When I was 35 years old, I learned that my mom had been lying to me about who my father was. The man I called my dad had died when I was 16. He had played a large role in my early life. And when he died, it felt like having a rug pulled out from under me. Little did I know that this would begin a long journey about trust. I would spend much of my life not trusting my own instincts, trusting the wrong people, and being insecure about the future. And I’m still learning how to rebuild trust.
Growing up, I had always sensed that there was something “off” in my life. Deloughery relatives would say things like, “Well, Paul isn’t a ‘real’ Deloughery.” I never knew what that meant. Then there was biology class in junior high school. We learned that two blue-eyed parents cannot have a brown-eyed child. Yet … my mom and dad both had blue eyes. Despite my mom being a nurse and clearly understanding biology, she said that my brown eyes must have been a recessive gene from my dad’s mother.
When I found out about having a different father, things started to finally make sense. My brown eyes came from real, biological father.
Learning that I had been deceived my whole life … about something so basic as the identity of my father … ruined my relationship with my mom. And we never rebuilt it. Even after getting a genetic test and having conclusive proof of my real father’s identity, my mom continued to pretend like nothing had changed. She deflected the blame by accusing me of causing problems. She accused other family members of causing trouble by spreading lies (actually, by telling me the truth). She blamed me for trying to hurt her (by expressing my own hurt over having been deceived). She wanted to spend more time talking with me about other topics … but without ever listening to me about my feelings. I don’t think you can rebuild trust without open, two-way communication.
It wasn’t until years later, during a visit to our home in Arizona, that my mom said she wanted to talk. Unfortunately, my mom then self-medicated with over-the-counter medications. As a result, the conversation never happened. She died in her sleep before we could ever talk. We never learned to rebuild trust between us.
The Importance of Trust
As an estate planning attorney since 2001, I have had the privilege of working with many clients. I have seen what works and what doesn’t. The general theme is that close-knit families with good communication and trust are better able to handle stress. Thus, when a loved one dies or becomes incapacitated, they are better able to pull together and support each other.
It is a wonderful thing to be able to trust and rely on your family as you face life’s challenges. On the other hand, if someone breaks your trust, doubts, fears, suspicion, and uncertainty can take over. The sense of safety transforms into insecurities (aka, lack of trust). At that point, trying to rebuild trust can seem impossible within the family.
Family relationships can be challenging. But strong families can stand back up together even after hitting the wall in life. And if family members can support each other, you can rebuild trust within a family. This article explores practical steps you and your family can take to restore trust. From there, you can lay the foundations of even stronger relationships.
Before counting on anyone, you need to count on yourself. Each family member should be aware of their thoughts and feelings. They should be able to honor their emotions and needs before they can protect their family. Possessing self-trust enables you to endure mistakes and respect your ethics.
Negative people can undermine your self-trust. But as adults, we can decide whether we want someone in our lives or not. It’s about committing to personal boundaries. Never allow someone to hurt your emotions. If you trust your ability to handle anything, you can help get your family out of anything too.
Focus on improving yourself every day. There’s a possibility of resistance from others while trying to mend relationships. But don’t let that doubt stop you. Regaining trust takes time. Stay true to yourself since someone will only trust you if you trust yourself.
A Quick Personal Story About Self-Trust
At the time of writing this, I had a personal experience about self-trust. I was having some challenges in my personal and professional life. I had recently gone through a divorce (thus making me distrust my ability to make a good choice of a spouse). I was having some challenges with the law firm (making me question whether I was making good business decisions). I had started talking to a lady on a social media app, and then learned that she was involved in a criminal organization trying to con me out of money. And I had recently started playing bagpipes again. As a teenager, I was a competitive bagpiper. But I was nowhere close to playing as well as I did when I was younger.
My daughter and I travelled to Glasgow, Scotland in August 2022 so I could play with the Los Angeles Scots Pipe Band at the World Pipe Band Championship. The director cut me from the band just prior to the competition. The main reason was that he sensed that I was nervous. In other words, I was not trusting myself. And my self-doubt was affecting the other players.
This was a huge wakeup call for me. My own energy level wasn’t just affecting me. It was affecting others. It turns out that we all feed off each other’s emotional energy.
Communication is Key to Rebuild Trust
To rebuild trust requires good communication. Put another way, improving your personal relationships requires improving communication.
Everyone has a need to be heard. When that doesn’t happen, it can cause resentment, confusion, hurt, and anger.
