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Forgiveness is Not the Same as Trust

By Susan Dunn, MA, Emotional Intelligence Coach

In a presentation the other day which rambled over topics of self-help, the speaker at one point asked the group, "Why do we forgive?"

"For ourselves," the group muttered.

"You're only the third group I've spoken to who's known that," the speaker replied.


Most of us do realize these days that we forgive for ourselves. The perpetrator of the act requiring forgiveness has done what they've done, which largely can't be undone, and probably are getting on with their life. If we continue to harbor rancor and resentment, we make ourselves doubly the victim. Whether or not we forgive the other person makes the difference mostly to us, not them. If we do forgive, we can then, like them, get on with our lives.

Forgiveness, then, can be unilateral. While sometimes we will do this with another person, listening to their explanation and/or accepting their apology, and saying the words, "I forgive you," we can also do this without the other. We can do this on paper, journaling or writing the person a letter we never send, in a therapist's office, confiding in a trusted friend, in our own minds, or in prayer or meditation.


Trust, however, is another thing.

Whether the act requiring forgiveness is a lie, 10 years of drinking, or an extramarital affair, if the relationship with the other person is to continue, forgiveness is just the beginning. Regained trust is the goal, and another beginning.

When you seek to forgive a person who's harmed you and to continue in the relationship, you need to work on the trust aspects. Understand that this, unlike forgiveness, is not a "given." You can grant the forgiveness. The other must earn back the trust, and you have a right to expect this be done.

Haven't you heard someone who's had an affair saying, "It's like she doesn't trust me. I told her it was over. I don't understand why she's so suspicious." And then they go on to name the acts of the offended spouse they consider "paranoid," such as monitoring cell phone bills, checking on time away from home, and watching closely at social functions.

Trust is hard to build, very hard to rebuild once shattered. If you want to earn back trust, here are some things you will have to do, consistently and over time. The onus is on you to over-communicate and over-act until the fragile thread of trust becomes stronger.

1. Remove yourself from further sources of temptation and let it be known that you have. Don't go where you used to go, and don't hang out with people you used to hang out with, and avoid people who do what you want to avoid doing.

2. Be particularly careful of your behavior when with the person you've harmed. For instance, if you have an affair on your husband, when in social situations, patently ignore members of the opposite sex and stick by the side of your husband.

3. If embarrassment has been caused and/or temptation remains, be willing to relocate - get another job if you had an affair at the office, or move to another neighborhood if it was with a neighbor.

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4. Over-communicate. If you used to sneak off to drink or gamble saying you were working late, or meeting a friend, announce where you're going, with whom you're going, and when you'll be back. Give a phone number and an invitation for them to check in with you (i.e., check up on your). Better yet, YOU call. (Don't whine. This is a consequence of your actions you must deal with if you want to regain trust.)

5. Be meticulous about keeping your word. If you say you'll meet him at 5:00 p.m., be there at 5 till. If you say you'll pick up milk at the store on the way home, do it.

6. Make your life an open book. Display, without vindictiveness, the things you used to hide - the cell phone bill, the address book, the credit card statements, the contents of your travel suitcase, who's on the other end of the phoneline, and what's in the cup you're drinking out of.

You can grasp the picture better if you consider the unfortunate analogy of a dog who's been beaten. If you adopt such a dog, you'll find every time you approach them, they will cower or run away. You will have to approach slowly, with your hands exposed, palms up, so that slowly the dog will learn that you don't harbor weapons, and don't use your hands to hit. This requires discipline on your part, and consideration for the other, but is part of restitution. In other words, you make it very clear, OVERLY-clear, that you don't intend to do what you did again.

In sum, if someone has granted you forgiveness for something you've said or done, and you want to continue the relationship, you will have to rebuild the trust. Damaged relationships can be repaired with forgiveness, time, changed behavior (and words are a behavior), and restored trust.

© Susan Dunn
Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, offers positive psychology coaching and Internet courses in emotional intelligence. Susan is the author or ebooks on emotional intelligence ( and is widely published and syndicated on the Internet. She speaks regularly for cruise lines and trains EQ coaches.


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