Ask Kirsten: How do we rebuild trust after a break-up?

Hey Kirsten,

I broke up with my girlfriend a few months ago, but we got back together three weeks later. I still have a lot of guilt about it and can’t shake the feeling that she’s still upset. She says she’s not upset and that she knows we’re in a better place now, but I sense that she doesn’t trust me as much anymore. How do I know how she really feels about it? And if she’s still upset, how do we get the trust back?



Hello there Guilt-Stricken,

I’m glad to hear that you and your girlfriend decided to give it another go. It’s not unusual for a relationship to be stronger than ever after a separation or a shake-up. Joni Mitchell said it best, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” Sometimes we don’t realize how good we have it until we scale the fence and examine the pastures on the other side. As you discovered my friend, the grass is not always greener.

Now that the two of you are back together, it sounds like you have some trust building to do. Even if your girlfriend says, “We’re good!” you’re wise to focus on restoring her faith in you, and your faith in yourself.

Sometimes we don’t realize how good we have it until we scale the fence and examine the pastures on the other side.

I like to compare trust to water. Your relationship needs it to thrive and survive. When you have a big fight, tell an outright lie or go through a break up, the pool of trust evaporates and your relationship might enter a full-on drought. This can cause both of you to feel like you’re on shaky ground – dehydrated and disconnected. Even micro-aggressions – broken promises, grumpy mornings or small spats – can spawn small cracks and leaks that will slowly drain all traces of trust if left unresolved.

How do you patch up the leaks and replenish the trust in your partnership?

  • You focus on little gestures and actions: compliments, favors, communicating openly and showing up consistently. Just like small raindrops, these deeds and efforts will refill your “trust tank” over time. You can’t rebuild trust over night so don’t aim for a Harvey-like flood of apologies or groveling.
  • Focus on your actions because they really do speak louder than words. And commit to continuing these positive behaviors for more than just a season – trust building and replenishing should be a long-game priority.
  • If you hydrate your relationship with consistency and kindness, and don’t make the mistake of dumping your wonderful girlfriend again, I promise that your shared cup of trust will runneth over in due time.

Sincerely, Kirsten

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Ask Kirsten on As One Loves is published as a community service with the intention of addressing reader-submitted questions about relationship issues. Written by Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC, a licensed professional counselor, this column is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or actual psychotherapy. Always seek the advice of a licensed mental health professional, without delay and in person, regarding questions you may have about any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard other professional advice because of something you have read on Reader-submitted questions are anonymous to protect the questioner’s identity, chosen by the As One Loves team, and may be edited for spelling, grammar, clarity, and length.

Have you and your partner broken up and gotten back together? How did you rebuild the trust? What would you recommend for other couples in the same boat? Let’s have a conversation in the comments. Or find us on Instagram and Facebook at @AsOneLoves.

Author: Kirsten Brunner

Kirsten Brunner is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has provided couples therapy and life coaching for 19 years. On her website, Baby Proofed Parents, Kirsten delivers relationship and emotional health advice to expectant and new parents. Kirsten is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and TODAY Parents. Her writing has also been featured in The Atlantic, Real Simple Magazine and Mamalode. She works with clients, in person and over Skype, with a specific focus on strengthening communication between couples. Kirsten lives in Austin, TX with her husband, two sons and her dog, Jake (Yup, she is definitely outnumbered.)

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