“The topography of mistrust has such deep valleys and ragged peaked mountains.”
This sentiment was spoken by a woman struggling with her longing to trust her husband, who had been unfaithful. As a counselor, I have watched many couples try to navigate the difficult terrain of a post affair attempt at reconciliation. They want to get back together, but the trust has been betrayed. Here is an important thing I have seen over and over again. The party who has been unfaithful, is usually eager to get back together and wants the partner to trust them again. But the betrayed partner just sees danger in those deep valleys and ragged mountains. That is because the betrayed partner, who has been burned, is afraid to extend their trust again. What can be done to bridge this divide?
The first important thing to know is that it is often more difficult for the betrayed partner. The betrayer can make promises and their job is to live up to their renewed commitment to fidelity. And they can sincerely apologize to those they have hurt. That is all they can do. Then they can only wait and hope to be trusted again.
The betrayed partner actually has the more difficult task. Because if they want the relationship back, they are the ones who have to risk trusting again! They have to open their heart again. They have to give their partner another chance. And they both need to communicate their feelings, needs and negotiate for this renewed commitment.
What communication skills could work best here?
A simple 3 part message if you are the betrayed partner:
Choose the words that fit for you)
A. When you….(their behavior), “were unfaithful…”
B. I felt…(my emotions only), “shocked, betrayed, enraged, broken-hearted…”
C. I want or need…(a plan about your behavior and/or partner’s behavior), “you to cease any contact with xxx, you go into therapy, us work on our marriage by resuming date night once a week…)
2. After the partner reveals 3 part (when you, I feel, I want) message, the listening partner repeats what they heard before responding to the requests.
Real life outcome of 1 couple who used the 3 part message above:
After an affair at work was revealed, Mel agreed to move out, seek counseling to work on his issues of taking his work frustrations out on his family and being overly helpful to attentive female co-workers. He agreed to let his wife, Sally, see all his texts, in order to help her regain trust. He apologized to her and their family. She worked in therapy on her trauma related to the affair. They began to have date nights. As trust renewed he moved back home. Both are happy now in a partnership of renewed strength and passion.
Not all couples will recover trust and get back together. For some, this is a better outcome. But in cases where there is a desire to get back together, this 3 part message, along with a commitment to work, can turn the once jagged rocky terrain of mistrust into a smooth road of renewed trust and warm reconciliation.