Rebuilding Trust – It Starts With Forgiveness
Sylvia Lane

In my , I explored developing trust with others, and now will consider those situations when trust has eroded and we are seeking to rebuild a trusting relationship.

We can’t rebuild trust in a relationship until forgiveness occurs. To forgive, you have to be willing to give up your feeling of being wounded. defines forgiveness as, “To grant pardon to; to cease to feel resentment against; to cancel an indebtedness or liability of.” Sometimes old hurts and resentments become a badge of self-righteousness. When we let go, we may not know what to do. Think of your resentments as a heavy load that you are carrying around and the load gets bigger and heavier with time. Notice how the load holds you in the past. This first step in rebuilding trust and forgiving is letting go. In order to move on, you must commit to releasing your feelings of anger, resentment, and the need to punish the person with whom you have lost trust.

Sometimes, we’re afraid to let go because we’re afraid that this would mean that we’re condoning the other person’s actions. Forgiveness doesn’t deny responsibility for behavior – you have simply committed not to hold the other person in debt. The Positive Way explains forgiveness this way: “Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. It is a release from the burden of anger and pain. When you choose to forgive, you choose to live in the present and the future instead of the past. It does not mean to forget but it does mean to release and go on. Forgiveness doesn’t happen on its own, you must choose to forgive.” According to Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, there are three parts to an apology: 1) Say, “I’m sorry [for the issue]”; 2) Make a statement of commitment; and 3) Ask what you can do to make it right. Only when you forgive the person who wronged you, can you determine if you want the relationship to continue, and if so, begin to work on reconciliation with the other party.

In Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, he states that a loss of trust that is created by a violation of character is much more difficult to restore than one that is created by a violation of competence. When competence is the issue, it is typically easier for the other party to take responsibility and recommit to deliver results, get better, confront reality, right wrongs, and keep commitments. When the violation is an issue of character – such as someone’s integrity, dishonesty or motive – more time is likely required to restore trust. Sometimes, you may determine that the relationship cannot continue and you should then forgive the person and move on. It is still important – for you as much as for the other person – that you pardon the person of wrong-doing so you can both be free.

Restoring trust and rebuilding the relationship requires that you be in the present (versus reliving the past – you let that go!) and determine what you need from the other person in your relationship. Be willing to clearly ask for changes in behaviors in ways that can be observed and understood. Offer similar changes yourself to support your request and show your commitment to the relationship and willingness to change. Put your agreement in writing when appropriate (especially in professional relationships) and check in with each other on a regular basis to be accountable to each other for your part.

At times, old fears and suspicions may resurface. Similar circumstances may bring up the old pain. Remind yourself of the difference between then and now and move back into the present moment. You may choose to speak openly to the other person about your recurring fears, focusing on sharing, not accusing and own the fear as yours rather than the other person’s fault. This is when transparency and honesty are most valuable. This is about making peace with the past and living in the NOW.

A recent example of rebuilding trust is with a friend who allowed a great deal of construction work to be done on her rental property by someone she trusted with only a handshake. When he presented her with a bill that she felt was exorbitant, she refused to pay it and hired a lawyer to prosecute him for fraud. Her trusting relationship of many years was destroyed. He went away feeling misunderstood and undervalued for his skill and service; she went away feeling taken advantage of. He wants to rebuild the relationship and has offered a lower fee for his services as a start. Even though he does not agree that he overpriced the work, the caring relationship was more important to him than the money. She is still in the early stages of rebuilding trust and is working to let go of the anger and pain. Beginning with clear communication – talking straight and demonstrating respect – will help them work to restore trust and rebuild their relationship.

Up until now, I’ve focused our discussions of eroded trust based on the feeling that we’ve been wronged. What if we were the one who eroded trust by wronging – or disappointing – someone? Consider starting by asking for forgiveness. Then identify what the other person needs from you and what behaviors you could change – begin with the 13 behaviors Covey identified, as I discussed in last week’s blog, Building Trust – What Does It Really Take.

If you are struggling with a lack of trust in a relationship, I hope that these ideas will offer some possibilities for positive change. I have found them to be helpful guidelines in my work and personal life. Forgiveness becomes its own reward. Living in the present moment and letting go of the pain and resentment of the past lightens our load and brings hope and possibility into our future. What actions can you take to rebuild trust in relationships?

Sylvia Lane


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3 Responses
  • Kelly Nizzer Bates on February 10, 2010

    “When you have been wronged, a poor memory is your best response.”
    I read this somewhere. and I will never forget it. Your column is so true – FORGIVE for yourself.

  • Sylvia Lane
    Sylvia Lane on February 10, 2010

    Thanks Kelly,
    I totally agree that we must be willing to accept whatever learning we get from an experience of being wronged and move on. We can keep the good intentions within ourselves without holding onto the pain. My own favorite quote on forgiveness is from George Roemisch who said: Forgiveness is the fragrance of the violet which still clings fast to the heel that crushed it.
    Warm Regards,
    From: Sylvia Lane,PhD, Convergence Coaching, LLC
    52 Stoney Pointe
    Laguna Niguel, Ca. 92677
    (949)443-3915 (voice)
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  • Kay on September 16, 2013

    Thank you for this article Sylvia! I’m currently trying to rebuild trust with my boyfriend. He didn’t physically cheat but he did emotionally and it’s been really difficult for me. I can tell he’s trying and making an effort but I’m still struggling with it because it happened more then once. I ended our relationship but he begged me not to and promised he was willing to do the work to rebuild trust in our relationship. He has given me access to do phone and laptop which I still check regularly after a month of working on things. I’m trying to forgive but, I cry everyday and am having trouble moving past it. A friend of mine says forgiveness comes in time and it’s not something you can force which I believe too. He’s being great so far. He listens when I cry about it and holds me and just listens when I need to talk or cry about it. But I’m so afraid things will happen in the future even though he promises they won’t. It’s so hard to trust what he says now. But, your article is helping me. By forgiving him, I will start to feel better and hopefully our relationship can become what it once was. I just don’t understand why someone would do these things but that’s not going to help me move on just create more questions. Thank you again!

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