FamilyLife Today® Podcast

How do I Rebuild Trust?

with Dave Carder | April 24, 2009
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Trust, once broken, isn’t easily mended. Join us for today's broadcast when pastor Dave Carder, author of Torn Asunder, talks with Dennis Rainey about rebuilding trust after an adulterous affair.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Trust, once broken, isn’t easily mended. Join us for today's broadcast when pastor Dave Carder, author of Torn Asunder, talks with Dennis Rainey about rebuilding trust after an adulterous affair.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Trust, once broken, isn’t easily mended.

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How do I Rebuild Trust?

With Dave Carder
April 24, 2009
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Dave: He got involved with somebody at a school where he taught, and it was a secret experience and she never knew anything about it and, finally, it was discovered by the school administration and brought to light, and they were transferred and separated, and that's how this wife found out about the affair – her husband lost his job.  And, suddenly, her whole world exploded and imploded. 

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 24th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  There is tremendous fallout from infidelity, but there is hope for couples who have been through an affair.  We'll talk about that today.  Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  And, quickly, let me remind our regular listeners about the special offer that we're making this week to those of you who are listeners.  We are trying to encourage folks to attend one of the upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences we're hosting in cities all across the country this month, next month, and into June.  We've already had thousands of you out attending one of our conferences already this spring, and we decided it's time to come to our listeners and challenge those of you who have never been to a conference, to get on board, spend a weekend together focusing on your marriage, laughing, having a good time, relaxing in a great setting and focusing on your relationship.

So if you register between now and the end of the month to attend a conference, and you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, here is what we're doing.  You register for the conference at the regular rate, and we'll give you a second registration for free.  Basically, you guy a registration for yourself, and your spouse comes along with you at no cost.  And, by the way, it's best to have your spouse along with you when you attend one of these conferences.

All the details are online at  You can register online.  If you do that, you have to identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, so type the word "Bob" in the keycode box on the registration form, and we'll know that you're tuned into FamilyLife Today and you'll qualify for the special offer.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, register over the phone.  Just mention you listen to FamilyLife Today, and you want to take advantage of the special offer. 

Again, the number is 1-800-FLTODAY, the website if  Register for an upcoming Weekend to Remember at the regular price, and your second registration, your spouse's registration, is absolutely free.  And we hope to hear from you.  If you have any questions, call us – 1-800-FLTODAY or look online at

Now, we've been talking all this week about affairs and about infidelity and, you know, routinely, we will get e-mails like – well, I've got some of these in front of us.  Here is one – "My husband filed for divorce after nine months of separation.  We've been married for 15 years, but he fell in love with and is living with a young woman from the office."  Here is another one from somebody who wrote and said, "How do you suggest I handle this situation?  My husband and I have been for married 21 years.  Two years ago he told me he was not in love with me any longer, he was moving out.  I found out at that point that he'd had a couple of affairs.  He moved back in, continued to have affairs."

 You know, you read these things, and it just seems like what we've been addressing this week, the issue of adultery in marriage is something that is at almost rampant proportions in the church and, our guest this week, Dave Carder, has told us that, in fact, as many as 40 percent of people in the church today have gone through an affair in their marriage.

Dennis: That's right and, Dave, as I welcome you back to FamilyLife Today, again, I want to say thanks for your really groundbreaking work in helping us understand the betrayal of an affair and, as a counselor, as a pastor, as a husband, now a grandfather, you've had a lot of life experience that you've passed on in your book, "Torn Asunder," that I believe every married couple really needs if they're going to move on in their relationship.

Dave: And the book has proven helpful over the years.  In fact, the workbook is really a compilation of all the stuff I used to photocopy and pass out to couples over 15, 20 years. 

Dennis: Luke 17:3 makes an interesting statement.  I want to focus on this today – "If your brother has a trespass against you, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him."  Forgiveness is at the core if we're going to rebuild trust. 

Bob: Is that where we start, Dave?  I mean, we talked yesterday about the explosion of coming clean, whether it's being found out or 'fessing up.  Once that's happened, what does the rebuilding process look like?  Does it start with forgiveness?

Dave: Well, it starts first with taking a marital history, and as you do that, as you both develop this forgiveness letter, I call it, about your marriage, you suddenly – the playing field is more level, and you're both engaged and joining in and working together about making things right.

I've got to tell you an illustration – this is a great story.  I had a couple I worked with, and I told this guy, I said, "In the marriage, you both have contributed to the marital deterioration, and you both need to identify things."  So as he read his letter, he said, "I want to apologize for putting your dog to sleep while you were away on a business trip."

And I sat and listened to that, and I thought, "What is that all about?"  Well, what had happened was, this was a dog she brought into the marriage, and the dog had grown old over the course of time, and the vet said it needed to be put to sleep, but she was out of town on a major presentation.  He didn't want to call her and upset her that their vet put the dog to sleep, so he went ahead and put the dog to sleep, and she never had a chance to say goodbye.

And that hurt had been in that marriage for years.  She understood it, but he'd never really acknowledged what kind of pain and loss and everything else it had generated in her.  It's those kinds of things that we often don't recognize where we've hurt our spouse that we need to mention.

Bob: So this letter you're talking about is something where you'd have a husband a wife sit down, and they write a letter to one another, and they own up to their stuff?

Dave: Mm-hm.  I asked him, I said, "You make a list of all your contributions that you've put in the marriage that caused it to deteriorate.  Somewhere – seven to 10, I tell them – items.  And then they write this – "I was wrong when I did" – "I know this must have made you feel" blank blank blank, "will you forgive me?"  "I was wrong when I did" contribution number 2.  "I know this must have caused you to feel" blank blank blank, "will you forgive me?" and you just work your way through that list and read that to each other out loud.

Dennis: Now, you said "each other."

Dave: Each other.

Bob: Don't you get some people who – you know, he writes a letter and says, "I want to apologize for the affair, I know it's made" …

Dave: No, no, no, this isn't about the affair.  This is about the marriage.

Bob: Okay, "I want to apologize for how I've insulted your appearance through the years.  I realize how that makes you feel, and will you forgive me?"  Meanwhile, she's saying, "I want to apologize for not folding your socks."  I mean, some people who are really owning up to major stuff, and the other person is just kind of saying, "I don't see that I've done all that much so, okay, well, maybe I don't put the toilet seat down when I'm done," you know?

Dave: Okay, now, remember – we're talking about marriages that have gone through infidelity.  There are some bad things that have happened on both sides – almost invariably.  Now, maybe a Class 1 has happened in a very good marriage.

Bob: Class 1 is the one-night stand.

Dave: The one-night stand, right.  But, for the most part, they have hurt each other back and forth through the years – she did this, he did that, he did that, and then she did this type of thing.  So that's the kind of stuff they have to identify early on.

Then there is a second letter written about the affair where he acknowledges the various involvements with this particular person. 

Dennis: Is there a response at that point for the wounded spouse to be able to share what that betrayal did to him or did to her and how she feels about it and how it's costing her today and what she's thinking about and the emotional weight of it all?

Dave: Oh, absolutely.  She has three responses to every item – "Yes, I'll forgive you," "No, I won't forgive you," "I can't forgive you right now, but I’m working on it."  And so some of those she'll forgive, some of them she won't, some of them it's going to take more time, and the wife should be the one that controls that process.

Bob: We're talking about this ongoing process of forgiveness, and you've had us writing a couple of letters.  One, where we talk about a lot of marriage issues before we ever get to the affair, now a letter that deals related to the affair.

I've talked to guys, Dave, who have come up to me at Weekend to Remember conferences, and they would say, "I had an affair three years ago.  I confessed it to my wife.  We've been in counseling, and she not only won't forgive me, she still holds it, she still brings it up, but she doesn't trust me.  I can't rebuild the trust with her."

Dave: I would say to him, "You have not identified how you hurt your wife.  You might have identified what you did, but you didn't identify how it made her feel."

Dennis: Now, let me stop you there, because you targeted him.  You didn't even have a suspicion about her that …

Dave: Because guys are great at compartmentalizing, like we've referred to earlier, and they don't identify how their behavior affects the wife's feelings.  When he nails the feeling that his behavior, his specific behavior developed inside of her, she will melt.  She'll break into tears, and she will grieve.

Now, there are some unique circumstances, and I've seen a few of those over the years but, for the most part, that's the way the system works.

Bob: So you're saying one of the reasons that she's not able to release him from the consequences of his behavior, one of the reasons she won't forgive him is because in her own heart she doesn't think he knows – he could still do that again …

Dave: He could, and he doesn't understand how he really hurt her.

Dennis: And it's back to the principle we shared on an earlier broadcast – you make the point – the chance of healing for the marriage relationship and rebuilding trust occurs when the infidel finally understands what the betrayal cost his marriage.  What kind of grief and anguish he has brought upon his or her spouse.

Dave: Actually, that woman who won't forgive is hurting herself.  She's becoming a bitter, angry old lady, and most women don't like being like that.  They maybe have had other experiences with other females in their lives – mothers, aunts, et cetera.  They don't like that kind of picture.  So they're very quick to forgive when you actually identify what the feeling is that you've done to them.

Dennis: Dave, as we rebuild trust, trust has the opportunity to begin to flourish once forgiveness has occurred.  But trust is earned.  I mean, the man who has been an infidel can't go back to work with a secretary and hang out with her.  Or the woman who has been unfaithful to the man can't go back to the church choir or the small group study where she met the man.  There has to be a change of pattern, a change of behavior that gives the betrayed spouse hope …

Dave: … and confidence.

