Modern relationships are experiencing a revolution. It is really the first time in recent history that widespread couples allow themselves the freedom to put the culturally prescribed norms aside and define their own ways of being together. We are no longer assuming what the rules are; we are negotiating them together. For many couples that means trusting each other to explore a swinging lifestyle together.
It is the level of trust that we place in each other that gives the meaning to the rules we define together, as we rely on each other to respect them. When trust is compromised or broken, most couples doubt their ability to move on.
Yet, there are many who decide to give a relationship another chance. On their path towards recovering broken trust, many couples find ways to reconnect on a more profound level.
What Breaks the Trust?
Trust is an umbrella term for all the ways we feel we can rely on the person we are with. When someone says “I trust you”, they are really saying: “I know you are going to keep my secrets”, “I rely on you to be there for me through this difficult situation” or “I am certain that you would respect the boundaries we set together”.
So, what breaks it is what makes it, and what makes it is a range of expectations and behaviors that differs from couple to couple. When we talk and read about broken trust, we usually refer to infidelity. Yet, (in)fidelity in swinging is negotiated and defined by a couple. We can think of infidelity as a result of an act that breaks the rules of the swinging relationship whether they are detailed or assumed.
It’s important to notice that there are different layers of trust and some things are more at the core of it than others. Simply put, some rules are more important than the others. For some couples “we don’t verbally flirt with other people” ranks higher than “we don’t sleep with other people”.
Emotional Response to Trust-Breaking
The emotional response depends on the damage a transgression has caused to your relationship.
It differs in its intensity, and it includes a cocktail of emotions: anger, frustration, guilt, remorse, sadness, betrayal…
One of the most important reasons for which broken trust causes so much pain is the vulnerability that’s behind it. We never have 100% guarantee that a person will be true to us, but we nevertheless choose to believe and act like we do. It is a leap into the unknown at the risk of getting hurt. Broken trust can shatter our ideas of love, mutual care, commitment, sense of emotional safety and belonging.
This is why some couples describe the act that broke trust as the relationship’s death sentence. The experience of betrayal through a transgression reminds a lot of the experience of loss.
It is important for each partner to reflect on what they are feeling and allow each other to process the wide ranging emotions they might be feeling.
Fallacy of Villain and Victim
In most cases of broken trust, the roles get easily assigned.
There’s a person who broke the trust – the villain, and the victim, a person who suffers the consequences of the transgression.
A villain then shows remorse and does whatever is possible to regain the trust and earn forgiveness of the victim. On the other side, it’s the victim who defines the path of rebuilding trust, because the forgiveness is in their hands only. It’s the victim who is allowed to have and express strong emotions, when the villain is denied the opportunity to do so. The villain has no rights; the victim has all of them.
This dynamic is not useful in recovering trust. These roles are not focused on recovery, but on the interplay of guilt and power. While a person in the victim role can say “How can I trust them to never lie to me again?”, the supposed villain can ask “How can I trust them not to punish me for this for the rest of my life?” The point is, if a couple decides to work towards recovery, there’s no privileged role. Both partners need to sit shoulder to shoulder, looking at the aftermath of transgression, discussing ways they can move forward.
Path to Recovery of Trust
Recovery is challenging. Wounds heal at a different pace and require attention and care. Think of this path as a journey of self-understanding and relational-awareness, through which you will learn a lot about yourself and your partner.
In every challenge, there is a potential for growth.
- Start with Yourself
The road starts with each partner taking the time to reflect on how this experience affected them. Before they join the efforts to discuss ways to move forward, both partners should consider their own needs and expectations.
It is okay to allow yourself to vent emotions, organize your own thoughts before you agree to discuss anything with your partner.
- Make a Plan on How You Want to Work on Trust
Recovery doesn’t happen in passing. It requires conscious effort, uninterrupted time and undivided attention.
Before a couple approaches this process, it’s important to agree on the surrounding logistics. There are a few questions a couple needs to address.
For example, is starting therapy or counseling a good option, or do they want to try working through this on their own first? A qualified professional can provide an atmosphere that fosters communication and understanding, and organize this complicated process. A few other important questions to consider are:
- Do we want to separate or continue living together through this process?
- Do we sleep in the same or different rooms?
- Do we talk to anybody about this?