You always need to talk no matter how much you think you know someone. It may not be great every time. But it at least passes your messages to your partner or family members. It also allows you to understand what they are experiencing. Having a healthy conversation is hard and requires practice. Here are a few things you should do while trying to talk to your partners, family members, or friends.
- Don’t let anything interrupt your interactions. Keep your phones, computers, and every other distraction aside while it’s time to talk.
- Be clear about your thoughts. Establishing communication when trying to rebuild trust can be confusing and quirky. But that’s how you start by being clear with your message.
- Remains calm and positive throughout the interaction. Share positive things about them and let them know their importance in your life.
- Share life experiences, concerns, and interests with the other person. Also, ask how they feel.
- And finally, talk about the things causing conflict between you. Discuss the things that bring happiness to the relationship. And also talk about things that cause disappointment.
Next, here are some tips family members should follow to restore trust within the family.
Tips to Rebuild Trust Within a Family
Active listening key if you wan to rebuild trust. You need to stop thinking about your reaction or response and focus on what your close ones are trying to tell you. You cannot build a good relationship without being a good listener.
Listen to them and ask them more if you aren’t sure about how the other person is feeling. For instance-
“I hear you don’t like your brother. Why are you mad at him? Did something happen?”
Avoid drawing conclusions before hearing everything. Encourage active listening among your family members. It helps you understand what the other person is saying and then give your advice or reaction.
Encourage Everyone to Share Their Thoughts & Feelings
Members of a strong family are respectful of the thoughts and feelings of one another. All family members should be open to expressing their thoughts and feelings. This includes children and elderly family members.
A good way to share is using “I” messages. This helps you express your thoughts and expectations of the other person. For example, read the two sentences below …
Sentence 1: “I don’t like us fighting. It makes me upset to see us not getting along after so many years of a happy married life.”
Sentence 2: “You don’t stop fighting, and I don’t like it. You make me crazy sometimes, even after so many years of a good marriage.”
The first sentence has the better chance of being heard without triggering or prolonging a fight. The second sentence, however, will more likely add fuel to the fire.
Being clear about your thoughts builds trust and communication. If you don’t like something in your partner, talk to them about how you feel about it and what you want from them. Teach every family member to actively talk about their thoughts, problems, and opinions.
Encourage Taking Responsibility
Mending broken relationships takes time. Restoring trust may take years. But it all starts with taking responsibility for your actions and decisions.
Don’t sidestep issues.
Also, avoid shifting blame to others. You will find out how your actions may have hurt someone close to you. For example, addiction can damage relationship. But if you want to recover, take responsibility for whatever you did. Then take responsibility for your current actions. Stay on the path of sobriety to regain the trust of your loved ones over time.
Taking responsibility for your actions takes courage. If you stay honest and transparent about your actions, you will sense the rebuilding of trust.
A really good book on this subject is It’s Not About the Horse – It’s about Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt, by Wyatt Webb. He explains that every person in a relationship needs to be 100% responsible for their part in that relationship. No change or healing can begin without every person in the relationship taking responsibility.
“Apologies aren’t meant to change the past. They are meant to change the future.” – Kevin Hancock
Taking full responsibility also includes making a heartfelt apology for your actions. Being apologetic is not about half-truths, pointing fingers, justifications, or right and wrong. It’s about admitting your mistakes and taking responsibility for the consequences. Most people regret the consequences of their actions. For example, you might feel bad about having hurt someone by your choices.
But it will mean much more to the other person if you do some deeper work. Why did you do what you did? Were you afraid of something? Do you have unresolved trauma from your past? A breach of trust is like an infection in a body. You can’t just put a bandage over it by saying you’re sorry. Healing can only happen if you treat the infection.
My second wife helped me realize that I was bad at boundaries. I didn’t hold my children accountable (such as when a child failed to take out the trash as I asked). To me, it was easier to just take the trash out myself rather than walking to my child’s room and confronting the situation.
Failing to enforce boundaries had helped me personally cope as a child. When I heard my mom say an obvious lie about why I had brown eyes, I had no choice but to ignore the lie. If I wanted to be fed and housed as a child, I needed to make my mom happy. Thus, failing to enforce boundaries helped me survive childhood. But it is a horrible way of going through life.
