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How do you repair trust?
There’s bad news, there’s hard news, and there’s good news.
The bad news is that there are times when trust is irreparable. If you’re at all familiar with 12-step spirituality, you will know that the ninth step is to make, “direct amends to [the people whom we have hurt] wherever possible,” but with the critical caveat, “except when to do so would injure them or others.” There are times, in other words, when a violation of trust is so gross that there can be no fixing it and, indeed, that to attempt to fix it would be to inflict further harm. In those cases, the only compassionate thing to do is to commit to the hard decision to leave alone the person whose trust we have broken.
If you are in doubt as to whether or not a given violation of trust falls into this category, then listen carefully to the person whom you have hurt and to any mutual friends that you might have. If the message that you are getting is that he or she doesn’t want to hear from you, then take that seriously. Don’t text him, don’t send her a letter, don’t initiate any further contact.
The hard news is that, even when trust is reparable, fixing it is a whole lot of work. People who have found reconciliation in a marriage after a betrayal, for instance, tell us that such reconciliation only became possible after the partner who had broken the couple’s vows deeply acknowledged how seriously he had hurt his spouse. Repairing trust necessitates looking at things about ourselves and about our choices and our actions that we would often rather ignore or deny. I suspect that is why so many of us prefer to leave trust broken and, indeed, prefer to hurl accusations at our exes, to tell anyone who will listen that they are awful and spiteful and crazy people.
The hard work of repairing trust is sometimes made a little easier with the help of an impartial professional. A counselor can help you and the person with whom your trust has become fractured to talk to one another. She can offer you tools to speak and to listen in a way that may be a little less fraught and a little more safe than the two of you might be able to find on your own.
Last of all, Simon, here is the good news: God is in the reconciliation business. There are few themes in scripture bigger than forgiveness and, in particular, bigger than the expansive nature of God’s forgiveness. To borrow the marvelous and provocative language of Ellen Clark-King, God’s forgiveness, God’s love, God’s capacity for trust is promiscuous. While the trust between two human beings may sometimes get broken beyond repair, God remains ready to trust you again, to trust you to be good, to be generous, to be faithful, to be whole.