We all long for a good relationship. As a matter of fact, we need one—but it takes work and investment to keep your relationship happy and healthy. Unfortunately, things can also happen inside a good relationship that destroy trust between you and your partner. The question is how you come back from those incidents without letting them shatter your relationship.
In the beginning of your relationship, you and your partner were good together. Of course you were!
Somewhere along the line, though, you started to feel disconnected. Little arguments turned into bigger fights.
Eventually, your time together became less enjoyable, or even downright difficult.
What are those incidents that shatter a relationship, and how can you and your partner overcome them?
How Relationships Change When Something Happens to Destroy Trust
To begin, let’s look at the defining element of experiences that destroy trust. These are any experience that makes you say: “Our relationship just isn’t the same after what happened. I just can’t trust you anymore.”
Most often, whatever happened was during a time of extreme danger. It was a life or death situation, and your partner did not comfort you, leaving you alone and vulnerable in a moment of need (Brubacher, 2018). You no longer feel safe depending on your partner. Maybe you don’t feel safe revealing pieces of yourself to them. Or maybe you don’t trust that you matter to them or that you can turn to them at the time of need.
This moment in your relationship is like an emotional injury and a relationship trauma.
You were already down, exposed, and in need of a sheltering arm, and your partner brushed you off, walked away, or even blamed you for finding yourself so vulnerable. It’s the emotional equivalent of a kick in the gut.
There is a chance your partner is not even aware of what he did. Your partner probably didn’t give you this injury maliciously, or even knowingly. But it hurt, nonetheless.
And, incidents that destroy trust disproportionately affect the quality of relationship.
From that moment on, you tell yourself, “I can’t trust him any longer.” Or “I can’t rely on her when life gets hard.”
The relationship where you used to feel safe and secure, where you knew he had your back , is not the same. Now it’s a relationship where you feel guarded.
Examples of Relationship Traumas that Destroy Trust
One of the clearest examples of an incident that destroys trust is infidelity. Affairs often occur at times in which your relationship is already stressed, after an illness, after having kids, or during times when couples distance from each other.
It may begin as a friendship at work or browsing online dating sites. The partner who has the affair doesn’t know how to turn to his partner. In the end, the infidelity becomes an emotionally wounding situation to the other partner and to the relationship. The injured partner feels bereft, shaken, and has lost trust.
Other types of relationship traumas may look smaller at first glance but can be similarly wounding. They include incidents where one partner did not offer comfort and caring at a moment of crisis (Brubacher, 2018).
Take for example, a woman who miscarried and her husband couldn’t stay with her because he had to leave on a business trip the next morning. She stayed home alone, overwhelmed by her pain. From then on, she told herself, “I can’t rely on him at a time of crisis.”
Or the woman who learned her aging mother was losing her battle with cancer and was sent to hospice. Her partner told her, “Your job isn’t really going anywhere anyway. Maybe you should quit and just focus on your mom.” She felt devalued and unimportant in the eyes of her partner. He couldn’t empathize with the difficulty of her decision and the weight of her emotions.
In another situation, a husband lost his job and his partner became critical. “I told you, you should have taken that project your boss offered to you. You’ve been leaving work early and complaining all the time. It’s no wonder you lost the job.” He felt unseen, alone, and his partner gave him no reassurance for how bad it felt to lose a job.
The Other Side
Maybe you’re the partner on the other side of this equation, the one who “broke” your partner’s trust.
This happens to all of us. You’re preoccupied with work and don’t see how scared your partner is around her sister’s cancer diagnosis and how much she needs you. Or you’re worried about your own health and don’t feel like you have the reserves to support your partner through a layoff.
In most relationships, there have been relationship traumas that destroy trust. One partner has made the other feel alone or abandoned, often without realizing how deeply they hurt the other person.
How To Identify Shattering Experiences that Destroy Trust in Your Relationship
If you’re wondering whether something has happened in your relationship to destroy trust between you and your partner, think about these questions:
- Can you turn to your partner at times of need?
- When you experience something difficult or wonderful, are you willing to share your most intense thoughts and emotions with your partner? Or do you tend to hold back?
- Do you remember a moment when you told yourself you would never ______ again with your partner?
Here are a few more questions developed by researcher and Emotionally Focused Therapy author Lorrie Brubacher, designed to help you identify these pivotal moments (Brubacher, 2017):
- What was the most catastrophic, most shattering thing that the other person said or did?
- What was most threatening or painful about the incident? (Fear of abandonment or rejection?)
- Can you pinpoint the exact moment of injury/ the exact moment that hurt the most?
- How did it change you/your sense of the relationship? What suddenly snapped/broke? What did you lose?
How To Heal After a Shattering Experience
After you identify the event that was most emotionally damaging for your relationship (the one that destroyed trust between you and your partner), then you can begin the process of healing.
First, take time to be back in that moment so you can identify what feelings came up for you.
When you can name what you felt, or maybe how you still feel, it can help you determine what would have been soothing. This is important so you can identify what you needed at that moment to feel supported and safe. And when you can start to imagine how your partner could have helped you feel safe and cared for, you can then communicate that to them.
Telling your partner what happened, how it made you feel, and what you needed in that moment is the first step in rebuilding the trust between you.
Yes, it’s a big step.
It involves being vulnerable. And you may be tempted to fall back into a cycle of blaming or to protect yourself by closing off. You also need to feel safe in the relationship to share yourself and be vulnerable. Many couples that lose trust in each other are stuck in cycles of distancing or conflict.
It also requires both partners being present emotionally, and willing to look at the incident and their part in it head on. Many couples can’t talk about these traumatic incidences. They get stuck in fighting or avoiding tough topics.
A Proven Method to Help You Heal Your Shattered Relationship
When something has happened to destroy the trust between you and your partner, you need to heal together. As Brubacher explains, “The injurious event needs to be explored and reprocessed” (Brubacher, 2018).
Fortunately, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) has research-proven methods to deal with these relationship shattering events (Halchuk et al., 2010; Makinen & Johnson, 2006). In fact, the majority of couples who participate in EFT (70-75%) experience positive change in their relationship.
One of the biggest benefits of participating in EFT couples therapy with your partner is having the dedicated time and safe space to really look at the painful incident. Additionally, you have the guidance of a licensed therapist to help you communicate the feelings that come up for you, and discover how to communicate to your partner what you need.
About Dr. Irena
Dr. Irena is a licensed psychologist and certified Emotionally Focused therapist. She uses the research-proven method, known as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to help couples heal after relationship-shattering incidents. She offers online therapy for women and couples in Houston, the Woodlands, and New York City.
If you would like to schedule a session, email Dr. Irena for a free 10-minute video consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (281)-267-1742.