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Repairing Breaks In Trust

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Breaks in trust come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Small breaks include those moments when you thought your partner would be there for you, but they let you down.

A simple example includes promising to pick something up from the store on the way home, but forgetting. If this has happened once, maybe you can easily forgive and move on. But what if it has happened ten times? Then we have a different story.

Larger breaks in trust are often big blows to the partnership itself. The classic example is a betrayal, as in an affair, where you feel like your partner compared you to someone else, and that other person was chosen over you. John Gottman, the country's leading relationship researcher, recently found that when people feel betrayed they begin to ask themselves why they're with their partner in the first place. "If he's going to choose that guy over me, why should I even stay?" becomes the inner dialogue of the betrayed partner. This is obviously really detrimental to the partnership.

Dr. Gottman also looked at couples who have successfully repaired betrayals. One amazing thing that those couples did in order to move beyond what happened was this:

The betraying partner expressed sincere remorse about what happened. Secondly, and most importantly, the couple reversed the betraying process by allowing expression of negativity and upset in both partners. In basic terms, they created a new rule making it acceptable to be unhappy about how the relationship is going, and listening sincerely to one another's concerns. There was no defensiveness, but rather the sincere expression of needs. Those needs were sincerely listened to with a curious attitude, rather than being shut down.

The process we use at the Gay Couples Institute to help couples repair betrayals is the exact same. We show the couple how to avoid criticism and defensiveness, and then create an entirely new way to express needs. The goal is for both partners to feel valued, such that either can talk about a need and have it sincerely listened to. From this point they learn how to accommodate needs in a way good for the larger relationship, whatever that may be.

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