Rebuilding Trust in Marriage

Many of you were able to attend the SAL Conference on November 11th. There was a Q&A session at the end of the evening, and many questions were left unanswered due to time. We will use some of these questions to start our discussion here.

Someone asked:

“What is the best thing a husband can do to rebuild trust in marriage?”

This is a great question. Rebuilding trust is a long, complicated process. At least, it has been for us. It turns out that trust isn’t something that happens overnight or that can materialize as a result of some grand gesture. Rather, trust is more like filling a jar with marbles, one small offering at a time.

Social scientist Brene Brown has discovered through her research,

“It’s very clear. Trust is built in very small moments.”

trust-marblesIn my marriage, we are trying to rebuild trust one marble at a time.

  • Seeing my husband doing dailies, attending meetings, calling his sponsor, and staying sober are fundamental to my marble jar.
  • Seeing my husband participate in family activities and carry the burden of helping in family chores adds marbles as I see him engage instead of check out.
  • Nightly check-ins add important marbles to my jar as he shares his inner world and helps me see his heart.
  • Seeing his efforts to treat our children, especially our oldest son, with respect helps add marbles to our jar.
  • Seeing him take accountability for his actions, attitudes, and the pain he has brought into our home adds marbles that heal my heart.
  • But perhaps, the most important marbles to me at this point are when he shows patience and empathy when I am struggling with triggers or overwhelming sadness due to my trauma. When he gives me space, shows empathy, and waits without complaint for me to work my recovery, this adds some serious marbles to my jar.

As for me, I also have a responsibility to add marbles to our jar. Although it is often difficult to want to connect, choosing to let him in instead of close him out can put marbles in his jar.

In regards to relationships, Brene Brown has also said,

“To choose not to connect when the opportunity is there is a moment of betrayal.”

Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to open up and take that opportunity again, but if I want our marriage to work, I have to take the chance.

When I am working my recovery and he is working his, we both have the opportunity to give and accept marbles in our trust jar. Over time, I believe we can fill it back up.

I don’t know how long this will take, but here’s a hint, we are almost 3 years into recovery.

We’re still working, one marble at a time, to fill that jar, patiently working our program and expecting all the gifts of the program to be ours. We know, however, that we wait on His timing, and we trust the process.

What are things your husband is doing that help you rebuild trust?

What are things you are doing to rebuild the trust in your marriage?

I look forward to hearing what is working for you!

12 thoughts on “Rebuilding Trust in Marriage”

  1. A thousand amens to this! Rebuilding trust with anyone can feel tricky. Throw in addiction and trauma and is takes it to a whole new level. Brene Brown gave a presentation called the Anatomy of Trust. In it she breaks down different behaviors we do that either add marbles or take them away. I was really thankful to see the specifics.

    My husband and I have been working on our personal recoveries for close to 5 years. We weren’t really in a place to work on the recovery of our marriage till about 2 or 3 years into recovery and I will say that it is getting better! It is a constant conversation and feels like we are ever evolving in the things that each of us needs to feel safe. My husband adds marble when he is his word (in big and small ways). When he is gentle and kind with my when I am struggling. When he says, “you know what? That is too much for me. I cant help with that.” When he is willing to “inconvenience” himself for me (i.e. take a day off of work because he can tell that I need a mental wellness day off).

    I love the idea that I must be willing to open up too. I remember when Rhyll told us at a meeting that there was a point on their marriage where she realized they were probably going to get a divorce and that it would be her fault. It was a big deal for me to hear that. I needed to know that the work was 2 sided.

    I am excited to see what others think and how this shows up in their marriage.

  2. I really appreciate this concept of both spouses adding marbles to the jar. My husband and I have been working our recoveries for a little over 2 years now. It has been over the last 6 months that I feel he has been consistently filling up the jar with his marbles. He has respected my boundaries, has a willingness to be accountable for his behaviors, provides safety for me, more engaged with me and our kids, more empathetic and the list continues to grow. Of course he isn’t perfect, we both have much growth in our days ahead. However, the humility I see in him has allowed me to start my journey of trusting him and opening myself up to be vulnerable. Right now my struggle is breaking down my walls that have keep me safe for so long and allowing myself as I feel that safety to explore what a healthy marriage can feel like. This is incredibly hard for me. I’m so use to rejecting him and not allowing him in. My heart tells me it’s ok you are safe, but my body is so use to this reaction of rejecting and allowing myself to let go and relax is so new and foreign. I know this will take time, practice, courage and a willingness on my part. I trust that God can and will restore me one day at a time I choose to put my own marbles in the jar.

    1. I totally relate to the idea that sometimes your heart tells you one thing but your body is screaming back, “No! Don’t trust him! Protect yourself!” I am finding that as I recognize these feelings as trauma responses, breathe through them, and am willing to let them pass like clouds in the sky, I am growing in my ability to relax into my Higher Power’s care, and eventually, to respond to my husband’s efforts to show love.

