How To Talk To Your Spouse About Trust After Their Affair

Be honest. Did you know how to talk to your spouse about trust before you were married? Or were you so confident in your relationship that you just assumed trust would not be an issue?

There’s no wrong answer here. You’d be amazed how many couples don’t discuss the issue of trust in depth during the time leading up to marriage.

What does it mean to you? What do you need from me in order to feel you can trust me? 

What would a betrayal of trust look like for you, in both little and big ways?

What would the restoration of trust look like for you?

Are there any areas of trust that have been difficult for you in your life? How can I help heal that wound and make trust easier for you?

These questions aren’t exhaustive, of course. They’re simply examples of an important area of relationship exploration that most couples take for granted…and bypass…

…until…trust is broken. In a huge way.

So now that once “hypothetical” exploration becomes “how to talk to your spouse about trust…after their affair.”

The shattering of foundational trust in a marriage is the most difficult wound to heal.

It’s also the slowest wound to heal, precisely because it is so foundational.

The vulnerability at the heart of intimacy in all its forms relies on the ability to trust your partner. And, ironically, the ability to heal from an affair and come through together and stronger relies on – you guessed it – trust.

Here are some of the most important guidelines for how to talk to your spouse about trust after their affair:

  • First and foremost, trust yourself.

    Your distrust of your spouse will be a given. It will be “out there,” and no one will doubt who’s in the hot seat.

    But there’s another trust that is critical if you are going to survive this breach. And that’s your trust in yourself.This one can be as difficult as trusting your spouse again, in part because self-distrust stirs more as an undercurrent to your life.

    On a subconscious level you may wonder if you did something to deserve your spouse’s infidelity.

    You may doubt the worth and permissibility of your feelings.

    You may doubt the sense of trying to hold onto your marriage, especially if outsiders are encouraging you to leave.

    But you are going to need you on this journey.

    And, even if you trust a therapist or confidante, the trust that ultimately matters the most will be the trust you have in yourself.

  • Allow yourself to feel your emotions.

    Struggling with how to talk to your spouse about trust in the wake of infidelity is only worsened by muzzling your feelings.

    What you do with those feelings is one thing. But allowing them, welcoming them, listening to them, putting words to them so your spouse can “feel” them, too – this is critical.It is such an important part of healing and building genuine intimacy.

    Learning to communicate wants, needs, complaints, hurts, and fears in a relationship begins with feeling and acknowledging your own emotions.

    And the emotions you’re feeling now are huge, raw, often unpredictable and surprising.

    Allow them. Give them space to deliver their many-layered messages so you can uncover the deepest, often most ignored feelings.

    And trust yourself to risk describing them to your spouse, who very much needs to know how deeply their betrayal has hurt you.

  • Let the experts lead.

    Infidelity happens. It doesn’t necessarily happen, despite its frequency, and it’s not the norm. But it does happen. And it unravels lives.

    Turning to therapy isn’t a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary.

    Think about it this way: If you and your spouse had a full toolkit of healthy communication skills prior to the affair, what might your marriage look like now?

    Responsibility for cheating resides with the cheater. Period.

    The infidelity, however, speaks to an underlying inability to communicate needs and feelings within the marriage.

    Your conversations about trust and the pain caused by the annihilation of it need healthy boundaries. They need direction and guided purpose.

    You will desperately need answers to questions that will be brutally difficult and humiliating for your spouse to answer.

    And you will need prudence in asking questions that actually facilitate the rebuilding of trust and not just the assuaging of curiosity.

    So put an expert team at the helm of this journey.

    Having a husband-wife therapist team will provide a relieving balance to gender-related perspectives and roles.

    It will also allow you to learn healthy communication and conflict resolution skills through observation.

  • Expect atonement, but resist the urge to hover.

    In the Gottman Trust Revival Method of rebuilding trust after an affair, atonement by the cheating spouse is the first of three steps.This is an extremely difficult and painful stage, but it’s also essential for the following stages of attunement and attachment.Even with extreme remorse, your spouse may have difficulty enduring this stage, as it is all about demonstrating complete humility.

    You can’t possibly be expected to simply trust again. So you will inevitably feel the need to know your spouse’s passwords, check messages and social media accounts, and expect regular check-ins.

    This is your spouse’s period of “accountability overload” and your period of building assurance and trust in your own needs.

    There is, however, a sweet spot to this process, as well as a tipping point.

    This imbalanced dynamic can’t survive forever.

    Despite the temptation to hover over your spouse’s every thought/word/action/phone call/text, there needs to be balance.

    And. little by little, your spouse needs to receive the grace of breathing room.

  • Communicate about communication.

    Talking is one thing. Talking about how you talk is another. The same goes for all forms of communication: body language, sex, conflict resolution, expression of feelings, etc.

    You will never learn how to talk with your spouse about trust after an affair if you don’t prioritize the process of communication.

    The what/where/when/why/how all come into play to create not only effective communication, but intimate communication.

    “When you roll your eyes and shake your head when I’m crying, I feel rejected. And then I become afraid to share anything personal with you.”

    “You would be amazed how appreciated I feel when you hug me as I come through the door after work.”

    “Will you please tell me what you need in the way of…?” “When you shut down, I feel….”

    “This was a great conversation. Thank you.”

    Rebuilding trust is a process of cleaning up the rubble of infidelity and repurposing the “bricks” of your relationship.

    Even with old materials, you will need a new design and stronger mortar.

    Learning new, healthy, enduring communication skills will make that happen.

Talking about trust after it has been shattered is far more difficult than making it an essential topic of communication throughout your relationship.

But there is a hidden promise in the aftermath of infidelity.

By learning how to talk to your spouse about trust after their affair, you can both forge a path to trust that is stronger than it ever was.

Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.

Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats