You Don’t Need Trust to Move Forward

When Rick told Samantha, “You don’t need trust to move forward, you need safety,” Samantha was stunned. She hadn’t heard that from anyone and it was a bit of a foreign concept to her. After all, I had blown apart any fabric of trust she once had in me. After a two year affair, endless amounts of attempts to cover it up, and a horrid lifestyle to boot, trust was obliterated.

One of the only friends I had left even said to me, “I certainly don’t trust you, but I love you.”

Samantha certainly didn’t trust me, and wasn’t sure she even loved me anymore either.

But Rick had the boldness and brilliance to say “You don’t need trust to move forward, you need safety.”

Safety is the process by which couples can gain ground and move forward, though the future is uncertain. In fact, restoration is dependent upon safety. Safety is actually determined by the attitude of the unfaithful spouse and their particular approach /response to the exposure of the affair, the betrayed spouse, and the climate in which they are now surrounded.

Trust can be replaced for a season by open, honest and empathetic communication about each other’s hurts, pain and insecurities. If it’s done with compassion and love (acting in the best interest of another), safety can be used as a stepping stone to trust being reestablished further down the road. It doesn’t mean, however, that when trust isn’t there you live in purgatory, but with safety measures and precaution being utilized in a new lifestyle of awareness and recovery.

After all, trusting too early can put both the marriage and the unfaithful spouse at risk for relapse or further collateral damage. Their own efforts (including mine) were not strong enough to prevent infidelity in the first place, and I’m quite sure their own efforts won’t be strong enough to prevent it from happening again. Yes, even if they “really, really, really mean it this time” (a quote from a spouse I spoke with just yesterday).

Falsely assuming that the institution of marriage will naturally keep our spouse from cheating is not only naive, it’s insufficient to do so. Marriages become even more at risk, along with recovery, when we assume our spouse will naturally gravitate towards being faithful or managing their own recovery early on. There will need to be a reprogramming over time, which if done right, will then also reestablish trust for the betrayed spouse. I say it this way: time + consistency + a proven process of restoration will = trust being reestablished.  A healthy distrust of our own efforts (as an unfaithful spouse) may also be a keen aspect of humility moving forward after our infidelity has been exposed.

Maybe the focus right now needs to be on making the relationship safe. Perhaps there are new methods of communication which you and your spouse can use to help alleviate each other’s fears, worries, misunderstandings or inadequacies. 

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After dealing with my husbands unfaithfulness for the past three years (the most recent discovery being August of 2013) this is my biggest struggle. We have both committed to the marriage and even renewed our vows for our 30th Anniversary last month. I believe that he is now being honest with me and has been very transparent. All that said, I still do not feel safe. There is this voice in my head saying "make me feel safe again." Do you have any suggestions for how to accomplish this?

feeling safe....


thanks so much for the comment. for starters, you'll need to identify what makes you feel safe. perhaps phone calls, or text messages, or even phone tracker on your spouse's phone. there is an article that ill find which states that you'll need to be able to discuss the information and the affair, if you truly want to heal. to not discuss it and not talk openly about it, minimizes your chances of long term healing. so that's a good start, but also, i'd make sure you both are reading as much as you can on the site and exploring articles that will speak to you both. for now, here is a good one to read that will give you insight on talking openly about feelings and what has gone on:

Why Couples Fail After An Affair

While the path to recovery will never be easy, it doesn’t have to be treacherous at every turn. Communicating well doesn’t ensure that you’ll never stumble or take a wrong turn or flood. However, it can at least shine some light so you’re not trying to forge your way in complete and utter darkness without any sense of communicative structure. I am overwhelmed at the number of you who completed our survey in last week’s newsletter (link), and so grateful for the heartfelt, personal responses each of you provided. When attempting to heal from the effects of infidelity, one size and one method does not fit all. Surrender coupled with wisdom and even some strategy pave the way towards potential healing. While we cannot control our spouse’s decisions and mindsets, we can get help for what we are doing and for how we are moving forward. Without a vision for recovery, we float adrift on the sea of uncertainty, with no compass for the future.

