Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Why is Trusting Again So Hard?

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During EMS Weekend, we won't shame the unfaithful spouse nor blame the betrayed spouse. What we will do is pair you with a small community of other couples and an expert therapist - all of whom have experienced infidelity firsthand - as well as provide comprehensive resources to help you kick-start your healing journey.

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Have you ever wondered why it's so hard to reestablish trust? Just last week a couple in my office struggled with this reality. Johnathon felt he had displayed amazing progress with his attentiveness and follow through in the marriage. Sue, on the other hand, still saw him as self-centered and felt that he'd made no improvement at all. What makes our points of view differ so radically when it comes to behaviors within the marriage? (Please note: names have been changed to protect identities.)

Sanctity of the Topic

Couples fight because they are both right. I learned this long ago. No one would argue a topic, knowing they're wrong. Plain and simple, we fight when we believe we're right and the other person is wrong. The problem stems from the fact that we're not always on the same topic. Typically, one party speaks from the perspective of how they've been hurt, while the other party stays fixed on their intentions. It is impossible to agree if you're not even on the same subject!

For example: Once when Stephanie and I were late to an engagement because she was still getting ready, I suggested she skip the make up so we could get on the road. I tried to accomplish my goal by complimenting her beauty and stating she didn't need even need make up. Somehow, my words got tangled and it came out more like, "Don't waste your time on the makeup. It won't do any good." My misstated compliment left her deeply hurt. She responded with, "I can't believe you just insulted me." I responded with, "I didn't insult you; I was trying to pay you a compliment." I began to argue my intention, which was to pay her a compliment, and she kept right on making the point that I had insulted her. It was a "right fight." We were both 100% right in the points we were making, but we certainly weren't talking about the same topic. This common dynamic reveals one of the difficulties in reestablishing trust.

Follow Through Is Paramount

In order to be considered trustworthy, the rate of follow through has to be extremely high. If an individual fails to do what they say they will do, especially on a consistent basis, they will be considered untrustworthy. If the individual is occasionally trustworthy, their partner will likely struggle to trust them.

Typically, the unfaithful spouse evaluates their performance based on their intention. Past behaviors, to the unfaithful spouse, are just that—past behaviors. So in their mind, it feels like they have a clean slate since the infidelity has come to light and they are working towards recovery. By those standards, they often feel they deserve the Most Trustworthy Citizen of the Year Award. Remember, the betrayed spouse is evaluating trust by their behavior (the infidelity) while the unfaithful spouse is evaluating trust based on their intentions (recovery), so you can see how the fight for trust can feel like a losing battle.

Understand Where Frustration Comes From

Here's the problem: in the betrayed spouse's evaluation system, intentions carry almost no weight and current behaviors are viewed through the lens of past failures.

The betrayed spouse wants action. Even more, they want a clearly visible, pure, and right motive for that action. It's one of the few measures they have. It may feel as if actions done with the wrong motives don't count. The discrepancies in the scores awarded by both sides create a great deal of consternation. The unfaithful spouse may feel misunderstood and like nothing they do counts, while the betrayed spouse lives in fear that things will never change and their spouse will never truly change.

Unfaithful spouses, I'd recommend you take a hard look at your behaviors, not your intentions.

I did insult Stephanie when I tried to pay her a compliment. I had to take responsibility for my failings even when it wasn't intentional, and this is a huge piece to the puzzle of reestablishing safety. At the same time, Stephanie had to be willing to let me make amends. It's good to note your progress in recovery but remember the weight of your actions. If you acted out for years and now have five months of good behavior, do you think that's enough "good time" to shift your mate's perspective of you? Can you blame them for being leary?

You know your heart and your intentions, but how can your mate believe you when you've spent years deceiving him or her? You're going to have to be consistent in what you say over 90% of the time if you want them to consider you trustworthy again. Be patient with each other. If you stay the course and become the person YOU can respect, then odds are that your mate will eventually join you. This is not about just "saving the marriage," but it's about getting your life back. It's about getting healthy for yourself first, then for your mate.

If you don't respect or love yourself, how can you expect your spouse to do the same?

Betrayed spouses, I'd encourage you not to discount the positive. Given the betrayal, it's natural to see the negatives and to mistrust your spouse's actions. No one wants to be played the fool twice. However, if their heart is soft and they're taking responsibility, try to see that. Changing lifelong behaviors takes time. If you see heartfelt effort toward change, please don't consider it meaningless. The goal is progress, not perfection.

It will certainly take time before you can trust their heart but try to be objective as you walk this road of recovery. As Leslie Hardie, co-author of our Harboring Hope says; "Don't use the pain of the past to amplify the fear of the future."1 If you're exploring the possibilities of reconciliation, be cautious, but try to live in the present. Anything else will rob you of life.

