Rebuilding Trust After Betrayal

  1. Thank you for your message.
    Recently, one of our sisters betrayed me and my other sister.
    The ad hominem she resorted to cut so deeply ,and I wonder if I could ever forgive her.

    Your admonition :” How much time–as much as it takes,” comes so timely for me to reflect on.
    Thank you.

  2. Ed, I’m saddened to hear of you and your sister’s struggle with your other sister. Substantial healing comes through forgiveness, one thin layer at a time. Superficial forgiveness is often the response to a superficial confession that leads to superficial healing. Deep wounds of the heart are similar to the deep wounds to the body–they must heal from the inside out. That means they must be left open to drain and that’s what takes time and brings healing to both body and soul.

  3. Tim, THANK YOU for such a clear outline for rebuilding trust after betrayal. Society expects the wounded person ‘to get over it already.’ Most church folks do not adhere to the processes of grief, forgiveness and healing. Consequently, the betrayed is often met with impatience and abandons completing the steps necessary to healing body and soul. Your comments to Ed drive home the value of time,for the betrayed, the betrayer and others affected by the act committed.
    Betrayed by infidelity early in my marriage, I was ill-equipped to deal with it. “Slow to anger and quick to forgive” left the door wide open for habitual superficial confession. I was expected to ‘forgive and forget’, while my spouse held grudges and punished me out of his self-hatred and childhood wounds. My eyes were finally opened after nearly 30 years of rampant abuse. However, no words could help my husband understand that forgiveness isn’t just a one-time thing when the wounds are so deep and the infection widespread from lack of proper treatment. I found the courage to break the silence and the determination to take ALL the time I need to grieve and heal. Sadly, my husband refused to acknowledge the truth or give me that time unconditionally. Many now see the validity of testing repentance and the value of proof by fruit that tough love requires. The cycle of abuse had to stop, and its end began when I stopped betraying myself.

  4. Mary,

    Our hearts share you grief. It’s so sad that so many have suffered so long for lack of healthy teaching and understanding of the process of loss, grief, forgiveness, and restoration. It truly is a narrow road, but when both parties are willing to take the long slow road–the road less traveled–they get to experience the restoration that only God can provide. Anything less cheapens the impact of the cross work of Christ that frees us to deal with our inability to face any of this alone. Dan Allender’s book, Bold Love, is one that I highly recommend when it comes to learning how to love deeply, especially when it involves difficult people in our lives. Blessings.

  5. Tim,

    After searching on Google for what to do after your husband betrays you, I came to your blog post first. I am grateful I did, since I am a Christian and wanted a Christian perspective.

    Without getting into too much detail, I very recently discovered a chain of lies my husband had been covering up for almost a year out of our 4.5 years of marriage. We have a ten month old daughter who is my pride and joy. He loves us, I know it, but the lies were completely unnecessary, and to be frank, I don’t even feel his confession was authentic because there are several loopholes and it leaves me questioning, WHY?

    I have been nothing but honest with everything in our marriage, and in our relationship before that. We were each other’s first everything. We waited for intimacy until marriage, we thought our belief in this, as well as tons of other things, made us perfect for each other. We spent lots of time talking … well, now looking back on it, I spent lots of time talking and telling about my feelings and trying to dissect his.

    He does things if I ask him to. He goes places if I suggest it. He’s never truly taken the lead in our marriage, though I’ve encouraged him to. He’s inconsistent and doesn’t follow through. He will even tell you that. But he has a good heart, a loving heart. I fell in love with his love.

    To find out he deceived and betrayed me for no reason (since his excuse was that it was something that would benefit both of us), left me devastated. I can’t trust anything he says. I keep asking God to help me be open to him, love him, etc. but I don’t seem to do it. Instead I question everything he says and does. I’ve never done that. I knew all his passwords to his phone, email, etc. yet forgot them because I never had a reason to “spy” on him. Now, it makes me sick to think what or who he could be hiding.

    I could forgive an addiction, maybe even infidelity, if only he would JUST COME CLEAN. I refuse to believe he is silly enough to think I’m silly enough to believe his reasons for lying. He thinks he’s improving, that’s what he said today. So why don’t I think that? I want to see it but I don’t.

    Please help me. I honestly haven’t been able to talk to anyone about this for fear of damaging his reputation with others. I’ve kept this all hidden inside and it’s killing me.

    I don’t want my daughter to grow up without her father in the house, but I don’t want my daughter to suffer from our strained relationship.

    Thank you for reading.

    ~Broken

  6. Dear Broken,

    I apologize for the delay in responding to you. I’ve been out of the offices.

    I’m so saddened to hear of the struggle you’re experiencing in your relationship with your husband who you stated has been lying to you. Betrayal leaves a stain that can’t be easily removed. While it will fade over time, there’s no quick fix stain-removal here.

    While you didn’t explain what the lie was, it’s clear that it has eroded your faith and trust in your husband. Trust once broken, takes a long time to rebuild one thin layer at a time.

    Since you’re isolated in your struggle and have no one to talk too, I’d strongly urge you to seek the help of a wise professional biblical counselor in your area who can begin to help you sort through the issues between you and your husband. Please do not delay in seeking help to restore your broken relationship.

    I’d also recommend the book, Bold Love, by Dan Allender & Tremper Longman. It will help you understand what godly love looks like in a difficult relationship. I’d also encourage you to find a more mature godly woman with whom you can share your concerns and invite her to pray with you.

    May God encourage and strengthen your heart for this journey.

    Blessings,

    Tim

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