  3. Trust is so tricky! I love Brene Brown’s talk as well -the one Kahi mentioned. My husband and I have watched it a couple of times together, just to wrap words around what we’re both feeling.

    When I anchor my trust in God, and I can see that my husband has as well, things go so much better for us both individually and as a couple. We’re not always in that place at the same time. This is such a process!

  4. I really like the marble jar analogy, as it helps me to visualize what’s happening in my marriage. Sadly, my husband’s behavior and words have taken more marbles out of the jar than what has been put in. If I’m totally honest, I feel like the jar is empty. I don’t know if he is willing or will ever be willing to do the work to start adding again, but I totally agree with this post. It’s not the grand gestures that heal these wounds, but the small daily reassurances that he is working to become a better man. The (I say that as though there’s only one) trouble with this addiction is that it is easy to point to those major events, like the first disclosure or discovery, a relapse, an affair, or a big lie, as the source of all of our pain. However, while those things are extremely traumatizing and painful to endure, it’s the little things that really add up. Yeah, his week-long binge and confession may be a golf ball-sized marble taken out, but the little things are marbles, too. “Forgetting” to take the trash out, pressing the snooze button instead of getting up to do daily study, and checking out on his phone all evening still take a toll. Again, that’s why I feel that “grand gestures” don’t fix anything, because it’s often not only the major episodes of betrayal that damage us and our relationships the most.

    1. I can relate to the feeling of an empty jar. Early in recovery, after my spouse had just disclosed such huge mistakes, it was hard for him to understand that the relatively smaller “insignificant” things are still a “big deal.” As we both progress in our recovery, we both understand more that those little things are what recovery is all about. The little recovery choices lead to the big recovery changes. Don’t feel badly that it is taking longer than either of you hoped to refill that jar. It’s not your job to fill it. You just keep working your own stuff. 😉

  5. My husband and I have been separated since last September. He hardly ever calls. Never does check ins. Has been working on his disclosure for 6 months but says he really hasn’t done anything during our 38 year marriage except masturbate. He isolates himself in shame and spends weekend time with grown children to get their affirmation and attention. I look like the unforgiving one because he’s living elsewhere. I am working on my PTSD .. also he date raped me twice before marriage. I didn’t know that was what it was because he said ” we have to go confess to our pastor that we had sex”. I thought rape was when you didn’t know person . I was 22

  6. Is full disclosure essential? Why? How can I help my husband to see that? How can I explain the correlation between full disclosure and rebuilding trust?

    1. From my experience, I would say that Full Disclosure was essential to our recovery path. Before Full Disclosure, I thought I “knew everything,” and my husband insisted this was the case.

      But in actuality, Full Disclosure was the first time he had ever pieced together the entirety of his story. Full Disclosure was the first time he had ever looked at his entire history and shared that full story with anyone. Patterns and themes became apparent that he had never realized when he was looking at his behavior one incident at a time–eager to get his confessions over with as quickly and minimally as possible.

      For us, Full Disclosure was about more than the information it held. It made apparent my husband’s recovery attitudes–he still was not humble, honest, or accountable–even though he had two and a half years of sobriety under his belt. This became obvious as disclosure unfolded.

      Now, three years later, we both look back and say, “Full Disclosure is where his real recovery–his emotional recovery–really started.”

      Full Disclosure is where we saw and felt the truth of these words from the White Book: “Sober is not well.”

      In addition to being a crucial turning point for my husband’s recovery, it was a turning point for my recovery and the recovery of our marriage. Full Disclosure opened my eyes so clearly to the fact that I couldn’t control, manage, or force his recovery, no matter how many “right things” either of us did. I learned how to surrender and put my life in God’s hands in much deeper ways.

      Lastly, Full Disclosure was essential for our marriage. Until my husband had shared his full story with me, a part of him was always behind an invisible wall. He couldn’t fully believe I loved him…”If you really knew me, you wouldn’t love me.”

      It was healing and empowering for me, for him, and for our marriage for me to know the full truth, take the time I needed to heal, give him the time to decide what he really wanted, and show me through his actions and attitudes. After some months of separation, emotional space, and full-fledged individual recovery work, I could choose with my eyes wide open to recommit to our marriage, to forgive, and to love him—all of him– as he demonstrated recovery attitudes and behaviors. This choice was so meaningful and so scary at first, but it could only be a meaningful choice if I knew exactly what I was choosing.

      Full Disclosure was a crucial vehicle for change in our recovery.

      1. Thank you. I feel like this is what we both need, but couldn’t put it this way. He has asked these questions and I just didn’t quite know how to fully answer him.

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