Not an easy task. Often, marriages do not survive breaches of trust, regardless of how it happened. But for couples that have more to lose than to gain through divorce, I want to share three principles that can help rebuild that trust: accountability, transparency and exposure. First and foremost is the principle of accountability. Spouses hold each other accountable for their choices and behaviors by default; understanding that accountability to each other is “built into” the marriage relationship because of its exclusiveness and unique design. Accountability in this sense is the same as having built in permission to ask your partner any question, or share any care/concern you have without reservation or concern; it comes with the marriage package and special permission is not needed. The question of whether or not a spouse has “the right” to ask questions and expect honest answers is eliminated; the answer is always, “of course.”
So then, what does this sound like after a breach of trust has occurred? It sounds like, “I need to know where you’ve been for the last four hours, and I would like to see some evidence. Please show me your receipts, cell phone, the odometer reading, etc…” Because trust has to be rebuilt, the spouse that has suffered the offense is now automatically placed in a “need to know” position. She not only has a right to ask the questions, she needs to know the answers in order for trust to be reestablished in the marriage. The spouse that has to provide the answers must do so according to the second principle of transparency.
Transparency is the principle of answering questions that the offended spouse has asked without defense; it is the manner of ease in which answers are provided. Think about what transparency means. It means that your view is not obscured, you can easily see right through an object, unhindered. Transparency takes the effort away from finding information because the offended spouse does not have to fight or work hard to get “need to know” answers. The willingness and ease of providing needed answers in an open and transparent manner, without condemnation or retribution for the asking, helps to reestablish the credibility of the reported information. But what happens when transparency is not enough? When things happen that threaten the integrity of the marriage relationship that are beyond the control of the spouse that breached the trust; for example, a drinking buddy or old girlfriend invites your spouse to spend time with them. In this case, the third principle of exposure is needed.
Exposure is the principle of quickly and openly reporting pertinent information that has not been requested. It is the principle of making a concerted effort to provide information to the spouse that suffered the mistrust, simply because that information is otherwise unknown to them. Where transparency is the principle of providing answers to questions asked, exposure is the principle of providing answers to questions not asked. When something happens that is not foreseen or anticipated, like running into an old fling while shopping, the information is quickly shared even though it was never asked for since it is obviously pertinent and within the “need to know” spectrum. When all three principles are used in conjunction with each other, they collectively demonstrate a strong commitment to rebuilding trust and behaving in a mutually exclusive way that reiterates the value and worth of the marriage relationship.