How do you rebuild trust after an affair?
A popular image Dr. Mike uses in recovery for many areas of betrayal is his “Trust Bucket”. Here he is talking through the image of affair recovery.
A big part of what I work with, are couples coming in recovering from affairs or from other damage or woundedness in their relationship.
And one of the core questions that I get, a really good question is, can I ever learn to trust again? Can I ever regain the trust that I have for my spouse when they’ve hurt me so badly? And the imagery that I like to use for it is that of a bucket, a bucket of trust.
And what I tell couples is, when we first get married, we tend to extend grace, we fill up a trust bucket, and we kind of offer it to our spouse. So in getting married, I choose to trust who I’m marrying. And that bucket is full as marriage goes along because we’re human, and we do things that are sometimes a bit damaging, sometimes just out of stupidness, or because of error, we tend to take maybe a tablespoon or a cup of trust out of our spouse’s bucket and, and then we’ll behave much better and we kind of add it back. So it begins to be a bit of a dynamic level, as a kind of rises and falls over the course of the relationship.
An affair, for example, something that is pretty traumatic to the relationship is like taking a shotgun and just blowing the bottom right out of the bucket.
Now, it doesn’t matter how much you do that might be trustworthy, there’s no bottom to hold it in. So just flows right back out. The key is, “I can’t refill it, I can’t earn that trust back as long as there’s no bottom.” So the person who was wounded has to choose to put a bottom back on the bucket.
Now, many times people will say that is so not fair. And I fully agree with them, it’s not fair that you have to put the bottom on the bucket. But that’s the only way that trust can begin to be rebuilt, is that you choose to trust your spouse. There may not be much evidence for that, but if you don’t choose to trust them, we can’t even begin to move forward.
But I would say to the person who committed the offense, be aware that when that bottom goes on the bucket, initially, it is tissue paper thin.
It’s almost like wet tissue paper. It is so fragile, and so I tell the person who offended, “you’ve got to be totally honest and every little thing.” If you tell your spouse,” I’m going to run to the grocery store,” and you’re under the grocery store and stop by the drugstore, that’s not okay. It used to be that there was enough trust in the bucket that that drains a little bit off and nobody really notices. Because a couple of days from now, you’ll do something that adds back to it. Now there is no trust left in the bucket. And the bottom is tissue paper thin. Sometimes the offending spouse will say, “but it wasn’t a big deal.” It’s like dropping a BB through wet tissue paper, it blows this big hole right in the bottom.
Any little infraction any little lie or even a miss is like blowing a hole in the bottom of the bucket.
Any little bit of trust that you’ve already begun to develop just runs right back out and falls back to the recovering spouse to put the trust back in place to put the bottom on the bucket. So then you behave in a way that is as trustworthy as possible.
Each time you begin to put little drops back into that bucket. And the acts of penance that you do the things that you do to just say, “I am so sorry.”
Apologizing reflects a heart of contrition and pennants slowly add drops back into the trust bucket over time. And that bottom will get thicker and tougher and it will be able to hold more and more trust. And over the course of months to years, that trust can totally come back to where it was there. There may be scar tissue around the bottom of the bucket. But you can get back to where you fully trust again. It just takes a lot of work on both parts.
Begin Affair Recovery in Atlanta, GA & Surrounding Areas
The marriage counselors at our Atlanta, GA area therapy practice have years of experience helping couples navigate life after an affair. They know that recovering from an affair takes time and effort. And, they have the skills and knowledge to help you have the hard conversations and make decisions. Plus, our practice offers both in-person therapy and online sessions to make affair counseling more accessible for you. If you’re ready to work toward healing your relationship, follow the steps below.
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Other Therapy Services at Building Intimate Marriages
The team at Building Intimate Marriages provides multiple services to support healthy relationships. Our marriage counselors offer individual counseling as well as premarital counseling to get you started on the right foot. For those struggling in their marriage, we provide discernment counseling. Additionally, we help couples develop passionate intimacy in sex therapy. We also host a multitude of intimacy workshops and seminars to nurture your relationships in a group setting. Let the team at our Atlanta, GA-area therapy practice help you in all intimate areas of your life.