by Peggy Vaughan
Restoring trust takes a lot of time and workmost of which must be done by the person who HAD an affair. (There's not much the spouse can do to restore the bond of trust. It was broken by the one who had the affair, and can only be restored by the actions of the one who had the affair.)
Actually, I've written quite a lot about the issue of trust over the years. That's because it's such a key issue for everyone after learning of their spouse's affair. In responding to the above request for some "practical, specific activities to rebuild trust," I'm listing below some of the steps to be taken by the person who had an affair in order to gradually rebuild the trust that has been destroyed
Here are some specific guidelines for the person who had an affair:
1. Don't expect your spouse to trust you again for a very long time.
2. Sever all contact with the third party.
Note: If the third party initiates contact, tell them your spouse knows about the affair and that you will have no more contact with them. Clearly ask them to honor this request. Even though you may feel bad to hurt the third party this way, it's just a fact that everyone gets hurt in these situations and your first responsibility is to bring no more pain to your spouse. (Also, it's better for the third party to know where things stand so they can get on with their life without dragging this out or holding out false hope.)
3. Answer all of your spouse's questions.
As important as it is to answer the questions, it's usually even more important that you are willing to keep answering for as long as they need to ask. It's this "willingness" that demonstrates a degree of responsibility that is critical to your spouse being able to trust again.
4. Hang in through the very, very, very long process of talking through the whole situation.
5. Respect your spouse's need to talk with others about this life-altering experience.
6. Be willing to "report in" as to your whereabouts.
Rebelling against their need for you to "report in" won't make the need go away. In fact, the more you resist, the more they're likely to feel that their concerns about your trustworthiness are valid. But the more cooperative you are in earning back their trust (including calling as often as necessary), the less time it will take. You see, the more you demonstrate your willingness to take responsibility for doing whatever they need to feel reassured, the less they are likely to feel anxious, thus the less they are likely to need this constant calling. Please understand, however, that even when the need for you to constantly call diminishes, there is likely to still be some lingering anxiety, uncertainty, and need for reassurance for quite a long time.
If you do everything possible to reassure your spouse for a couple of years and they still insist on your calling with every move you make, then that may indicate a different problem: either an underlying need to "punish" or an inability to recover, no matter what you do. But do recognize that for about the first 6 months following discovery, a person struggling to recover from their spouse's affair is fortunate if they can just eat, sleep and function. They don't need to have to deal with your resistance to calling in the midst of such overwhelming destruction of their sense of trust and security in their lives as a whole.
7. Go to counseling with your spouse if they wish to get professional help.
Note: The above points are by no means complete, but they're a good beginning. And pursuing this path is sure to lead to more understanding of what else is involved. But mainly, this kind of information can't be "spoon-fed" in lists or superficial coverage. So I encourage those who have had an affair to read everything on my website, beginning with the Articles on Affairs. Also, most of the information posted on the site is based on the concepts more fully covered in my book, The Monogamy Myth.
Important Footnote about Trust
Second, it's not just a question of not trusting the spouse (even a new spouse); it's also a question of not trusting your own instincts. This is understandable due to the experience of having been deceived in the past. Once someone finds out after years of being deceived, there's a tendency to feel foolish at having been trusting and to feel afraid of having that happen again.
While we do need to "learn from our experiences," the lesson to be learned from this experience is not that you can never trust again. It's that you need a different kind of trust: one that is based on an ongoing commitment to honest communicationnot the old kind of trust based on assumption. We can't just assume monogamy (even though, based on the wedding vows, we think we should be able to assume it). We need to recognize the prevalence of affairs and establish the kind of honesty in the relationship that builds real trust.
Remember that trust is not something you bestow on someone. Trust is a by-product of maintaining the kind of close connection (and real knowing of each other) that comes from responsible honesty.
For another article dealing with this issue, see: