Repairing a breach of trust by spouse
Editor’s note: This is one of Neil Rosenthal’s previously published columns.
Dear Neil: I have been disloyal to the man I care about and am finding it difficult to know how to regain his trust. I had reached an emotionally low ebb and unloaded my frustrations and disenchantments to a business partner of his. I accused him of being a narcissist and untruthful, incapable of loving and of living in fantasy. This was done through a series of very harshly worded emails, which my partner read. A potential business deal ran aground, in part due to my actions.
He is devastated by what he read. He believed our relationship was sound, and he cannot believe the terrible things I wrote. He says this has been the saddest week of his life and is incredulous that the one person he felt he could always count on has let him down so completely. I don’t know how to prove to him that I will never again breach his trust and convince him that I do indeed love him. How can I help heal his hurt?
Wish I Had Handled This Differently in Tasmania, Australia
Dear Tasmania: It sounds like those harshly worded emails that you wrote were a form of communication. Intended for his eyes or not, you were saying that something was terribly wrong and that you were unhappy in the relationship. That’s what set everything else in motion. So an appropriate place to begin to heal things between the two of you is to have a very honest conversation with him about what led you to feel so frustrated, critical and disenchanted with him.
Then look at what changes both of you want or need in order to feel close and connected again. What would help each of you to feel emotionally closer to each other? How could you make the relationship feel safer for him and for yourself? Are there any changes either of you desire regarding the romance in your relationship? Where does your relationship fit into his (and your) priorities on a day-to-day basis? Is your relationship treated as most important, or is it in second, third or fourth place? How are conflicts or disagreements handled? What could the two of you do in order to help address problems or issues in your relationship before they escalate and grow bigger?
Ask him what he would like from you in order to lessen his hurt and soften his emotions. Specifically, what repair work would he like you to do? An apology must demonstrate that you’re sorry, not just say you are. Your apology would also need to speak of how this same type of thing will be prevented in the future.
Be sure to explore together what will build greater warmth, closeness and connection between the two of you. Then increase the romance: sweet messages, cards, surprise gifts, notes, etc. Finally, increase the level of affection between the two of you (hand holding, hugging, cuddling, kissing and so on). Affectionate touch helps you to stay close and connected.
And if you get disenchanted with him again in the future, tell him — without telling others first.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. He is the author of the best-selling book “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship.” Contact him at 303-758-8777, or visit neilrosenthal.com.