Couples come up against all kinds of challenges in long term relationships. One of the biggest threats to relationship stability is the violation of trust. In our very first episode, we were asked how to rebuild trust with a spouse who has lied. Joel and I explored some solid tactics to approach relationship repair when trust is broken.
What’s the Lie?
It’s important to examine the nature of the dishonesty. Learning that your spouse has lied is never a great feeling, but have you busted them secretly wearing your underwear? Because, for some people, that might actually be a turn on, and let’s be honest, men’s briefs are pretty damn comfy for lady parts. There are degrees of infractions when it comes to honesty and transparency, and that’s where boundaries come into play.
When we hear the term ‘boundaries’, it’s easy for us to think of these as roadblocks or hard lines that can’t be crossed. Some people even think of boundaries in terms of ‘dealbreakers’. However, there’s a healthier way to consider boundaries. Our boundaries exist to help us create emotional safety in all of our relationships.
Think of them like a perimeter that contains all of the beautiful things that you value. When you are clear on what you value in relationship, boundaries help create an ecosystem for that relationship where two people exist within a bubble built on respecting both individual and mutual relationship values. Boundaries are broken when someone tracks something unwanted into your carefully cultivated ecosystem!
Your boundaries and values help to inform whether the ecosystem can repair when a boundary has been breached, which is a necessary step to rebuild trust when a spouse has lied.
The Willingness to Work
Another important examination is whether or not the dishonest spouse is putting in an effort to become more trustworthy. This effort often includes personal work (like individual therapy) to understand where the untrustworthy behaviour comes from and heal any old wounds that might contribute to this kind of behaviour. If the dishonest spouse isn’t willing to put in effort to grow or change their behaviour, why is inspiring you to trust them again? In order to be able to be honest with our partners, we must learn to be honest with ourselves.
On Dynamics and Couple’s Therapy
The couple must also be able to work together to assess the dynamic they have created in the relationship. When couples wish to unpack issues in a healthy way, blame must not be levelled at one partner or the other. The real issue lies within the dynamic itself. The partner who feels betrayed might have even contributed to the dishonest behaviour.
Say, for example, this partner responds with a huge, volatile reaction whenever they feel challenged in the relationship. They may have all kinds of personal reasons for this kind of response, but the result may be that their spouse feels like they have to ‘hide’ or ‘be someone else’ in order to keep the peace. Both people are human, subject to their own struggles, so it’s not necessarily one person’s fault, but more a product of the dynamic they’ve created.
Teach Your Partner How to Treat You
Resist the urge to fight back with a ’taste of their own medicine’. It can be tempting to show your partner just how they’ve made you feel, but it’s important that we remain in our own integrity. Instead, decide if you are both prepared to do the work to forgive each other and learn to heal.
There’s a line between playing hardball and enabling when it comes to rebuilding trust with a spouse who has lied. Intimate love should never be unconditional. Your spouse must clearly understand that dishonest behaviour is unacceptable, while still having the opportunity to explore why the lie occurred. That means the partner who has been lied to must be able to listen with empathy. This is where a relationship therapist can be a big help. In therapy, each partner gets to discuss their perspective and the therapist acts as a moderator to ensure everyone is heard and that huge emotions are managed with care. Relationship therapy can offer tremendous clarity.
Staying Together for the Kids
Finally, it’s time to question whether staying together for the sake of the family is truly the healthy choice. Certainly there should be attempts at repair or an effort to rebuild trust when a spouse has lied, but if a toxic pattern continues to emerge, there’s a huge cost to perpetuating these cycles.
Children are deeply sensitive beings. Even if the adults aren’t arguing and fighting in front of them, kids can pick up on emotion and unrest. Also, the adults are constantly modelling relationships for the kids. Everything we do teaches them how adult romantic partnerships look and feel. Think about that long and hard as you examine the dynamics that exist within your own family unit. What is the emotional cost in a cycle where one person behaves in a consistently mistrustful manner while the other holds it all together?
The Final Vow
There must be consequences for perpetual dishonesty. We all deserve to have healthy relationship ecosystems, where all of the beings within are given the safety to thrive. If your continued and hopefully collaborative efforts at healing and rebuilding trust aren’t working, it’s time to say I DON’T.