Few people would argue with the idea that honesty is the best policy. Policies, however, are not always adhered to, even those that we believe in and support. Regardless of how much we may desire to live a life of integrity in which we “walk the talk” and live in accordance with our inner principles, it’s likely that there will be times that we miss the mark. Nobody’s perfect. Every relationship needs to have some room for slippage.
Great relationships require a high level of integrity in order to thrive. When a violation of trust occurs, large or small, it’s important to examine the conditions that contributed to the situation and to engage in a healing process that will restore trust and goodwill to the relationship.
A betrayal is the breaking of an agreement, implicit or explicit, that is considered vital to the integrity of a relationship. The capacity of a relationship to recover from a betrayal has a lot to do with the responses, particularly on the part of the betrayer, to the situation. The more open and non-defensive they are, the more likely it is that there will be a resolution. When both partners are committed to this as an outcome, the likelihood increases exponentially.
The lies and denials that are used to cover-up a transgression can do much more damage than the violation itself. Even if the lie is never uncovered and the offense is not revealed, there can still be great harm done to the foundation of the relationship. Trust is inevitably sacrificed even when secrets go undetected. Most but not all betrayals and acts of deceit can be healed. While there is no generic template to apply to these situations, there are some guidelines that can facilitate the recovery process.
- Acknowledge your actions to your partner before, not after they find out. The sooner the better. The longer you have been living a lie, the deeper the damage, the lesser the likelihood of a full recovery, and the longer the healing process takes. Acknowledging your transgression before your partner affirms it from another source creates a higher level of trust than waiting until you’ve been found out.
- Get honest. Commit yourself to zero tolerance for dishonesty in your relationship. Even after you’ve successfully demonstrated your commitment, don’t be surprised if your partner needs a lot of evidence that you are trustworthy before they’ll be ready to believe anything you say. This will take time and will require patience on your part.
- Address the questions that your partner asks you. Don’t be defensive in response to your partner’s need for information. They need to make sure that you aren’t withholding anything else and they probably have a lot of questions that only you can answer. Be guided by the question “Is this information necessary for the healing of our relationship?” Keep in mind that your intention in this process is to communicate in a way that will restore goodwill. It’s not necessary to give details that will be unnecessarily inflammatory. Try to see the questions as an opportunity for you to demonstrate the kind of truth-telling that your partner needs to see in order to begin to trust you again. Even if the questions seem to be repetitive or unnecessary, they need answers in order to come to terms with the situation.
- Listen to their feelings—all of them. Don’t analyze, evaluate, judge, or reason with your partner in regard to any of their feelings. Listening without disputing is not equivalent to agreeing with someone’s point of view. It’s possible to listen respectfully even if you don’t see eye to eye about everything. Feelings aren’t necessarily rational, but they are real. You will have your turn to express your perspective, but not until they’ve expressed what they want you to hear.
- Be patient. Reassure your partner that they can take as much time as they need to rebuild trust. The process will probably take longer than you think it should and will require self-restraint and compassion. In the end, however, it is likely to bring about a deepening of the connection between the two of you. Resist the temptation to urge them to “get over it.” Give your partner reassuring words, like: “I know that I am serious about this commitment and I understand that you need more time to see the evidence and trust me. I can give you all the time you need.”
- Take responsibility for your actions. Acknowledge the truth of what you’ve done and avoid any explanations, rationalizations, excuses, or justifications for your behavior. There will be a time to view things from a larger context when your partner may be more curious about what conditions in the relationship were contributing to the situation, but that will come later.
- Stay focused on your intention. The work of recovery from a breach of integrity in a committed partnership takes time and effort and can be humbling. The stakes are high, and the benefits of doing the work are enormous. Successful healing can transform a damaged partnership into a sacred union. Many couples have told us that in the end, the crisis that came from the betrayal ultimately led to a profound deepening of the love and trust that they both currently share.
Keeping your word in the first place will spare you the anguish of healing a betrayal. But in those cases in which the damage is already done, most of the time, recovery is a real possibility. And the benefits greatly outweigh the costs of reconciliation. Take it from the thousands of couples who have found out for themselves