1. Coming clean does work—but not completely clean. Denial only leads to more distrust, so the truth has to come out along with the willingness to take responsibility for your actions. However, detailed truth can sometimes make the hurt even worse and compound the pain, and therefore the healing process. Couples can spend tons of time on details while losing the thread of what needs to be done to correct the misconduct.
2. Being defensive, righteous or casual about the problem never works. There must be a sincere effort to work out the issues, or the wall will never come down. The angrier you are, the less you are able to hear what the aggrieved one has to say, and the worse what they feel will get.
3. Talk about what made you do it. Opening up about your own struggle, the need to get help, and the awareness of what got you there in the first place will help to prevent further infractions. If there is a sexual addiction problem, you must be willing to attend SA (sexual addiction) meetings or do what is necessary to make it better. If there is loneliness in the marriage, take the initiative to make an appointment with a counselor. Talking about your feelings of alienation is the best way to connect again.
4. Be an open book. That means open your cell phone, email, and appointment book for a period of time. This is usually the hardest part, because any person who has lived that clandestine underground life of secrecy likes it that way. They feel entitled to privacy, and they become righteous and indignant. At this point, you will need to take a moment and ask yourself what is really important: your relationship or your privacy? It really comes down to that.
5. Renew your vows. Whether married or not, there is a need to discuss values about living life and what that entails. This may be the most important part of the process. Take time to talk about what you want, what got you into this mess, and what needs to happen moving forward. Write it all down and make a ceremony out of it. Invite your friends and family. Tell the world what you are going to do and mean it.
For Laurie and Frank, it was too late. Frank had gone too far, with too many areas to correct what had gone wrong. Had they talked about it sooner, there may have been a reckoning, but too much water had gone under their relationship to make it work. I think Frank did learn a tremendous amount about how to live with another person and about who he wanted to be. For Laurie, the wounds were deep and it will take time for her to trust anyone again. A word here to all those people out there who are contemplating something strange: there are a lot of people who are hurt by the actions of destroying trust.
Renewing trust is not just a decision—it’s a lifestyle change. It’s about coming home to yourself and your mate, and making it work. Keeping a relationship clear and open is a valuable process. When we lie, cheat, steal and do bad things to ourselves or others, we pay the ultimate price, and we lose what is most precious to us. If you need help, get it. If you need a change, then make it. Creating trust is a big deal, so treat it that way. There are many facets and turns in this very delicate and daunting process of trust. If it’s not dealt with properly, then it will torch your relationship until what remains are ashes and regret. If you can look at the restoring of trust as a learning process that will hopefully bring with it greater intimacy and love, then go ahead on. If not, then make other plans.