What to Do When Trust Is Broken

BoundariesSeveral years ago, I (Dr. Cloud) went to a conference on working with character disorders, and the instructor was giving a list of priorities to psychologists who treat them. "Character disorder" is a catch-all term, but one way of defining it is "people who do not take ownership and responsibility for their lives."

I will never forget what the instructor said about the number-one priority—other than protecting your personal safety—in treating character disorders. He said, "As soon as there is any kind of deception, stop everything." If you are trying to help someone and he is lying to you in some way, there is no relationship. The whole thing is a farce, and you should not go any further in trying to help the person until you settle the issue of deception. There are no other issues at that point except that one.

Trust is everything in a helping relationship, and when it is broken, it becomes the only issue to work on. Either fix that or end the relationship. Where there is deception, there is no relationship.

It was wise training and good counsel from a very experienced leader in the field. Thirty-five years of practice had taught him through experience that where there is deception, there is no relationship. Truthfulness is everything when it comes to building and maintaining a close connection with someone else.

We believe that truthfulness is the basis for almost everything. You should have an absolute zero-tolerance policy when it comes to deception. Lying should have no place in your life. Listen to King David's tough stance on lying: "No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence" (Psalm 101:7).

Clear, straightforward, and rigid. Do not tolerate lying, period. That does not mean that if you are lied to once or deceived once that the relationship has to be over. Especially in the area of the person not being totally clear and direct about how he or she feels about certain preferences, or what his or her desires are. Probably every human being is growing in his or her ability to be direct and completely vulnerable with feelings and deeper things of the heart. People grow in that ability. None of us is perfect and secure enough to never use the fig leaf.

But don't tolerate deception or lying when it happens.


If you're experiencing deception or struggling to trust someone in a relationship, find practical solutions in The New York Times bestselling book, Boundaries.

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  • Paige on

    This is my husband, too. I finally asked him to leave due to more lies of “omission”. He thinks if he says nothing he can do as pleases. His actions have been hurtful when finally uncovered. Omitting the truth is the same as lying in my book.

  • Gods anointed on

    well- here is my thing. instead of my husband telling me the truth . he would rather not say nothing. which is really a lie

  • Alex S on


    How is the child now? Has he made changes?

  • Sharon on

    I have drug_addicted >40 huggers old daughter who lies, steals from me & blames everyone else for everything that happens her. After a huge problem with her & hearing clearly from God, my husband & I finally did what God did with Adam & Eve….we closed the gates & barred entrance into our home & lives. Its the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do & would never have been able to do such a thing without God’s direction & encouragement to continue to stay strong in this. My life is much more peaceful. God is the only answer to our adult children’s problems but I guess we want to help them so much we can end up taking His place their lives. Hopefully she will REALLY turn her life over Him & be healed & whole one day. That’s my prayer & I’m sticking with it!

  • Annette on

    I can relate to your pain. I was married for almost 22 years and dealt with a porn addict. He lied & deceived me for most of our marriage. This article was so encoraging to know I’m not alone & validated my decision to divorce him. I gave it almost a year of aspersions to study his actions for true repentance but saw continual deceit. Now I have to work on my boundaries & issues with trust but I know God is good & He’s healing my heart.

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