Whenever the foundation of a relationship is shattered by a betrayal, deception or infidelity, the question about whether trust can ever be restored inevitably arises.
In fact, this question about rebuilding trust can become so dominant and overwhelming, that it can become the source of constant frustration, anger, anxiety, uncertainty and resentment within the relationship.
Indeed, underlying this question is a very real need to know that we will not be hurt or humiliated, again!
To be sure, we are biologically compelled to protect our self from being hurt. This self-protective mode ensures that we develop an acute sensitivity to any signs of danger, including threats to our well being, hence the importance of knowing that we can trust our partner.
A common, and completely reasonable, way of protecting ourselves from hurt is to establish that our partner is caring and trustworthy. To do so we often fall into the trap of scrutinizing and evaluating everything he or she does or says as evidence that he or she can be trusted.
Sadly, this approach does not work. The truth is that nothing your partner says or does will ever be sufficient for you to be convinced that they will never hurt you again. All the attempts made by your partner to express remorse or to reassure you that they will never hurt you again, are simply not enough to alleviate your feelings of vulnerability or apprehension that come from over-thinking.
Couples struggling to overcome and/or recover from a betrayal often display a common dynamic, that tends to inhibit and even sabotage (albeit inadvertently) the process of healing and rebuilding trust.
If the wounded party scrutinizes and evaluates everything their partner says and does – as evidence that they can be trusted – or treats their partner’s words and/or actions as signs that they care enough to avoid doing anything insensitive or hurtful – they will almost always maintain a guarded distance in anticipation of being hurt.
The Concertina Dynamic
This safety-seeking strategy cannot work and this is because words, actions, gestures and various other forms of behavior and speech are open, ambiguous, highly complex and fluid in meaning.
Inevitably the partner will do or say something – “unintentionally” – that is seen or taken as evidence that perhaps it is not yet safe to allow the partner to get too close; they have not yet passed the one last final test to determine their trustworthiness.
It is precisely this dynamic, the so-called “concertina dynamic” of alternating between closeness and intimacy, and distance, distrust and hostility, that can ensnare a couple in a cycle of hurtful accusations, recriminations and blaming.
It is ironic, a double whammy to be sure, that the insidious concertina dynamic that emerges in the wake of betrayal can significantly hinder the process of rebuilding trust.
But is there a way to unravel from this dynamic, and to restore trust in a way that facilitates healing and reconnection?
And above all, are there ways to cope with – and even overcome – the bewildering and anxiety-provoking experience of over-thinking?
The alternative method of rebuilding trust entails the acceptance of the “paradoxical” nature of trust. In other words, the alternative method requires an acceptance that seeking out evidence of your partner’s trustworthiness as a prerequisite for restoring closeness and intimacy, is like “putting the cart before the horse”. Instead, rebuilding trust is a by-product of cultivating closeness and openness.
If your relationship has been rocked by deception or betrayal and you would like to find out more about the possibility of rebuilding trust, please organise an appointment with me soon.
Author: Cobus Kleynhans, BA (Hons), MA (Clin Psych).
A Clinical Psychologist with over a dozen years’ experience in working with individuals and couples, Cobus Kleynhans has extra training in the techniques and practice of Couples and Family Therapy.
He has pursued extensive development in mindfulness-based treatment models, and is excited by the wealth of research revealing how mindfulness is effective in helping to enhance and promote healthy brain function.
Please note: Cobus’ books are currently closed.