Moment of truth

How to Trust Your Partner Again After They’ve Lied to You

It’s possible to repair the damage—and your relationship could end up stronger. 
Red heartshaped lollipop shattered into pieces
Javier Zayas Photography/Getty

Cheating is probably the most obvious example of a devastating deception in romantic relationships, but even white lies can hurt and leave you wondering how to trust your partner. Maybe they said they loved your lasagna when in reality they dread pasta night. Or perhaps the breach of trust was something more serious, like a giant credit card purchase made behind your back. Regardless of what your partner was dishonest about, any lie from a loved one—big or small—can shake your sense of security and lead to trust issues.

“The basics of any healthy relationship is trust,” Angie Sadhu, MS, LMFT, a therapist at Manhattan Marriage and Family Therapy, tells SELF. “For any romance to thrive, trust and open communication are necessary, and without them, conflict is bound to arise.” For one, you tend to fight more when you’re doubting each other’s intentions, Sadhu says, and you run the risk of constantly monitoring and suffocating each other too. This tension can also bring about feelings of anxiety or stress—which can further strain your relationship.

The good news is that a lie doesn’t always mark the kiss of death in relationships. But that isn’t to say trusting your partner again, after they’ve given you a reason not to, is an easy feat. Beyond the obvious “I’m sorry” or “I promise I won’t do it again” from the offending party, rebuilding that foundation requires effort and commitment from both sides—as well as time—Sadhu says. And if you’re not sure where to begin, consider these practical ways to rebuild trust in your relationship, one step at a time.

Let yourself be angry, disappointed, or upset.

Even a relatively minor lie can trigger a whirlwind of emotions like rage, confusion, insecurity, or sadness. But as tempting as it may be to push these painful feelings aside, the first step in moving forward is embracing them head-on, Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, PhD, a New York–based psychologist and advisor for the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, tells SELF. This can mean having a good cry if you need it, indulging in a vent session with a close friend, or just sitting with your uncomfortable feelings and observing them with curiosity and compassion. However you process your reaction to your partner’s actions, what’s important is acknowledging that there’s no “wrong” way to feel, Dr. Lira de la Rosa says, and that fighting your emotions will only prevent you from working through them.

Sit down with your partner and talk about what happened.

There might be dozens of questions swirling around in your head: Why did they lie to me? How could they do this? What else are they hiding? These doubts are completely normal, experts say, and it’s important that you get all the answers you need in order to move forward. (And if your partner isn’t open to addressing your concerns, gets overly defensive, or blames you for the deception, those are red flags worth paying attention to.)  

“It’s not going to be an easy conversation, and the idea of confronting your partner can seem overwhelming,” Sadhu says. “Talking about the betrayal requires a lot of patience and vulnerability from both sides.” Maybe you don’t want to hear the nitty-gritty details of an emotional affair, say, or perhaps you’re not ready to acknowledge how much it hurt when your partner disclosed your private mental health struggles to their friends. But after the initial shock and pain subside, you should take some time to be honest with each other and discuss the elephant in the room, or else this issue will inevitably be the source of future, endless arguments, Dr. Lira de la Rosa says.

Hear them out—as calmly as you can.

No one wants to hear excuses from a liar. After all, what could possibly justify months of cheating or even lying by omission? But when your partner does eventually explain the reasons behind their dishonesty, Sadhu recommends trying your best to resist the urge to interrupt or argue with them. We know: This can be extremely difficult, but staying calm, cool, and collected can help a tough conversation go a little smoother, she says. Plus, it can prevent you from being overly accusatory, which will only deter them from telling you the truth in the future. 

If you’re not sure how to respond in a situation like this, Sadhu says it’s best to focus on using non-defensive language. For example, express your frustrations with “I” statements, like “I felt hurt by what you did” or “I don’t know if I can trust you again,” rather than “You don’t care about my feelings” or “You can’t be trusted.” Keep in mind: You may not like all the answers you get, and no matter what your partner says, it won’t excuse any of their behaviors. But trying to remain open to hearing their side of the story, and expressing yours as calmly as you can, will foster the kind of healthy, honest communication you’ll need to get past the lie and rebuild trust, according to Sadhu.

