Rebuilding Trust in Chaos
With the revelation of the affair, trust (and my heart) shattered like a porcelain teacup. At times, gluing the scattered pieces into a strong vessel seemed impossible. After being lied to for three years, how could I possibly believe anything she said? I wanted to believe Ann, but words or actions would graze a wounded area of my soul stirring pain, fear and mistrust. I didn’t know where to begin.
The only place to start rebuilding trust in an affair-strewn marriage is in the chaos.
I wanted formulas and guarantees that she would never cheat again. That’s another way of saying that I never wanted to hurt so deeply again. But guarantees are for products not relationships. No explicit formula exists for rebuilding trust - only guidelines. The guidelines can lead to an overall movement in a positive direction. The movement in rebuilding trust typically resembles a lurching two-steps-forward, one-step-back process. Sometimes Ann and I danced a high speed cha-cha. One, two, chachacha. Step, step, forwardbackforward.
At first, I felt guilty for not trusting my own wife. I was relieved to learn that I wasn’t required to give trust. Because of the multitude of lies and concealment, Ann needed to earn my trust. Earning or regaining trust requires a constant consideration of the offended person’s feelings. Ann consistently checked in with me concerning the impact of her decisions on my heart. She told a new company that she wouldn't travel out of town when she learned new employees traveled to the home office for training. I wasn’t up to her traveling alone at this point. She also declined an offer to share rides to work with a male coworker though they both drove 30 miles along the same road. Seemingly innocent time spent together creates a situation in which many affairs begin, so Ann honored my request to drive separately. Her consideration of my feelings conveyed that my soul truly mattered to her again, which helped to incrementally restore trust between us.
As I said, there are no guarantees trust will be rebuilt. This both frustrated and freed me. At first, thoughts of divorce seemed like a magical way out of pain. Thoughts of not having to deal with the hard task of restoring trust allured me. Discussing the harsh realities of a broken marriage with our counselor helped immensely. He helped us see that divorce is a painful creator of a new set of problems instead of a magic elixir to eliminate my pain. I had a choice to struggle through the pain of rebuilding trust or enter new and different pain by divorcing Ann. During the initial crisis period (post revelation) was no time for me to make a decision about whether to end my marriage or not. My emotions were all over the place. I’m glad I didn’t listen to naive friends and instead found wise input from a counselor, my chaplain and mature friends. They guided me to successfully navigate the troubled waters in our marriage.
Though I wanted to be rid of crazy-making and mistrustful thoughts, I came to accept the gradual process of restoring trust. Like the gradual lengthening of days following the darkest day at the start of winter, perhaps the slow walk to restoring trust starts like the darkest day in northern Alaska. There was more darkness than light, but the percentage of light in our lives grew as we moved through the process. As much as I wanted to rush rebuilding trust, it took time.
It took time because our life was in chaos. Though difficult to see at first, there is hope in chaos. In False Intimacy, counselor Dr. Harry Schaumburg says, "More often than not, we define faith as seeing God in the circumstance. But in chaos we never see God. Faith should be defined as knowing that God sees us in the chaos.”
God formed the universe out of chaos. Trusting in this helped me believe in His formational power in my marriage. He built a solid foundation in our relationship from the chaos. Rebuilding trust surfaced new levels of maturity in me. It required more heart and soul than I ever knew I had. Staying present in the chaos gave God a chance to create a beautiful relationship from the shattered pieces of our hearts.
What actions do you specifically need from your spouse to help restore trust?
Betrayed and Betrayer: Rescuing your marriage from the affair by Ben and Ann Wilson