How To Gain Your Partner’s Trust Back After Hurting Them


The first time I watched Unfaithful on cable, I was about ten years old — years too young for the early-aughts thriller — and totally confused by how Diane Lane’s sex montage in a moody Soho loft ended with Richard Gere committing murder with his bare hands and a snow globe. But to my preadolescent brain, the message was clear: Cheating is a serious, no-nonsense offense. And it is, but an offense more known for breaking trust than skulls. What the movie doesn’t discuss is how to resurrect that trust, how to gain your partner’s trust again after you’ve hurt them.

Obviously, cheating isn’t the only way trust is broken in relationships. Lying about anything can do the job, frankly, as can a lack of listening or transparency about feelings. And the cost of this breach is great. A 2015 study at the University of Houston found individuals who mistrusted their partner, especially those with anxious attachment styles, were more likely to feel jealous, snoop through their significant other’s things, and become psychologically abusive. “Distrust has cascading effects on relationship cognitions and behavior,” the study concluded.

“Once trust is lost within a relationship it is incredibly difficult to rebuild,” says relationship coach Lauren Irish. “Your partner not only has to work through distrust caused by the tangible action, but also to address all the ‘what-ifs’ in [their] mind.”

If you’ve hurt your partner, they’ll likely feel lost at sea for a while. When it’s time to rebuild the relationship, let them set the pace and give them breathing room. Accept that it could take a long time for things to return to normal. To help, experts offer nine tips for how to regain their trust.

1

Own Up To Your Mistake — & Mistakes

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“The best way to gain your partner’s trust after you’ve hurt them is to be straightforward, open, and honest with them,” says psychotherapist Aimee Hartstein. If there’s anything else you haven’t told them, or other things that could upset them, it should come out now. If they find out about additional betrayals later, it could be impossible to rebuild.

2

Give Them As Much Time As They Need

Be willing to rehash the issue over and over if that’s what they need. “It can help for you to keep acknowledging that you hurt or betrayed them and that you aren’t expecting it to go away overnight,” Hartstein says. “Remedy whatever you did wrong and continue to have an open forum with them for as long as they need it.”

And we won’t lie, the stakes are high. A new study, published in February in the journal Psychological Reports, found that mistrust is a big predictor of other relationship problems.

3

Take Things Slowly

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“Be patient,” Irish says. “It’s natural after you’ve hurt someone to want to move forward in the relationship and leave the past in the past, but you have to meet your partner where [they are]. It’s going to take time and not giving the time needed can cause problems later if the other person hasn’t fully regained trust. The issue can pop up in arguments long after you thought trust was restored if you don’t take it slow and keep the lines of communication wide open.”

4

Be Gentle With Your Partner

Being critical will make them feel like you’re not on their side, so it’s important to be gentle, even when you’re not talking about how you’ve hurt them. “Criticism is a surefire way to erode connection in relationships,” says Theresa Herring, a marriage and family therapist. “It makes both of you feel less loving toward one another, and almost always ends in your partner becoming defensive or shutting down.”

5

Accept That Your Relationship May Have Permanently Changed

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Your relationship may never look like it once did. “I often tell my clients that our work is not going to be about getting them back to how their relationship was, but rather creating a new relationship for them,” says sex therapist Piper S. Grant. “This takes time, communication, openness within themselves and each other, and the ability to tolerate one’s own feelings while hearing the other’s feelings.” And remember, even if that relationship is gone, you can still work toward a new, healthier one.

6

Be Fully Present

Whether you’re working through issues or just spending time together, your partner needs to feel like they can rely on you, which requires you to be fully present. “Not making eye contact with someone and giving them your full attention when they’re trying to communicate with you creates an emotional gap in a relationship,” says counselor Monte Drenner. “This practice makes others feel they are unimportant, and they will pull away emotionally over time.”

In fact, a 2013 study conducted at Northwestern University and Redeemer University College in Ontario, looked at how naturally trusting partners tended to remember bumps in the relationship as ultimately beneficial — like the adages “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “hindsight is 20/20.”

7

Listen To Your Partner

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Above all, follow your partner’s lead. “Listen to [them]. That’s the most important thing here,” Trombetti says. “Listening validates their feelings, makes them more invested in you because [they] feel heard, and reestablishes your severed trust thus repairing the broken bond.” Ask what you can do, listen to what they say, and do your damn best to make it happen. You can come back from a breach of trust in a relationship, but you have to be willing to put in the work.

8

Try To Work Out Why You Hurt Them

Showing your partner that you’re working on bettering yourself can make a big difference. “You need to figure out why you feel compelled to sabotage yourself by ruining your relationships in order to fix it,” says matchmaker Susan Trombetti. “If [your partner] feels you won’t likely re-offend, it’ll be easier to trust [you].”

9

Make Time For Each Other

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“Spend quality time together doing something you both love and find soothing,” Trombetti says, like planting a flower garden or cooking. “Whatever you enjoy as a couple, do more of it. It’s the good times that help bond us and [can] get you both past your difficulties.” And quality time is the best way to build new memories together, so they can start to move past the feelings of betrayal.

Once your partner is ready to work on rebuilding the relationship, honest communication is crucial, especially if you discuss trust and the breach of it. Consider analytic tools, like 2020’s The Trust Game for Couples, which helps measure people’s willingness to invest in relationships and romantic behavior. Its researchers felt there had been “no valid tool to assess partner-specific trust behavior.”

Experts:

Lauren Irish, relationship coach

Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, psychotherapist

Theresa Herring, marriage and family therapist

Piper S. Grant, Ph.D., sex therapist

Monte Drenner, LMHC, MCAP, counselor

Susan Trombetti, matchmaker



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