Did you know that unforgiveness can lead to broken trust in one relationship and can affect how you respond in other relationships?

Today I want to share with you the difference between broken trust and expectation, how expectations can fuel our discontentment, and the importance of separating forgiveness and trust.

It will take time and intention to restore trust, but there is always hope in forgiveness.

What Is Broken Trust?

I think now, more than ever, we need to understand that it is possible to restore trust. It might take time, and it might take intention, but there is always hope through Jesus. Broken trust is when someone does not follow through on what their promises are to you or when their words (on a consistent basis) do not match their actions.

What happens at that moment when it breaks? How can we begin to look past the pain so that we can begin to overcome broken trust?

All relationships are imperfect. Therefore, all relationships are going to deal with some form of broken trust in one way or another. We need to have the hope that whether we’re the ones that broke the trust or that someone broke our trust, it is possible to restore broken trust. But we need to understand what it takes to rebuild that.

It takes far less time to break trust than it does to rebuild trust. We need to hope that it can happen, but we also need help to know exactly what it takes to restore trust.

Learn more about rebuilding broken trust in my Spiritual Growth Framework course.

Broken Trust versus Expectations in Relationships

Do you ever feel like trust and expectations get mixed in together when overcoming broken trust? Sometimes we think, “Well, that person didn’t meet my expectation of what I thought they should do, so I feel like they broke my trust.”

There is an important distinction to make. If we have unrealistic expectations, people will break our trust all the time. They won’t even know what they did because that expectation is setting up a perspective in your mind of what right looks like or how somebody should be operating. So you’re going to be constantly disappointed; you’re going to be constantly experiencing what you might label as broken trust.

However, it really isn’t broken trust. It’s unrealistic expectations at work.

A lot of times when we talk about unrealistic expectations or when I’m working with a coaching client on that, one of the things I’ll say is, “Well, how do I know if my expectations are unrealistic?” And I’ll say, “Well, in whom or in what circumstances are you always disappointed? Where are you consistently discouraged? I would guess that those are the places where you have some expectations that are unrealistic.”

Here’s what I’ve come to understand – there is a space between unrealistic expectations and reality, and that space is discontentment.

In that discontentment, we can label something as broken trust when really that person didn’t necessarily break our trust. They did, however, bump up against our unrealistic expectations. They didn’t meet them. But honestly, they can’t meet them. Because the keyword there is “unrealistic.”

And so a lot of times, what we have to do is learn how to adjust our expectations. And when we do that, when we bring them more in line with reality, then we will begin to realize that people aren’t breaking our trust. (In return we can begin to overcome broken trust.) The truth is, they didn’t change, we did. When we change our expectations, we better match them to reality.

Example of Broken Trust versus Discontent

I’ll just use my marriage as an example. So I have this habit of when there are things in the house that need to go from the main level to the upstairs, I put them at the bottom of the stairs. So I pile them there and then at some point, I’m hoping that when one of us walks upstairs, we’re gonna grab them. But it seems like I’m the only one who sees those.

I view my husband and me as a team and I don’t understand why sometimes he doesn’t pick those up and take them upstairs.

So I could label that broken trust. But the truth is, I’m the one that placed them there. The truth is, I’m the one that sees them more readily because that’s important to me. What I’ve learned is that I don’t need to slap a label on my husband or slap a label on the fact that he has walked upstairs and not picked those things up.

I don’t need to slap a label of “I can’t trust you” on that. Because the truth is, all I need to do is say as he starts to head up the stairs, “Hey, could you grab those things and just take them upstairs and put them in the bedroom?” and he’s happy to do it.

I just draw his attention to it. Sometimes it’s the little things like that, where somebody says, “Well, I shouldn’t have to tell him. He breaks my trust all the time or she breaks my trust all the time. I shouldn’t have to tell them things.” No, you have an unrealistic expectation that your spouse sees the same things you see, that they have the same perspectives you have, and that they have the same priorities you have.

My husband focuses on one specific task at a time. And if he’s heading upstairs, he’s on a mission. Those things that are sitting at the bottom of the stairs, he didn’t even see him because that’s not part of his mission. Now, when I asked him to make it part of his mission at that moment, he was happy to do it.

So a lot of times, our expectations are fueling this discontentment, which becomes dissatisfaction, which becomes disillusionment, and then it can become disconnection. (Not broken trust.)

broken trust

Restoring Broken Trust in a Relationship

First I think it’s important that we separate forgiveness and trust. A lot of times when our trust is broken, we need to choose to forgive because that’s going to get our hearts cleaned up and uncluttered. But forgiveness does not rebuild trust at all. Forgiveness opens the door for people to trust again, but in and of itself, it doesn’t rebuild trust. And I think this is important because oftentimes people are hesitant to forgive because they’re thinking, “I don’t want to forgive because I can’t trust them.”

Second, there is a formula for rebuilding broken trust, and that for me is consistent changed behavior over time. When you break someone’s trust, it’s like you have a bucket of trust and that trust bucket gets dumped. But you can’t just say, “I’m so sorry” and refill the bucket.

If you welcome forgiveness, you have the opportunity to rebuild broken trust. It takes very little time to dump the bucket and break trust; it takes a lot more time to fill the bucket up and rebuild trust. But the more we are consistent in what we say we will do, the more we will fill that bucket back up and the trust restores. 

Forgiveness and Trust

It’s really important that we understand that forgiveness is a decision, it isn’t a feeling. If you wait until you feel like forgiving, you are going to wait for the rest of your life. Mainly because you will not feel like it. It will have to be a decision. You are choosing to let that hurt go from tangling your heart up.

It’s not that you’re forgiving or you’re forgetting it. You’re not forgetting it. However, you’re choosing to place that in God’s hands to pursue rebuilding broken trust. You are choosing to say, “I am choosing to not let this control my heart anymore. Because as long as it is in control of my heart, I have walls up.

As long as it is in control of my heart, anger is at the heart of my feelings toward you. I can forgive and still not trust you. That is the reality of what’s going to happen. Forgiveness is a decision to let go and place that in the hands of the One who can actually untangle my heart.

When our heart is tangled up and it’s hard, it’s unavailable to God and makes it difficult to repair broken trust. It’s unavailable to that relationship with the person. The person we ultimately want to be able to give the opportunity to rebuild trust. So forgiveness is a choice we have to make and it is a choice that actually results in our own freedom.

That’s ultimately what we’re looking for is our own freedom. That way our heart does not become hard or entangled. If we don’t forgive, we end up in bitterness. And here’s the thing – you’re not just bitter towards that person, bitterness leaks out over all relationships. I also think about Scripture and Jesus commands us to forgive. I truly believe that since He is love that He knew what forgiveness does to us. He knows what unforgiveness does to our hearts, to our bodies, to our relationships.

He’s not out to punish us by rebuilding broken trust. Lastly, I think we underuse forgiveness in our life. Each offense is an opportunity for forgiveness. When we don’t forgive, the little things accumulate. They can become big deals in your heart and they harden your heart towards others.

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