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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  1. Joanne says

    Thank you so very much for this article it helps so very much and I know now I must stay far away from this person and not get involved in any of the doings that go on in this house that I rent a room in .

  2. ECHO says

    Interesting. Dealing with a son who does/did drugs. Lied, stole, deceived BIG TIME!!! He’s struggling now to “go straight”, however, he doesn’t understand why, because he does one good thing or has been “clean” for X days/weeks/ months, we don’t trust him yet. Hard to overcome years of deception in a few good moments. We’ve tried explaining that to him, but to him it’s unfair. BTW, he’s 27 yo . . . I truly believe drugs change the user’s DNA and they don’t think the way they used to. So, what do I do/say now?

    • TA says

      I would be very interested in knowing what the answer is to this question. I also believe drug abuse retards the natural maturing process. But the question remains. How to respond to a 30 year old who has the maturity of a 14 year old?

    • J.R. says

      Dear Echo, we have the EXACT same story. Our 27 yr old drug addict son who is in jail right now, has stolen repeatedly from us and other family. we have to protect our home from him and his habit— so I tell my son that I love him, but he has to earn back the trust. It will take time.

    • Donna says

      Echo, I’m a recovering alcoholic/addict who is married to a recovering alcoholic, so I speak from both sides of the fence. I know first-hand that being “sober” is more than just abstaining from alcohol/drugs. In my recovery I have been taught that alcohol/drugs are but a symptom of the larger problem which is my thinking. Yes, the alcoholic/addict does think differently than”normal” people. Therefore, there are certain things I have to do to maintain a sane level of thinking. In my case that means going to 12-step meetings, praying daily, staying connected to my sponsor and others in recovery and service work. For other people it may mean attending and getting involved in church, seeing a therapist regularly, etc. If your son isn’t doing any of these things he isn’t addressing the deeper issues and any changes in his behavior aren’t likely to last. If he is, then in time he will learn responsibility and accountability, and he will accept and even appreciate that trust must be earned. In the meantime, you are right to be wary and maintain boundaries with him.

    • Donna says

      Echo, I am a recovering alcoholic so I speak to you from experience. I have been taught in my recovery that alcohol/drugs are but a symptom of the larger problem which is my thinking. Yes, alcoholics and addicts do think differently than “normal” people. Therefore, there are certain things I have to do to maintain a level of sane thinking. In my case that means attending 12-step meetings, praying daily, staying in touch with my sponsor and doing service work. For others it may be attending and getting involved in church, seeing a therapist regularly, etc. If your son is not doing any of these things, he is not addressing the bigger issues and any changes in his behavior aren’t likely to last. If he is, in time he will learn responsibility and accountability and he will accept and even appreciate that trust must be earned. In the meantime you are right to be wary and maintain your boundaries with him.

  3. K says

    A 20 year deception in my marriage, along with 2 affairs ( that I know of) with the same coworker….. Not sure I have all the truth, but I AM sure I have all the truth I’m going to get from him. Painful to read this article as we have been married for almost 38 years and now I know that over half of it we have not had a real relationship at all. Very depressing.

    • T. says

      I’m sorry K… Your pain must certainly be great. When I was going through a similar experience, it helped me to see that looking for love in all the wrong places told me more about the offender than myself. Until we really see that our needs are met by God…we may look to others to fill them and never be satiated. Even “the other” woman/man is looking to fill gaping holes that only our Creator can fill. It helped me deal with my anger and hurt. And eventually…I was able to let go. My heart goes out to you.

    • MM says

      K, my husband is a sex addict (Maybe yours is too?). After 10 years of marriage and the birth of our son and entry of his daughter into our life within a period of two months, my husband “went off the deep end.” He realized his addiction when the stress level grew and he couldn’t control himself. After a weekend session at Love in Action, he came clean with me and admitted the affairs over the 10 years to include one with one of my family members. At the point I found out about the affairs, he was regularly attending church with me, going to 12-step meetings and therapy. This went a long way toward earning trust back, but I can tell you it was a long road. I can also tell you that the following 7 years have been the best relationship I have ever had with my husband. The difference between a dishonest “relationship” and honest relationship with God at the center is amazing. My husband is now looking me in the eye which he hadn’t done for a long time. He no longer has fits of rage which he used to have a lot. I realize I am fortunate that my husband is working his program, but it sounds to me like you still don’t believe you have complete honesty. One thing that we have had to establish is what level of honesty I want from his past. If I ask, he will answer the questions, but one thing we have found is some of my questions may not helpful to my healing. I pray that you and your husband can find some kind of peace. Unfortunately, breaking the marital vows cuts right to the core of our being. I know your pain.

      • Kelly says

        My husband is a recovering sex addict as well. His addiction began with porn he discovered in his home at the age of 12 and it progressed to many types of acting out behaviors. It took a clinical disclosure and polygraph for him to get free of the lies and. The discovery of his addiction and years of deception was devastating and traumatic. I developed PTSD, depression, and anxiety. We both sought therapy, counseling, and support from 12-step programs. I highly recommend Castimonia for addicts and Infidelity Survivors Anonymous for spouses. Having had staggered, continuous disclosures, I could not stay in the marriage until I saw true and lasting change. My husband takes a polygraph every year to verify his sobriety and integrity. We’ve been in recovery 4 years now and God has done an amazing act of healing and transformation in our marriage. I’ve become an APSATS trained betrayal trauma coach and my husband is pursuing his licensure in counseling as well as specialization as a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist. We are helping men and women around the country with our story. We are so grateful for God’s guidance, mercy, and grace. My prayers are with all of us who have been impacted by this addiction.

    • Annette says

      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.

    • Carol says

      Please go to Rejoice Ministries and pray for the Lord to resurrection of your marriage. My story is very similar to yours.

  4. lynn says

    Hmm I have set boundaries with some who are deceptive in one or some areas while in other areas where there are not being deceptive engage . I th8nk today I needed to see this as I realized that 7f they are deceptive 8n any area they will be deceptive in all areas.

  5. says

    I’m a little confused with what you wrote on this post concerning a person lying about their feelings or desires (6th paragraph I think). I’m struggling to “let go” of a relationship and they apologizedonce saying it’s to keep people from getting too close. I’m wondering if that sort of deception is zero tolerance or not. I’m not trying to be difficult, but truly want to understand since I currently have this situation in my life. Thank you so much.

  6. Kim says

    Hi Lela.
    Have you read the authors book? I’m sure it would explain in there.
    I’ve read one and they are inexpensive, written in simple language with examples too.
    I recommend the learning to you.

  7. BA says

    My husband has been deceptive throughout our 29 year marriage, having affairs and lying. We are going through a devastating divorce and he is still unwilling to admit having affairs, even with documentation. While going thru the divorce we still must live together. We do not speak to each other and he comes and goes as he please sometimes spending the weekend with the paramour. I’m devastated in that all that I had I gave to him leaving me financially strap, and my disability check ending in a month because of the age factor. And unfortunately still love him very much. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me and I must completely out my trust in God

  8. says

    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!

  9. Gods anointed says

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

    • Paige says

      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.

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