Dennis: That's right.

Dave: That it won't happen again.

Dennis: Trust has to be rebuilt; it takes time, doesn't it?

Dave: It does.  And it takes a change in behavior, like you said, in order for that to happen.  Actually, whenever you forgive, bit-by-bit, you are able to build trust bit by bit.  You don't even rebuild trust to the point that you have forgiven, so that's the encouragement – to keep forgiving so that you continue to rebuild trust.

There are some rules, though, about rebuilding trust.  No surprises – this is not the time to surprise your spouse.  This is the time to be very predictable, reliable.  Secondly, prior to the fact – in other words, if you're going to have to change something – you're going to have to be a little late, you're not going to be able to show up, you're not going to be able to do this errand, you tell them prior to the fact and don't ask forgiveness afterwards.

Dennis: That's very good.

Dave: Because it will destroy this confidence.  The anxiety begins to go up.  And there's one more thing – it's keeping your word.  Keeping your word is one of the most godlike things you can ever have or practice in your life.  It's what distinguishes you from animals – to say you're going to do something and then to follow through with it.

Bob: I've said to couples over and over again – trust is rebuilt.  I give them a formula – CV/T.  That's consistent behavior over time.  If you're going to rebuild trust, it's going to be by being consistently faithful and honest and predictable, like you said, over a long period of time, and people will say, "Well, how long?"  And I'll say, "As long as it takes."  If you set off the explosion in your marriage, and you want to know how long do I have to stay consistent?  I would say "Maybe forever."

Dave: Well, it feels very tight and controlling at first, but if there's been a good history of trust in the marriage, then the trust will come back more quickly.  If there's been a poor history of trust in the marriage, it's going to take longer.

Bob: Can you think of a couple who came into your office after the explosion, sat down, and said "Here is our deal."  You did a family history, you looked at their marital satisfaction, and you thought to yourself, "The odds are against this couple ever rebuilding, and yet God did a work."  Can you think of a couple like that?  Can you tell us their story?

Dave: I can.  I can think of a number of couples like that, but let's just choose this one particular couple.  He got involved with somebody at a school where he taught, and it was a secret experience, and she never knew anything about it, and finally it was discovered by the school administration, and brought to light, and they were transferred and separated, and that's how this wife found out about the affair – her husband lost his job.  So not only was there the infidelity that destroyed the marriage, suddenly the financial picture of the family was devastated, and suddenly her whole world exploded and imploded.  And as they began to work through some of these issues one step at a time, it took them several years to finally get back on track with his career, et cetera.  But, through it all, she – and she was on the verge of leaving him.  She actually moved out.  She moved in with her parents, took the two kids, they lost their home, and they were destitute.

And it was very difficult for her to admit she'd done much wrong because everybody said she was the perfect wife, it was the perfect marriage, but there was a very narrow component where this school administrator had an affinity with this teacher that was in a world apart from what his wife was involved in.  And her – that woman – that teacher's affirmation and accommodation, all that kind of stuff we talked about, really built that relationship between the two of them.

And, finally, when he was able to identify that to her and to approach it as it was not about our marriage, it's not about you, it was about me and my need for affection, my need for affirmation, my need for adoration, I succumbed.  And that woman that I got involved with, was better at seducing me than I was at saying no.  And when he finally said that to her in a session, it was, like, finally, you know, I can begin to understand that you really do understand what you did and how you did and why you did it.  And I do think people send out signals, and I think he was sending out signals, and I think this woman picked up on it, and took him to task.

Bob: But over the long haul, working through a lot of what you've outlined in your book, with the determination that this couple wanted to do what was right before the Lord, they not only got to a point where they were able to reestablish their relationship, but have you kept in touch with them?  Do you know what their marriage is like today?

Dave: That marriage is doing great.  They have a ministry to couples in their church who are going through this experience.  I told them, I said, "You work on this, and you say the 2 Corinthians 1, 3, and 4 says God will bring to you couples who need exactly what you have to offer and what you've experienced.  He's not going to waste this recovery process just on you alone." 

And they didn't believe it.  And then couples started showing up right and left, and they've got a great ministry and, of course, they don't take anything from anybody because they've been there.  They're just like an AA guy.  You know, he's been drunk, he knows what it's like.

Bob: That passage you referenced is such a powerful passage – "that the God of all comfort will comfort you and then you can take the comfort you've received from Him, and you can minister that same comfort to others."  And what a powerful message of redemption that is.  You know, most people want to run and hide from it.  God wants to take it and unleash ministry through it.  And we need to rejoice in that opportunity.

Dennis: We really do, and there's one aspect of this whole process of an affair and recovering from an affair that we haven't talked about, Dave.  It's that of how an affair is really a fantasy relationship.  It's not a reality-based relationship, and I want you to comment on that in just a moment.