This lack of boundaries caused my wife to distrust my ability to be a strong man for her. Her lack of trust in me caused a level of fear in her. And the fear came out as anger and arguments. When this happened, I could not simply apology and say I’m sorry. I had to work on changing my own learned behavioral patterns. I read books about boundaries. I spend time with a psychologist. And I practiced. In this way, my apologies meant something … even when I occasionally slipped into my old patterns.
Rebuild Trust After Cheating, Affairs
Victims of infidelity go through an intense emotional roller coaster. Asking to trust their spouse again can be too much for many betrayed partners. As a result, wayward partners often give up on proving themselves.
Yet, healing is possible if both partners are communicating. Here are some helpful tips for the unfaithful partner:
- First, end the affair. If you promised to be faithful to your partner, and then you broke that promise, you can’t keep violating that trust.
- Recommit to your promise to be faithful. Promise not to repeat it. (This assumes you mean it. If you aren’t ready to commit to being faithful to your partner, then be honest about that!)
- Be honest and willing to disclose everything about your affair to your partner. Your partner may not want to hear the gory details. But that should be your partner’s choice.
- Help their partner with traumatic feelings. Engage in active listening.
- Be apologetic for cheating. Let them know that you don’t want to lose them.
- Demonstrate empathy while giving details about the affair. Say things like, “I understand why you would feel horrible listening to everything. If I were in your situation, I would be struggling too.”
The betrayed partner should-
- Express their feelings to their partner. A great way is to use “I” messages while describing your feelings. For example, “I feel deeply hurt by what you did, and I’m not sure I can ever trust you again.” An “I” statement tends to reduce hostility and defensiveness. In contrast, a statement like, “You’re a cheater!” tends to provoke anger. It makes the listener less likely to want to make peace.
- Rehashing the affair events may deepen the wounds. Avoid marathon talk sessions about the affair with your partner.
- Forgive your partner. You can start by accepting their actions.
Both partners need to be able to connect emotionally and physically. It’s almost impossible to restart a relationship after infidelity if there’s no physical intimacy among the couple.
Rebuilding Trust After Addiction
Addicts often leave wounds on their closed ones that take a long time to heal. Yet, if you have been true to yourself, you can earn the trust of your family and friends again after addiction.
Trust cannot be forced. It is regained over time by consistently making your close ones believe in your actions. Don’t expect them to trust you immediately. After all, they were hurt. Use your actions and words to regain trust. If you are honest and committed to making new choices in the future, you will earn their trust over time.
Your Kids Deserve Your Time
Developing a close relationship with your kid requires time. Make it a ritual to give them special time so your kids can stay excited to be with you. Don’t let this time be interrupted by other things such as phone calls or meetings. Let your child decide what they want to do during this time. You can play games, read books, go for a walk, sing songs, or do whatever makes your kids happy.
It doesn’t take hours every day to build a strong relationship with your children. You can take them with you for groceries and talk about concerns on your way to the store. Small moments can help us stay connected and build their trust in you.
Conflicts are part of human relationships. But if you trust each other, you can become a strong family that is up for taking on any challenges. Get the help of a counselor if you find it hard to establish healthy communication. Disagreeing will always end up in a fight unless you both want to solve a problem and not tear each other down. Establishing trust is a slow process. Meaningful conversations and accountability will rebuild trust among your close ones.
How to Rebuild Trust with Your Legal Documents
Your estate plan can help create or rebuild trust in your family and loved ones. Here are some examples of how this can happen:
- Include a method of resolving disputes. Make sure your Living Trust and Last Will and Testament include an alternative dispute resolution provision. That clause provides that a dispute is resolved by mediation and/or arbitration, rather than expensive and lengthy legal court proceedings.
- If age-appropriate, be transparent about what your legal documents say. Make sure more than one person has a copy of your legal documents. This prevents the documents from being “lost” by someone who doesn’t like what they say.
- Try to avoid putting your children or heirs in a position where they could be in conflict. Having kids inherit a house in their personal names is rarely a good idea. That puts them in a position of having to make real estate management decisions. If there is a disagreement, the only option as co-owners of real estate is for them to go to court and seek a court order.
Let Us Help You with Your Estate Plan
Having an estate plan is a loving way of helping your family through one of the most challenging times it will experience. It is a way of choreographing your loved ones’ experience if you become incapacitated or die. It makes their experience smoother and less painful than it might otherwise be. Certainty about the future helps build trust and confidence. It’s also a beautiful exercise to talk together about your hopes and dreams for the future of your family.
If you are ready to get your legal affairs in order—even if you have relationship issues in your family—contact us. We’re here to help.