by Hugh McGeary, Managing Director of Counselling Services, Catholic Family Service
A break of trust is the most fundamentally damaging thing that can be done in a relationship. Withholding information, lying, being emotionally intimate or physically intimate with someone outside the relationship can lead to a cycle of mistrust. Without trust and the ability to give the benefit of the doubt, relationships become very fragile and often explosive. And of course, when trust is betrayed, it’s very difficult for one to assure their partner of their honesty and good intention, thus hindering the capacity for recovery.
Often couples come into counselling after there has been a betrayal of trust. They arrive in an acute state of crisis with very different needs. For the person who has had their trust broken, they want to know all the details about what happened: with who, what where, why. For the person who betrayed the trust, they are embarrassed and afraid of the further damage they feel can be done by answering their partner’s questions.
To begin the process of recovery, there needs to be a capacity, for both people, to hold to the promise of “honesty at all costs.” This means answering any and all questions, despite the damage these answers may cause the relationship. If each person cannot prove they will be honest – at all costs – they forgo earning trust, and hold the relationship in a state of crisis. In my career I have often seen situations where the person who has betrayed trust tries to manage the crisis by withholding information, and it most often ends with the information being somehow uncovered or revealed – which sends the relationship back into crisis.
Thus the first stage in recovery from a betrayal of trust is “Full Disclosure.” The person whose trust has been broken needs to be able to ask any and all of their questions and receive full answers back. And this must continue until they determine that hearing more won’t help the recovery. Only the person themselves can be in charge of deciding how much is too much.
The next stage in the recovery process is “Ownership,” which will feature in an article coming soon. Other stages to follow in future articles include: Symbols of Transformation, Demonstrated Empathy, Understanding of Personal Vulnerability, Understanding of the Relationship’s Vulnerability, Creation of a Crucible for Grieving, Normalizing the Process, Building Capacity for Internal Reassurance, and perhaps . . . Forgiveness.
It is very possible to rebuild trust and co-create a relationship that is safe from further betrayals when couples can commit to the process of going through these stages/steps together over time. For information about our counselling services, visit www.cfs-ab.org.