But I just want to turn to our audience, Bob, and I want to challenge them to get this book and the workbook, and there may be some who are listening who have recovered from an affair and who have rebuilt trust, and their marriage is strong enough now to begin to take on the responsibility, like Dave was talking about, of passing on to other couples what they've learned in their church.  And I'm going to tell you, the church is a great place for this healing and redemption to occur.

Bob: Those couples ought to look at getting a dozen copies of the book and a dozen coies of the workbook, and when they hear about a couple where adultery has surfacedin the relationship, they can go knock on their door and say, "You know what?  We've been through that.  God has done a work in our marriage, and He can do a work in your marriage, too, and we want to give you this book and this workbook, and we'd be willing to go through it with you.  I mean, you talk about a way to engage folks and have some significant ministry in their lives, that's a powerful statement to make.

Of course, we've got copies of both the book and the workbook in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  Go to our website,, and the information about the book and the workbook are both available there.  Again, the website is and then let me encourage you – and this is, really, for every couple who is listening – whether your marriage is in a good place or it's in a rocky spot.  Let me encourage you to get out and spend a weekend together at one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences this spring.  We still have two or three dozen conferences taking place in cities all across the country this spring, and if you call us today to register, and you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, and you secure one registration at the regular price, we're going to give you a second registration free.  So you register for yourself, and your spouse comes along with you at no additional cost.

We really want to encourage couples to get a marriage tuneup, no matter what shape your marriage is in, you need to invest in your relationship with one another.  Get away for a weekend, relax, have fun, laugh, enjoy being together.  You'll learn, you'll grow, and you'll connect in a way that you haven't connected in a while.

If you want to take advantage of the special offer we're talking about, again, you have to go online at or call 1-800-FLTODAY and register before the end of the month.  You have to identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener.  So if you're registering online, when you come to the keycode box on the registration form, just type in my name, "Bob," or call 1-800-FLTODAY, and mention that you're a FamilyLife Today listener, and if you've got any questions, or you need to know dates and locations, the information is on the website at or just give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY, and we hope you'll plan to take advantage of this special offer and get to one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences this spring.  Dennis?

Dennis: You know, Bob, as you were sharing about the book and the workbook, I couldn't help but think this has been an interesting week.  I wanted to say it was a great week, but to talk about the subject of affairs and rebuilding after an affair – well, it really can be a great experience for couples to move out of sin back to life.  And, Dave, first of all, I want to thank you again for being on the broadcast and for your work on this book, and there's two things I want to do before the broadcast is over today.

The first is I want you to comment on how affairs are really a fantasy relationship that is not real.

Dave: Well, we say about infidelity that it's also a three-legged stool.  It's composed of childhood magic, adolescent sexuality, and adult mobility.  Meaning that it's a bubble experience, and the childhood magic stuff – you see a couple that are having an affair, you can see they're in a bubble.  They're separated from the real world.  There is that adolescent passion and feeling, and there's that adult mobility – they can go anywhere that they want.  They have discretionary funds they spend on each other.  So it's an artificial thing, but, but – I do say to couples, most marriages need what most affairs are all about.  And by that I mean you need to build those three components into your marriage – the childhood magic stuff – just us in our little bubble away from all the responsibilities of life, away from all the responsibilities of the children and the career, the adolescent sexuality, the fun, the playfulness we had when we first got married, the passion we had before we were married.  We couldn't keep our hands off each other.  It was a constant struggle.  And that adult mobility where you go your own separate ways, you take trips together, you do your own thing, and you really have a lot of fun doing it.

Bob: You're saying have an affair in your marriage.

Dave: Have an affair in your marriage.

Dennis: Well, he said it, Bob.

Bob: Amen.

Dennis: Here is my challenge to the audience – at the end of the week, there still is a man or a woman who have listened to us, and the challenge to you is fear God and turn away from evil.  Choose you this day whom you will serve.  We have listeners that are all over the chart – healthy marriages, discontented marriages, tempted in their marriage to have an affair, but we have another group who are in affairs, who need to decide now.  And I want to ask you, Dave, I want you to pray at the conclusion of this series.  We've talked about this all week.  We've pleaded with our listening audience to turn back to Jesus Christ.  Would you pray for that person who still is ensnared but who needs to get out of a trap and move toward the restoration and healing we've talked about over the past couple of days?

Dave: Sure, I'll be glad to.  Father, I do pray for that person listening to the broadcast; that you would, first of all, give them hope.  Many times they can't see a way out.  Every avenue that lies before them is disaster.  So, Father, give them hope that You will walk with them through this journey.  Give them courage to take the first step and, Father, bring them along to the light.  And may they experience the wonderful freedom and restoration that's in Jesus Christ.  May they be forthright and honest with themselves and before you and to their spouse, and, Father, may their marriage be a great testimony of God's great grace.  We ask in Jesus' name, amen.

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.   

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