How to Earn Forgiveness and Rebuild Trust after Betrayal

There is a road back, but it takes practicing the 4 Rs to respond to the 4 Hs you triggered in the other person by betraying their trust.

By Dr. Mark Goulston
Updated: September 27, 2017
rebuild trust after betrayal

To err is human, to take full responsibility for it and face and pay all the consequences is divine.

We and Eliot Spitzer may never know why he did what he did. It's unclear if we or Bill Clinton ever figured out why he did what he did.

But what is clear is the "rubbernecking" that these stories caused, as if people were watching some roadside disaster. The attraction may be that the exposure of Spitzer's immoral, not to mention illegal, behavior, is causing waves of anxiety among the not-yet-caught men who are flirting with similar disasters and the women who love them. It has been a bad few days for denial.

I can imagine millions of men who have been cheating on their wives through prostitutes or mistresses, or tiptoeing into their dens and home offices to lose themselves in the world of pornography, scurrying around to erase phone numbers and delete computer files and swear to themselves that they will never engage in such behavior again.

I can also imagine these men looking more guilty than usual and raising the suspicions of their wives.

Finally, I can imagine volatile confrontations that finally expose marital infidelity of one form or another.

If such activities are exposed, can the damage be undone? Once betrayal breaks trust, can one regain it?

There is a road back, but it takes practicing the 4 Rs to respond to the 4 Hs you triggered in the other person by betraying their trust.

The 4 Hs of Betrayal*:

When you betrayed your spouse:

  1. They felt HURT by you taking away trust and safety.
  2. They HATE you for turning their world upside-down.
  3. They're HESITANT TO TRUST and be hurt by you again.
  4. They're HOLDING ONTO A GRUDGE to protect themselves from accidentally lowering their guard and being vulnerable again.

The 4 Rs of Remorse:

  1. To ease the HURT, you need to demonstrate REMORSE to show that you know you damaged something in them, by looking them directly in the eye and admitting you're truly sorry, with no excuses. (This is the stumbling block for very narcissistic people and something Bill Clinton had trouble with during the Monica situation.)
  2. To respond to the HATE, you need to show RESTITUTION and offer a payback for what you took away from them by giving up something that matters to you or letting them verbally punch themselves out at you for making them feel crazy while you lied to them.
  3. To lower their HESITATION TO TRUST, you need to REHABILITATE yourself to let them see a new way of dealing with those situations that caused you to stray and that you actually prefer to your old destructive behavior.
  4. To get them to stop HOLDING ONTO A GRUDGE, you need to REQUEST FORGIVENESS after practicing those 3 R's for a minimum of six months, so they can become a part of your personality.

If the other person still cannot forgive you after that, you are no longer unforgivable (if you haven't gone beyond betrayal into abuse), they are unforgiving.

It's clear what is in it for you if they forgive you, but what's in it for them? When you earnestly practice the 4 Rs above, you enable the person you injured to go from fear and loathing to feeling safe and trusting and even liking you again –and that feeling is called "euphoria".

A full explanation of the 4 H's and 4 R's and how to use them to rebuild trust is available in The 6 Secrets of a Lasting Relationship: How to Fall in Love Again and Stay There by Mark Goulston with Philip Goldberg.


Mark Goulston, M.D. is the author of The 6 Secrets of a Lasting Relationship: How to Fall in Love Again and Stay There, works with high-powered couples, and is a former FBI hostage-negotiation trainer. He also writes the Tribune syndicated column, "Solve Anything with Dr. Mark". www.markgoulston.com

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March 14, 2008
Categories:  Divorce and Annulment

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