In re|engage, we witness over and over again the biblical process of forgiveness in action. Every week, we see couples walk through the door with their marriage damaged by an offense. It might be an affair, a betrayal, or even just a combination of small frustrations. Regardless, once the offense is realized, the process of forgiveness can begin. The offender confesses their sin, asks their spouse for forgiveness, and then the offended spouse grants it. In that moment the slate is wiped clean and they are ready to start fresh.
However, even after forgiveness is granted, things can still go awry. This is because when a husband or wife offends their spouse, forgiveness is not the only concern. Trust is also broken. While forgiveness can be granted in a second, it often takes time and energy to rebuild trust. You both may want to get back to normal, but a crack in the foundation must first be repaired.
One reason this can be hard is that trust is the foundational currency of marriage. When you stood at the altar and said you will love your spouse “for better or worse,” you were communicating, "You can trust me." When our actions tarnish those words, we must seek to rebuild. We cannot promise this process will be easy, but we can assure it will be worth it.
What follows are several principles that can help couples navigate the process of rebuilding trust.
For Both Spouses
- Set your priorities. Be crystal clear about the priority in your relationships: God first, your spouse second. Nothing can be elevated above your relationship with God. This includes your marriage. While rebuilding trust your marriage can easily become the focus, so double down on your walk with Jesus. By focusing on your relationship with God first, the fruit that Paul talked about in Galatians 5:22-23 (kindness, patience, etc.) will then flow into the relationship with your spouse. It is vital to be honest with each other about your feelings and respond to each other kindly. Remember that this is only truly possible if you are firmly rooted in Jesus.
- Assemble an accountability group. Each spouse should have a group of same gender Christian friends that rally around them as an accountability group. These groups help remind you of the commitment you made to each other and help you navigate the way forward. Resist the urge to meet with each group member only individually, as this can make managing information easier. Instead, meet periodically together as a group. These people should be those who are for your marriage, and for both of your hearts to move toward righteousness and toward one another. If these friends take the side of only one spouse, they won’t ultimately be helpful.
- Set realistic expectations. Because every couple and every situation are different, there is no standard amount of time that is required to rebuild trust. Like sawing a log, it takes a while to get the groove established. Don’t expect things to go smoothly at the beginning. Sometimes there will be setbacks and, while it is natural to be disappointed, don't be discouraged. Stick with it. Recall 1 Corinthians 13:7, which says, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
For the Offender
- Confess everything. One of the main things that can sidetrack the rebuilding of trust is when something else comes out. Some things were confessed, but not everything. Unconfessed sin keeps you in bondage. Proverbs 28:13 says, "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy." If you have not truly confessed everything to your spouse, there is no better time than right now.
- Protect your marriage. This is where an accountability group can be so important. Ask them to help you identify practical steps to protect your marriage from future offenses. These steps may be really difficult, like giving up your smart phone or changing jobs. At this point, some offenders want their spouse to simply "trust them" in order to avoid these steps. However, you gave up the right to be fully trusted and must earn that trust back over time. The more quickly you implement these steps to protect your marriage, the sooner the healing process begins.
- Anticipate danger. As you look ahead, identify situations that are likely to trigger problems or temptations. It could be a business trip where you will be alone in a hotel room, or an important dinner where arriving on time is crucial. As the one who broke trust, you need to have a plan of how you are going to handle the situation. Proverbs 22:3 says, "The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it." Sharing your plan before temptation arises will let your spouse know that you are thinking about them.
For the Offended Spouse
- Give up control. It can feel natural to try and control your spouse and your circumstances to prevent them from failing again. Fight that temptation. If you become the police force, always checking up on your spouse and enforcing rules, it will drive a wedge between you. It is vital that you keep an open line of communication with your spouse but let their accountability group be the enforcers. This is key to rebuilding trust.
- Look ahead. Satan, the roaring lion in 1 Peter 5, sees division and distrust as an opportunity to turn you against your spouse. He will be working overtime to remind you of the pain that occurred. Don't listen to him and look in the rear-view mirror. Instead, focus on the goal: having a God-honoring marriage that makes much of Jesus and is a safe haven for your family.
- Embrace the struggle. It is easy to drift towards resentment. You have thoughts like, "Because they did this, now I have to do all this work." And while you do find yourself in a situation you didn’t choose, this can also be the very spot where God transforms your marriage. So, lean into the work and know that God is with you every step of the way.
As you work to rebuild trust with one another, do not give up hope. Many, many couples have been down this path of rebuilding trust and have come out stronger on the other end. Proverbs 4:18 says, "But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day." May God brightly illuminate your path as you and your spouse rebuild the trust between you!
To see an example of the biblical forgiveness process, watch this video from Ryan & Callie.