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How to Help Your Partner Trust You Again, Part 3: The Trauma Buster

Updated: Sep 8, 2022


“If you want to beat trauma, you have to think like a time wizard.”

Betrayal is traumatic for the people on the receiving end of it, and as we know, trauma is a time distortion that causes people to experience the past in the present moment. Perhaps there was a time that they discovered you had been lying, or they found some kind of evidence of infidelity. Any reminder now – no matter how insignificant it may seem – could hijack their brain and body and send them back to how they felt in that first moment.



Sometimes after the discovery of a betrayal, the aggrieved partner will remember all those times that they ignored their gut instincts that were telling them something was wrong. Perhaps you even encouraged them to do this in an effort to reassure them at the time. Your partner feels gaslit and emboldened to trust their gut now more than ever.



When your partner is trying to trust you again, they are putting themselves in an extremely vulnerable position. They're not only fighting against all the evidence they have against you from their discoveries, but also millennia of evolution and adaptive mechanisms that have developed to keep them safe from threats and to help them survive. Even though you're being honest now, their trauma is telling them that something is wrong, and it could have their gut all turned around.




How to Time Travel and Bust Trauma


In Part 2 of this series I outlined the new model of taking accountability:

1) Own it: Acknowledge specifically what you did that hurt them (past). 2) Apologize: Express the guilt and remorse you feel now (present). 3) Commit to how you want to improve moving forward (future).


Most people want to skip straight to the second or third step. This is where couples often end up in drag-out arguments that can last for hours. Your partner is angry and depressed about what you did, and your saying “I’m sorry” (Step 2) over and over is not giving them the reassurance they need from you. They're asking you how they can trust you, and you're pointing to all the evidence that proves how things are different now and promising you won't let it happen again (Step 3).



But if you want to beat trauma, you have to think like a time wizard. You have to understand that when a person is triggered and afraid, their brain is interpreting the present moment through a lens colored by the past, and no amount of logical, rational argument will help them understand that they can trust you now.


So you've got to go in there and get vulnerable to help them close that wound. The part of their brain that can tell time is not working, so you have to travel to the past with them and name what you did (Step 1), grab them by the hand with an apology (Step 2), and fly them back to the future with commitments to how you have changed and will continue to improve (Step 3).




What Happens if I Don’t Say These Words?

A few things are going to happen. Your unwillingness to name your betrayal and express remorse for it will probably come off as callous and uncaring. Your partner’s recovery process will probably take longer than the three-year average timespan that most people need to grieve a great loss – they may never really heal at all. And worst of all, your refusal to get vulnerable and grieve with them might even embolden that part of yourself that acted out, leading you back to leaning on the problematic behaviors that led to the betrayal in the first place.


This is not to say that you don't have rights in this process as well. We're talking about humbling rather than humiliating yourself. That can be a fine line for most people, given how shameful it can feel to name how you've hurt your partner. If that's what your struggling with, you'd probably benefit from working with a couples therapist to navigate these treacherous conversations until you feel confident that you can give your partner what they need without violating your own boundaries in the process. Let me know if I can help. And stay tuned for next week's post, in which we'll dive deeper into the first step and "Taking Care of Yourself While Owning Your Mistakes."

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