trust playbook

How To Rebuild Trust: A Playbook

Written by Rob Giltner, MAMFT

A lot of couples get in “gridlock” where they find themselves in conflict over the same subject or find themselves continuously in conflict. Couples in “gridlock” are trying to solve the issue that is the tip of the iceberg. Partners may get frustrated with this issue not being solved, and begin to feel like they’re not being heard or understood. This then makes partners listen to respond to each other rather than listening to understand each other.

Once we work to come from a place of understanding rather than one of response, we realize that many arguments are not about what we see on the surface, but are really ice that has built up underneath the surface. Many times once our partner understands our ice below, we began to feel connected and understood which melts away the ice. We then find ourselves no longer stuck in “gridlock.”

After such continued conflict, it can be important to practice trust-building. The following is a playbook for strengthening the trust within your relationship.

Signs someone is suffering from PTSD as a result of betrayal:

  • Hypervigilance
  • Emotional numbing with explosions
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Depression

The 3 Pillars for Rebuilding Trust: Atone, Attune, Attach

One can Atone by:

  • Continued expression of remorse and sincere apology (even in the face of skepticism)
  • Confession
  • Dealing with triggers
  • Behavioral change, transparency, and verification
  • Understanding what went wrong
  • Reasons for return or relapse
  • Understanding the high cost of future betrayal
  • Acceptance and forgiveness

After conflict with your partner, the key to healing is to process and repair. It is vital that we are mindful of our partners’ feelings, as well as our own related to the event. Identifying triggers to those feelings is a great way to begin to repair from conflict. Triggers can come from events related to influence, acceptance, and affection.

Attune stands for:

T=Turning toward
N= Nondefensive Responding

Couples must learn to handle conflict by tuning in, so it doesn’t overwhelm them and create distance in their relationship.

When an individual feels emotionally overwhelmed, it makes it very difficult for them to listen to understand, offer empathy, and dialogue. Their brains are in fight or flight mode. This may then result in stonewalling, criticism, and defensiveness. If a couple is able to find ways to self-soothe, they are able to approach an argument rationally and gently and they have a higher chance of a positive outcome. Sometimes couples need to take a break from the argument to soothe, but they must agree to return to the conflict.


When we talk about attachment, we are asking, “Are you there for me?” You can practice connecting to your partner through:

  • Rituals of connection
  • Building intimacy
  • Turning towards one another
  • Accepting bids

Establishing Rituals for Connection

One of the keys to a strong relationship is creating shared meaning between you and your partner. Shared meaning can be big things like sharing overarching goals and visions for your relationship and life, but it also comes from establishing rituals of connection. These are rituals that you do daily, weekly, or monthly that bring you together and allow you to connect as a couple. These rituals ensure that you are taking the time to develop deep emotional connections with each other.

It can be helpful to start by examining each partner’s memories of family rituals and then script new rituals. Be specific about what, how when, and where. Restructure your time the following week to include these.

  • Waking up, waking one another up
  • Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, & or coffee together
  • Bedtime
  • Leaving one another
  • Reuniting
  • Handling finances
  • Hosting others at home
  • Athletics, exercise
  • Celebrations (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.)
  • Taking care of each other when sick
  • Renewing your spirit
  • Recreation, games, play
  • Dates and romantic evenings
  • Watching television
  • Running errands, doing chores
  • Doing schoolwork
  • Soothing other people’s feelings
  • Apologizing or repairing feelings after an argument
  • Common hobbies
  • Making art

Resources: The Gottman Institute