Cover more ground faster with the life-changing experience of EMS Weekend for couples.

This isn't another light-and-fluffy program that only scratches the surface of your pain. The EMS Weekend Experience is a safe space for you and your partner to start putting the pieces of your life back together, transform your trauma and begin healing from infidelity. Skeptical about the effectiveness of this experience? Don't be! Backed by a slew of previous participant testimonials, EMS Weekend delivers results month after month for countless couples.

During EMS Weekend, we won't shame the unfaithful spouse nor blame the betrayed spouse. What we will do is pair you with a small community of other couples and an expert therapist - all of whom have experienced infidelity firsthand - as well as provide comprehensive resources to help you kick-start your healing journey.

Sign Up Now!



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Re establishing trust

Great article this week Rick. Right on time as usual. It is so wonderful and helpful in our recovery the way the right article comes just as we are dealing with those very issues. It helps me to feel we are continuing on in the right way in our recovery and what I am feeling and experiencing are valid as well as how it helps me to understand what my husband as the betrayer is feeling as well. Thank you, this article was extremely helpful and encouraging to me.

Why is trusting again so hard?

This is a great article. My husband believes the way for me to trust him again is for him began to do the things he did and used as tools to betray me. Let me give you examples. He played basketball three days a week on the way there and back the time was used to talk to his affair partner. He worked out 4 days a week and that time was used for the same purpose. He said the only way I am going to get past it is for him to get back to his life. He has learned his lesson and and now he is starting to feel like nothing he does is good enough for me.
I found out about the affair May 13, 2011and lies were still coming out about it in 2013. He doesn't understand that each time I began to heal and something new was disclosed,any work in the trust depart was damage and delayed.
I just feel like not only are we not on the same page when it comes to trust. I don't even think we are reading from the same book . It seems all he really wants is to get back to his life not the marriage. He says he wants this marriage but from where I am sitting all I can see is a person who only thinks about what is best for him. Thank you for listening.

A great article. I wish my

A great article. I wish my spouse would read it to understand why I don't believe a word he says and don't trust him any farther than I can spit a watermelon seed (not far, I'm not a good spitter). He waited almost a year after Dday before he made any real effort to seek help, and even though he states his good intentions, I have yet to see them come to fruition. They are just words to me, nothing more.18 months now past Dday and I do not know any more now than I knew back then because he refuses to talk about it or answer all my questions as deeply as I need. I have no idea if he has even closed the door on their relationship or not. It's all at work (she's his "office spouse") and I cannot monitor his phone or emails or actions while he is there. I have no access to his work related technology. He says he has not talked to or texted her for 17 months, other than work related, and that he tries to avoid her. I don't believe him because he has done nothing to prove it and I have seen nothing to prove it, no transparency. To be fair, he is now stating how much he loves me, misses me,wants me home, sending flowers and cards, and trying to reconnect by asking me to go on dates, etc. He wants me to just let all this go and move on together and have a good future. And I have tried to reconnect by going on these dates, but unfortunately, until I know for sure she is out of the picture, SHE will always be on the date with us....the "elephant on the date" so to speak. His intentions may be good in his own mind, but until I have proof in the form of TRUTH (a polygraph now since it's been so long and he has lied so much) and in his actions (NO abuse of any sort and zero contact with the elephant lady), I cannot give much credit to the positives he is showing. I know I am being extremely, and probably excessively, cautious, but this was the second time - same woman. The attachment will always be there. I don't want to be played the fool for a third time. I am already embarrassed and angry at myself that I was fooled twice. Trust and true forgiveness will be a long time coming for us this time, unfortunately. I am afraid that I will be forever hyper-vigilant. The damage in me is pretty much irreparable, but I am hoping that by placing it in God's hands, I can go on to live an extraordinary life of meaning and purpose -- with or without him. Thanks for the article..

you are brilliant, rick

you are brilliant, rick
so brilliant, helpful, and soooooo insightful!!!


Great article, describes us to a T, describes the terrible blow ups that go on still. Especially felt I understood the comments as they could have been my own!


Four years ago I discovered my husband's infidelity but it took almost 6 months for it to be totally ended. She still emails from time to time but he refuses to answer her. At the time of our counseling, he was instructed to get rid of anything relating to her. Just yesterday I again found a blown up photo of them enclosed in plastic in his work files. Also, when I found out I asked him to tell me EVERYTHING. He not only did not do this but secretly kept in touch with her. He has done a lot to make a new marriage, but when he gets angry he tells me that I am evil and will never let him be trusted and that everything in our life is his fault. That I want him dead. He is screaming this. Our counselor believes he has a dissociation disorder but that can't excuse what is happening. Each time I begin to give trust, something happens to break it.