- Do we communicate in between our conversations?
It’s also important to look at the factors that may affect the process negatively. For example, continuing to swing with broken trust can further break what’s left of it. Remember swinging doesn’t fix broken relationships.
- Make the Effort to Understand Each Other
If both partners are onboard with giving a relationship another change, it’s important that they hear each other out. It is important that the exchange is not focused on justifying the actions or assigning guilt. The focus should be on understanding ways this experience affected both partners and the perceived causes of trust-breaking. Knowing what led to it can help prevent it in the future. For example, if the rules weren’t clear enough, going forward both partners will know to pay more attention to defining them.
- Own Your Responsibilities
We often mistake owning responsibility for accepting blame and act defensive to justify our choices. For the recovery to start, each partner must reflect upon their own choices and try to recognize ways in which they have or might have contributed to trust-breaking. We also tend to mistake understanding for approval, which is why we tend to judge and dismiss another person’s point of view. When one partner is communicating their perspective, it’s important that the other shows appreciation for their honesty.
- Address Each Other’s Questions
Broken trust leaves us with many questions. Addressing them is an important part of a healing process because it allows each partner to get some closure. Though many questions are difficult to ask, and most are difficult to answer – finding the strength and courage to tackle them with honesty creates the basis for starting new.
- Define Priorities
Another question a couple needs to answer together is: “Where do we begin?” Talking things through and rebuilding the small rituals a couple used to share can be a start. Depending on what partners needs from each other, it’s useful to agree on certain priorities. Not everything can be fixed at once, but one step at a time can make a big difference. In rebuilding trust, a couple needs to relearn how to walk before they can run again.
- Be Patient with Each Other
We all recover at a different pace. Rebuilding trust requires that we expose our vulnerable self yet again. It often happens that one person is readier to move forward than the other (and that’s usually the person whose actions were perceived as trust-breaking). This is a topic to be addressed with each other and/or in counseling, if available to a couple. One of the most difficult aspects of being patient with a partner is not knowing whether the distance and the passing of time is bringing you closer or pulling you further apart.
- Renegotiate the Rules and Boundaries
Moving forward, no swinging rule or boundary should be assumed or taken for granted. Both partners need to carefully consider what needs to change going forward. What do they want to keep and what is open for reconsideration? When trust is compromised, partners often see the severity of the act differently. It is then that they realize that not all the transgressions are at the same level of importance for their partner. What one considered to be relatively benign, the other felt was a significant transgression. This is why it’s important to renegotiate the rules and boundaries. Discussing trust, (in)fidelity, honesty, transparency and intimacy is an important part of the recovery. Though the partners may not completely agree on what each of the terms implies, they will nevertheless have a better understanding of their partner’s view on the relationship.
- Do Not Look Back, Look Forward
If you decide to move forward, you cannot keep turning back. It is often that a couple decides on a certain period during which it is allowed to recall and process what has happened. It is during that period that they can both express their feelings and discuss things that led to the breaking point. After the period is over, and a couple decides to stay together and to continue working on their relationship, they need to commit not to rub each other’s nose in it every time a new challenge occurs.
- Take Care of Yourself Every Step of the Way
Recovering trust takes time, effort, energy, patience, commitment… Often both partners will report feeling exhausted by it. It’s important that each partner checks in with themselves along the way to better understand the effects of the process on their well-being.
Remember that taking care of yourself in the process is as important as working towards mending a relationship. You can pour from an empty vessel.
Starting New. Step by step.
Healing the damage in the aftermath of infidelity and dishonesty is a challenging process.
Yet, it’s the one that can teach us about ourselves and our needs from the partner and the relationship. This increased awareness allows us to make better choices, whether we choose to stay together or start new with someone else.
If trust wasn’t issue before swinging, bear in mind that it takes time to learn about the lifestyle and to figure out ways to navigate through it. The lifestyle is challenging in many ways, yet it can be gratifying and transformative.
A swinging community can be a valuable resource in understanding how to recover from broken trust. Though a couple may pause swinging, the people they met can be a support along the way.
Remember that the process of recovery is not just about repairing the damage.
It’s about strengthening all the aspects of a relationship a couple treasures.
It’s about connecting on the idea that people can grow and change together, while rebuilding a better relationship for themselves to rely on and have fun with.