People naturally try to understand the events of their life. Until we are able to make sense of these events, there remains a part of us which continues trying to solve the mystery. How long do you think someone who’s been devastated by betrayal would spend trying to find the answer to their questions after an affair? I can tell you, for some it’s several years. Solving this mystery is a key success factor in re-establishing trust and surviving infidelity. Apart from understanding what has happened, there is no way for the betrayed spouse to assess the level of damage and the probability of future restoration. Until the unfaithful spouse extends trust to their mate by sharing what happened, it is difficult indeed for the betrayed spouse to rebuild trust. People are more than capable of getting over a betrayal, but continued deception leaves no path for trust.

A substantial difficulty for couples recovering from infidelity is the emotional flooding created by the trauma after an affair. Infidelity creates a pain like no other, and the difficulties regulating the ensuing emotions are not only common, but overwhelming and even paralyzing. .. Emotional regulation and stability are created through what is called a “coherent story.” Up until the point where “what has happened” makes sense to the hurt spouse, emotions run rampant with continuous emotional flooding, perpetual reminders, triggers and intrusive thoughts, and any sense of normalcy eludes them. . Understanding what happened provides a safe foundation on which they can begin to rebuild.

To move forward, couples need to come to an understanding of their history. Regardless of the type of affair (i.e. emotional affair, office affair), the story of what has happened needs to make sense to both husband and wife. As I work with couples that have been stuck, not knowing what happened seems to be the number one culprit. I appreciate the work done by Peggy Vaughan in her e-book.

She hypothesized: A couple is more likely to stay married after an affair when they thoroughly discuss the whole situation.

55% of those who discussed the situation very little, were still married (living together)
78% of those who discussed the situation a good bit, were still married (and living together)
86% of those who discussed the situation a lot, were still married (and living together)
She concluded that the amount the affair was discussed with the partner was significantly associated with present marital status.
A second hypothesis stated: a couple is more likely to stay married when the spouse answers their questions.
59% of those refused to answer questions were still married (and living together)
81% of those whose partner answered some of their questions were still married (and living together)
86% of those whose partners answered all their questions were still married (and living together)
She concluded that the extent to which the partner answered questions was significantly associated with present marital status.
Research clearly supports the benefit of couples exploring what has happened through a controlled and restorative medium.. Understanding what occurred allows both parties to rally around solutions and find tangible hope for both their own recovery, as well as the marriage’s..
Not only does the hurt spouse have a need to know what happened, the need for those who were unfaithful is as great. Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to the benefit I received from discussing the events of my infidelity. There is a strong tendency to be self-deceived and even numb when it comes to our situations where we betray ourselves as well as others. Exposing what happened has a unique way of providing clarity not only for one’s mate but also for those of us who’ve been unfaithful. I hate to admit it, but I wasn’t thinking clearly at all after the affair ended. I had walled off any sense of normalcy and now, those walls were crumbling, piece by piece. . It wasn’t just my mate discovering what happened, I also began to understand things I had not seen before, and clarity slowly but surely began to emerge.
At the same time, knowing what happened isn’t the same as knowing every detail about everything that happened. Too much detail creates additional problems with intrusive thoughts. The hurt spouse might want to know what happened, where it happened, how often it happened, if there are potential health isks, and when it began and ended. However, questions comparing themselves to the affair partner serve little to--or no benefit, as how can one compete with a fantasy which is what an affair is. It is these comparison questions that ultimately create intrusive thoughts and complicate the healing process of restoration for both parties.
• For those who want to help their mate heal by sharing their story, here are some words of advice. Begin by asking your mate if he or she wants to know. If the answer is yes, then tell them the story. I find that carefully telling the story from beginning to end is the best way to relay the information. Far too often the story is told piecemeal,? as the hurt spouse asks questions as they come up on a whim, and the unfaithful spouse tries to answer in equal fashion and the process breaks down. This leaves gaps in the timeline causing problems later. When you finish telling the story, please don’t say "that’s everything". You’re far better off realizing that you’ve told everything you remember at that moment, but there’s always the possibility that other memories will come to mind and/or your mate may not have heard everything and will later be devastated if more information comes to light. Tell them you’re committed to honestly answering their questions and exploring not only what happened, but also why it happened.

try that and see what you think and please let me know what else I can do for you

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