Thanks for this article. The article is spot on from my point of view (Betrayed) and is very timely. This helps me understand our situation and things we argue about. Thanks again.

Trusting myself

How I have struggled with trusting my husband again. Affair was in 2012...confession in early July and my discovery of its continuation was a month later. I - like most other betrayed spouses - never thought him capable of such cruelty. Since Dday 2 - he is a different man - better than than he ever was - even pre-affair. He is completely transparent - and has let go of the outcomes - very honest. But I have nagging doubts - how do I know - maybe he's become more clever, more deceptive - smarter at cheating. What I've decided is that I can only trust ME. I trust that should he ever walk that path again - that I WILL survive - I will be okay. I will be devastated, I will feel the soul-crushing pain that infidelity brings...but I will eventually heal without him and come through the pain the strong determined woman I am. That is what I put my trust in - that is what I can take to the bank. I have no control over his choices and his coping mechanisms but I can control mine. I believe in the man he has become and love him more than I did on our wedding day...but if I'm wrong...I'll be okay.

Trusting yourself

I love this perspective! It's difficult taking a risk on a marriage and a spouse whose own actions broke it down. My husband ABSOLUTELY DESECRATED our marriage but with this perspective and thinking, I can give "us" another chance, mostly because of our children; but if he desecrates the marriage again AFTER doing recovery work.....I'll be able to move on confidently knowing I tried my best and that's all I can do!

Why trusting again is so hard...

I am right in the thick of this subject. If the unfaithful are still doing the same things that were related in any way to the time of the affair, it is hard to not fear that behaviors will change in the same environment. It causes me triggers. I personally feel it is cruel for the unfaithful to NOT try to avoid such places, behaviors etc..if for nothing more than to ease the pain of the betrayed. If the truly want their betrayed partner to heal the unfaithful would be wise not to keep doing things that brings reminders. Its like wiggling the knife that was previously stabbed in their heart. Leave the bandaid on and let the person heal. It is time to think about their healing, not your personal desires.

trust is earned, not given

Last week I was asking my husband about a meeting he had at work. Since I have access to all of his work email accounts I knew that there were 6 people who were invited to this meeting. When he came home he said that four of the people had "called in" to the meeting so it was just him and a woman named "Leslie" in his office. I LOST it. One of our agreements is that he will not have meetings, go to lunch, travel with, etc....with just one person, there must always be a third (or more) person present if the second person is a woman. Midway through my rant he said "I can never do anything right in your eyes".

I think that is probably true. His intentions are always right, but I see them with the giant "but" at the end. Yes, he scheduled the meeting the way we agreed, but he failed to make sure our agreement was kept. I told him that no matter what he does for now it will be overshadowed by the giant "but" of his affair. He took that "but" and made an analogy that his affair is like a giant butt and when you decide that you need to lose that extra weight you exercise and work as hard as you can to make the butt smaller. He said that no matter how many time I see the "but" in his actions he will work harder to make sure that it gets smaller over time. He does realize that his words are simply meaningless to me and his actions are all that I see and how I evaluate his regaining my trust over time.


What is trust? Its been three years and I have no idea how to rekindle our marriage anymore. She was the offender and she hid things from me and I was deceived 4 more times after D-day (hiding things, email, text, etc). Turns out the guy was a psychopath and was using her and she was trapped in his spell. Doesnt make me feel any better because half the time I have no idea if she is just staying out of convenience or if she truly loves me but in the meanwhile, I am still trapped in this emotional battle that is defeating me. The flooding, the dreams I have a night, little triggers that feel like I've had the wind knocked out of me. I do things to upset her and she does things to upset me and we're in such a hard place I have no idea what to do. We honestly cant afford therapy and so we've just been taking things a day at a time. I dont even know if she is in love with me and that has caused me to be distant from her but then again, I dont want to do something to hurt her emotionally that will make her want to leave. Eggshells. Ricks posts have been informative and I've always appreciated reading them.

Outstanding article. It

Outstanding article. It really helps me with my perspective about where my wife and I are in our recovery work right now. Thank you!


A difficult part in my situation is my wife understanding the difference between forgiveness and trust. I may forgive the offense, but I want boundaries, committment and demonstrated behavior to protect the safety of the marriage for reconciliation and building trust.