Observe any changes they’ve made to become more trustworthy.

Okay, so you’ve talked it out and your partner sincerely apologized for their dishonesty and you want to forgive them. Now what? As you try to move forward, pay attention to the changes in their behavior, Sadhu says. In other words, they’ve talked the talk, but can they also walk the walk? 

These adjustments might be gradual and subtle, which is why Dr. Lira de la Rosa suggests asking yourself: Does my partner apologize when they’ve done something wrong? Or do they default to defensiveness? When they feel hurt, do they share what’s troubling them? Or do they hide these feelings from me? 

No matter what kind of lie your partner told, taking accountability for mistakes and openly sharing feelings are both essential for rebuilding trust, she says. Plus, paying attention to their efforts to mend the damage (or lack thereof) can help you determine if they’re truly committed to changing, or if it’s time to reevaluate the relationship.

Resist the temptation to ‘“helicopter” over them.

If your partner is really, truly sorry, they should be willing to follow their words with tangible actions. You’d probably expect them to hand over their phone and show you all their messages, say, or share their location with you 24/7. After all, they violated your trust, so it’s only fair, right?

Sharing passwords or peeking over their shoulder when they’re on social media can seem like the perfect solution to “get even,” but it’s likely to do more harm than good in the long run. One study published in 2020 found that cell phone snooping actually did the opposite of building trust: The constant surveillance was more likely to end in a breakup by increasing feelings of anxiety, distrust, and frustration. (Spending the next few days, weeks, or even months questioning and monitoring your partner’s doings and whereabouts may seem justified, but it isn’t a great start to rebuilding trust.)

So instead of watching them like a hawk, Sadhu suggests focusing on establishing some new expectations of what you need from them in order to trust them again—and make sure they’re comfortable with your requests too. Think of it as a compromise: If your partner hid the extent of their suspicious “friendship” with a coworker, say, it might be unfair and unrealistic to expect them to ignore this person altogether. But are they willing to limit contact outside of the office? 

If your long-term goal is mutual trust, keeping a watchful eye on them or constantly questioning their loyalty won’t get you there, according to Dr. Lira de la Rosa. The urge to closely monitor their behavior makes sense, but “it can become a problem if you keep pushing them away or doubting them when they’re trying to be trustworthy,” he says.

Try not to dwell on the past and focus on the future, instead.

There may be times when things are going well, and out of nowhere you remember the lie and another argument begins. “It’s normal to ruminate on the betrayal,” Dr. Lira de la Rosa says, noting that it’s a common way humans cope with things we can’t really make sense of. “But after some time, dwelling on the past will only deepen the wounds and prevent you from being able to trust each other again,” he adds. 

If you’re seriously committed to overcoming the lie, forgiveness is necessary. No, that doesn’t mean forgetting your partner’s wrongs and absolving them of any responsibility. But once you’ve talked through and processed whatever happened, Dr. Lira de la Rosa says your next goal should be enhancing your relationship going forward. You might plan date nights to reignite the spark that may have gotten lost, for example, tend to your sex rut, or maybe schedule weekly or monthly check-ins to address any lingering doubts or concerns. 

Remind yourself that it’s a work in progress.

Now for the million-dollar question: How long will it take for me to finally trust them again? The reality is that even if you follow each and every expert-approved step in this article, you’ll likely still have days when you’re doubting your partner’s intentions or staying up at night obsessing over their lie. 

“It’s not a linear process,” Sadhu explains. “Trust can be rebuilt, but it’s not as simple as receiving an apology, forgiving them, and bam, there’s the trust again.” If you still have a hard time trusting your partner, even after they’ve shown you through words and actions that they’re truly sorry, you might benefit from seeing a mental health professional or attending couple’s therapy—alone or together—which can facilitate productive communication and offer tools for working through the betrayal. (Here are some tips for finding a culturally competent  and affordable therapist.)

What you’re going through is a process that will inevitably have ups and downs, and it’s important to remember that even though the lie itself is irreversible (what’s done is done), you and your partner can control how you approach the relationship going forward and possibly come out of the experience even stronger.