Love, Always

How to win back someone’s trust when you’ve really messed up.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “trust” as the “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.”

Gaining someone’s trust is precious. Sacred. It deepens relationships and nurtures respect.

And yet, it is so easy to lose that trust — if you betray it. Just like a beautifully-knit sweater. Pull on one loose thread, and the entire sweater will unravel … so quickly.

And it is so difficult to earn that trust back. As the cyclist Lance Armstrong told Oprah, during an interview after his performance-enhancing drug use was exposed to the world, ”I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and trying to apologize to people … for the rest of my life.”

So, how can you win back someone’s trust when you’ve really messed up? What can you do or say? And what if they refuse — or simply don’t want you in their life anymore?

It’s not easy, and to be honest, it’s not always possible to do.

But if you want to try to mend a relationship, this article is for you.

“I screwed up, big time. What can I do to prove that I’ve changed?”

The only way to prove that you’ve changed is by behaving in a trustworthy way, consistently.

It’s not that hard to say, “I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. I promise.” Many people actually find that quite easy. 

Nor is it that hard to try to make up by buying flowers, or candy, or sending a heartfelt, “Please forgive me” note.

But actually changing your behavior — making good on your word, consistently — that’s where your challenge lies. 

To do this, you may need to dig deep within yourself to make the necessary changes — to bring a stronger “you” to the relationship.

“What about apologizing? What should I say?”

If you have the opportunity to apologize, take it.

Let the person you’ve hurt know your intentions: “I have addressed the issue that caused this to happen. This will never happen again.”


Words do matter, and words can help. But again, they mean very little … unless you change your behavior, as well.

“They still don’t trust me. How long does it take to earn back someone’s trust?”

There is no set time. It depends on the nature of the relationship, what you did, and how your behavior has impacted the other person.

Generally speaking, though, if both of you genuinely want to repair the relationship and mend the loss of trust, that’s a great sign.

As long as you consistently refrain from the off-limits behavior — and as long as the person you’ve hurt is willing to let go, forgive and move on — then your relationship has a good chance of getting back on its feet, and growing even stronger. Eventually, you’ll both be more resilient because of this challenge.

“What if they don’t want me in their life anymore?”

This is a painful situation, but it’s important to accept the other person’s choice and not try to talk them out of it, or manipulate them into changing their mind.

Perhaps their refusal means they’re hurting inside. That’s understandable. The best thing to do (as tough as this may sound) is to respect their feelings and wishes — giving them space in the hopes that one day, they may have a change of heart.

“It’s too awful. I just can’t forgive myself for what I’ve done.”

Punishing yourself isn’t the answer.

If you let these feelings of shame and self-hatred keep building up, you’ll eventually lash out at someone else that you love — venting your anger in an unhealthy way, leading to more hurt feelings and regret.

Take the steps that you need to take to release your feelings of grief and shame. (The exercises that I share in my series of Life Guides can help. Talking to a coach or psychologist like me can help, too.)

Once you have forgiven yourself for messing up, you can return to your natural state of being — a state of self-love, where you will naturally want to treat yourself (and others) with the care and respect they deserve. In that state, you won’t have to “try” to do what is right. You just will.

xo.

PS. Today’s post was all about earning back somebody’s trust, after you’ve messed up.

But what about earning back your own trust … and believing in yourself, again?

That’s what we’ll be talking about, here on the blog … next week. More to come!

PPS. For a little more support on being able to forgive, pick up a copy of my new Life Guide on… How To Forgive The One Who Hurt You Most Of All.

10 Comments
  1. I know I’ve changed, but my partner doesn’t want to give me a chance. She says apologies are too easy to blurt out. I’m going to show her your post, especially the part about CONSISTENT changed behavior. I’m hopeful she’ll see things differently. Thanks for giving me hope.

  2. You’ve answered some questions that I was stuck about. I cannot thank you enough.

    • Hi Jill: So glad you have some answers. Insight and understanding can really help us progress. :)

  3. I’ve experienced the violation of my trust in someone and your blog rings true. As I sat down to write my comment, another incident of almost 50 years ago came to mind. I never thought of it as a betrayal of trust. until this moment — but it was.

    “Let go, forgive, move on.” Yes, it’s possible.

    • Hi Cindy: Sounds like you’ve embraced forgiveness. That’s a real gift to yourself — to forgive is to be free. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I believe in me. After all, I’ve spent a lot of time with me and I can trust me. Well, I’ve never let me down.

    Okay, there’s times when I wasn’t really, really, really happy with my behavior, really! But I do have a good heart. Oh sure, it’s a little old and it doesn’t perform as well as it once did, but I digress…

    There’s a group of people, who abide by the philosophy: What Would Jesus Do? (W.W.J.D.) That’s an admirable but rather lofty ambition. Personally, I prefer to adhere to the idea: What Would I do if it were Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Muhammad et cetera. In other words, I like to treat people like it matters, because it does.

    • Hi Ron: You’re ahead of the game. “Believing in me,” is the focus of next week’s blog. Thanks for paving the way with your super, wise words. :)

  5. I’m the recipient of “broken trust,” not the one who “messed up,” but this blog is helpful to me. Mending a relationship is where we’re at — but, I’m hopeful and I feel it’s worth doing.