She says whenever i bring these things up, that I still haven't forgiven, I'll "never forgive what she did 5 years ago" (i.e. the acts of unfaithfulness). It ignores that outright lying,deception, gaslighting that went on for three years after before DDay. And it denies accountability for unhealthy behaviors today, ones that trigger bad memories, are outside agreed-upon established boundaries or are just plan inconsiderate. That dumps all the responsibility on me, for "not forgiving". And makes her appear "entitled".

"Entitled" is just the right word

I have said exactly the same things to my husband! That word resonates so much, I've said it many times and I feel it! I've reiterated over and over that I just have such a poor opinion of him, who he is, what he's made of, his character, not simply because he was unfaithful or the gaslighting or how he could possibly justify the choices amd behaviors but the subsequent behaviors. Behaving in a way, saying things that basically come across like he's being treated or jugded unfairly because I'm hesitant to believe him when he states his intentions after the fact (meaning if something seems sketchy or makes me uncomfortable). I've asked for zero surprises and to have some narration of events as they occur, not after the fact. My spouse has always had a problem with being direct and now, mainly because of his own actions, there isn't so much leeway for a learning curve. That's what comes across as entitled to me, his upset at the fact that I have said that, in some cases, trying isn't good enough and I don't have patience left to offer him while he figures out how to learn things like being direct or waiting for me to initate things. The entitlement seems to stem from a lack of understanding that they've spent all their chances at having the benefit of the doubt (at least in the case of my situation).

trust, forgiveness?

This comment about trust and forgiveness describes exactly what I live with as a betrayed spouse. I don't think the cheater is willing to accept that her seemingly benign behavior with other men is creating the environment for infidelity. As long as she invites (inappropriate) relationships, there can be no trust, and I struggle over and over with forgiveness.

Intentions, motives, behavior....

AMAZING!!! Rick, you could have just inserted my husband's name in your essay and it would reflect our life at this moment.

Several days ago, we had an identical incident where he did insult me just like in your story. We were BOTH right. He has yet to see that he insulted me, unlike you learned/understood.

Thank you for your ministry, which it truly is. It provides such great perspective in small bites that are easy to digest.

Blessings to each of you at AR! You truly are a blessing to me.

Lies during Recovery

Rick - thank you for the article. I am having a difficult time due to omissions and lies during our recovery period - 5 mos since D Day. Every time I feel strength, especially towards trust - I am hit with a lie. They have been about the affair and the most devastating was about an issue post affair. I feel like I step so far back with each. I have the need to move on with and only with honesty. This has been the biggest hurdle for my husband. His states that his motivation is not to hurt us anymore. How can I get him to understand that it is the lies that hurt the most.


I have a hard time regaining trust with my wife lm doing all the things she asks but I get really agravated and feel like it's all for nothing just can't get out of the past

Trusting again

I have never wondered why trusting again is so hard, to me it is obvious. People who lie to you and cheat on you have no respect for you. Without respect there is no relationship whether it’s a marriage, a friendship or a business relationship. If you don’t have trust, there is no foundation for a relationship. Reasons for it being so hard to re-establish trust is simple. Past behavior is indicative of future behavior - it’s just the way they are, whether it’s their nature or the way they were raised. It’s embedded in their character. In my case he cheated and lied for decades, telling me he didn’t cheat “honestly”. I decided to give him a chance to repair as much as possible the damage he’d done. After 18 months of his apologies because he continually fell short of his promises and intentions, going to a councellor several times (4 times together, 2 times alone with two different councellors). He decided he didn’t need it because he was alright now. I realized he had no intentions of changing or even putting in a good attempt though he could spout all the things that needed to be done. He still thought his word was good enough to regain my trust. I never feared the same things would happen again, because I knew what needed to happen whether he pulled his head out and straightened up or he wanted things to go on with no changes. He felt changing himself would be wrong, he would no longer be him. Divorce was the best decision I could make. Given the chance to do it again, I’d skip the 18 months of giving him a chance to change. Trust was gone, yet he expected it to be given just because he said he was being faithful, with no actual changes.

You put on words what I've

You put on words what I've been feeling. As a betrayed wife I always felt like we were in different "levels": he was the one who "hit me with an axe" and I was the one cutted off, so even when he is doing the right thing, I can't help a certain feeling of not enough. I'm waiting for more...proofs, maybe.
This article pointed me one important thing: I have to open my heart. Then I can see the positive. Thanks

Exactly the situation i am in

I am the wandering spouse. I have just completed Hope For Healing about 2 weeks back and here I am thinking i was making progress. Little did i know my spouse shared my belief. She was hurting still, and we would argue late into the night because each of believed we were right. The only difference is that i was doing all actions but no speaking. My spouse wanted me to talk about my feelings and struggles rather than receiving the things i did for her. Its so hard to be in this place. Sometimes i feel like im just going back to square one every few months.

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