Once trust is broken, it's very difficult to rebuild – not impossible, just difficult. Read a story we received when we had our radio program:
I was calling to see if you guys could help me figure out a way to get my wife to forgive me for some things that I have done. I had a problem with pornography over a two-year period, and a lot of people were hurt during my time of addiction. It was all brought to a head about six or seven months ago, and my wife just can't forgive me for it.
If you have really hurt your spouse and you've broken trust, you have to realize that you can't "get" your spouse to forgive you. What you must do first is pray. You need to admit your guilt and your need to be cleansed and confess your sin. And then you need to change. That's repentance. You need to turn away from whatever behavior caused the problem and go the opposite direction so that your spouse can begin to trust you again.
If you lied, now you tell the truth. Everything that comes out of your mouth should be truthful. Your spouse longs for you to be all that God made you to be. Your spouse needs you to be a person of integrity. But you can't just put that on. It begins to happen from the inside out. Your desires need to change. It's going to take some time; it's going to show itself in the minor decisions. Stick to your word and the smallest of things. Avoid places you know are going to tempt you. Get some people in your life – including your spouse – who will hold you accountable. You fight the lies by telling the truth. Let that beautiful refreshment of the Spirit of God wash through your spirit and clean out the old behaviors that pulled you down. If you have trouble with your mind, then confess that to God and start memorizing Bible verses so that whatever temptation comes, you can call upon the Word for help.
It's a process, and it's going to take time. If you have hurt your spouse deeply or repeatedly, he or she may be willing to forgive you, but that doesn't mean that the relationship is healed and that you can go on as if nothing happened. For true restoration to occur, you must be willing to work at rebuilding your spouse's trust over a period of time. You need to prove to your spouse over the long-haul that your confession, contrition, and repentance are genuine. Read another story we received:
I want to encourage everybody out there who's going through a break up, separation, or divorce. My wife and I went through a separation for eight months. I cheated on her. She forgave me, but she didn't trust me. It's taken a long time for her to finally get a little bit of trust back. We went to counseling.
I would like to encourage people in this situation to just hold steady and trust God during this time. It's very important. I knew that my wife and I were meant for each other, even though I had messed up. I knew that what I had done was grounds for divorce – and divorce was mentioned several times. But now we're back together. We're still going to counseling, and we are trying every day. It's not easy. But you know what? Christ can redeem a broken relationship and turn it around.
Trust isn't rebuilt overnight. If you have been unfaithful to your spouse, it may take long months of single-minded devotion before a foundation of trust is reestablished. Your relationship may be in ruins, but through the power of Christ's redeeming love your marriage can be rebuilt from the rubble. Begin that healing process today. Allow your desperation to lead you back to Jesus. Begin to rebuild trust today. Be faithful and patient, and you may experience the restoration you seek.
This post is an excerpt from our book, The Great Marriage Q&A Book.