Restoring Broken Trust Through Relationship Counseling
Author: Leslie Vernick
Relationship Counseling helps in restoring broken trust and growing in empathy and compassion by helping individuals assess where trust has been broken.
When a couple or a relationship suffers a serious and/or repetitive breach of trust, it signals the relationship is in trouble. As biblical counselors, we must understand when that happens, trust needs to be rebuilt if the relationship is to be restored. That process takes time and effort.
Sometimes, we have unfairly placed the burden to restore trust upon the shoulders of the betrayed and linked it with forgiveness. The thinking goes, once forgiveness is granted, all memories of the incident should be erased, or at least suppressed, and one should never bring it up again. She is counseled not to trust her own apprehensions, but rather open her heart and give her trust so the relationship can heal. However, this approach ignores the betrayer’s responsibility to prove, by the way he lives, that he has repented of his sin and turned to God (Luke 3:8). Therefore, let’s look at how we can help a person who has broken trust start the rebuilding process.
First, we must help the individual assess where trust has been broken. This is one of the most basic but ignored steps of relationship counseling. We usually think of trust being broken solely in terms of marital infidelity. But trust goes much deeper than this.
Below are three additional areas of broken trust we must assess in order for trust to be rebuilt and relationships restored.
Authenticity. People immediately mistrust someone who feels fake. When our client is married to someone, works with someone, or is close to someone who has one persona in public and another in private, she does not trust him; even if there is no specific evidence of infidelity. She doesn’t trust his public persona (i.e. great guy), and she bears witness to his hypocrisy at home. His core self is not authentic and therefore he cannot, or should not, be trusted. Most often he is not authentic even in the counseling office.
The Bible warns us that there are people who masquerade as sheep but are really ravenous wolves. They are not to be trusted. For example, to counsel a woman to trust her husband as a sheep when he acts like a wolf at home is foolishness.
If someone admits to a Jekyll/Hyde persona, or a lack of authenticity, start there with building a more authentic, Christ-centered core. Most of the time, these kinds of people will never admit to their dishonesty and, therefore, basic trust continues to be broken.
Reliability. Can she count on him to do what he says he will do? What is their history of his reliability? Does he say he will stop watching pornography but she sees evidence that that’s not happening? Does he say he will put filters on his computer but never does? Does she say she will stop drinking, or spending money on the credit card, but does nothing? Does he say he wants restoration of their marriage, but won’t go to counseling or do any work towards that end? Does he tell you, as his counselor, he’s serious about his marriage but, week after week, he does not do the work you assign him to do?
Proverbs 25:19 says, “Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot.” It’s foolish.
John Mark is someone who was not reliable and, as a result, lost the apostle Paul’s trust (See Acts 15). Later on, we see that trust was restored, not because Paul gave him trust, but because John Mark proved he was reliable and Paul’s trust was restored (2 Timothy 4). In the same way, building consistent reliability into our character helps in restoring broken trust.
Care. Can she trust that her husband cares for her well-being? When she shares her thoughts and feelings, is she heard? Valued? Protected? Or is there mocking, contempt, avoidance, or indifference? Proverbs 31:11-12 says, “The heart of her husband trusts in her.” Why? Because, “He trusts her to do him good not harm all the days of his life.”
One of the foundations of marital trust is that love does not intentionally harm the other (Romans 13:10). And, if in weakness and sin there is harm, every effort is made to make amends and not repeat that harm.
A destructive person does not want to hear the other person’s grievances against him. It’s true; it does hurt our feelings (and pride) to hear how we have hurt someone. It takes effort to listen and care about the other person’s feelings when you have broken her trust. Yet without compassion, empathy, and care for the other, rebuilding trust is not possible.
As relationship counselors, we must help the person who has broken trust to grow in empathy and compassion for the pain they have caused someone. Feeling someone else’s pain as a result of your sinful actions can become a strong deterrent against repeating that same behavior in the future.
Restoring broken trust takes time and specific evidence of change, not merely words or promises of change. This is the opportunity we have as relationship counselors, to help our clients in restoring broken trust.
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Posted on May 24, 2016