Usually when we begin relationships we are inclined to trust others. We don’t really trust them, but we’re prepared to—we expect to. Real trust comes with time and the shared experiences that reveal character. It develops naturally, then it’s just there as a strong skeleton to support the friendship. Trust isn’t something we generally recognize, and we definitely don’t consciously work at it.
But what happens when trust doesn’t work out so nicely, when someone breaks it? No longer is it such an easy thing to overlook. In any relationship, given time, one person will inevitably break another’s trust. When this happens can we assume that if we wait it will come back or that the relationship will fix itself? Does time heal the wounds that broken trust inflicts? No, broken trust isn’t like broken skin—it won’t heal itself over time. Broken trust must be rebuilt.
The rebuilding of trust might be a quick fix or it might be a total overhaul, depending on the extent of the damage. But no matter what, it takes work by both sides: The one whose trust was damaged and the one who did the damaging. The simpler—but not easier—tasks go to the one who did the breaking: He has to be trustworthy and patient. Trustworthiness means being overly transparent and overly detailed so that there can be no room for suspicion. He might have to do this for weeks or months or even years, and that is why he must be patient. If he values the rebuilding of trust, then he must be willing to wait without bitterness or self-righteousness. Until trust is repaired everything he does is a test proving he can be trusted.
As hard as it might be constantly proving one’s self, the task of the one whose trust was damaged is equally as complex. He must do the hard work of deciding to trust. This means he chooses to overlook opportunities to mistrust and decides against reading ill motives into potentially suspicious actions. He won’t fill up voids with questioning and suspicion. And he will keep to himself comments that dredge up mistrust. Sometimes he must question or suspect, but he must do the hard work of setting those aside so the work of repairing can move forward. If he values rebuilt trust, he must not do anything to hinder its progress.
Without either party doing his part, the rebuilding project will languish, incomplete. One can seek to be trusted, but if the other refuses, then it is for naught. The other could decide to trust, but if the first won’t be trustworthy, then what has been accomplished? Trust cannot be merely taken for granted. We must recognize it as a project, a work to be maintained, repaired, and rebuilt, because it won’t happen by itself.