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Tool #6 to Rebuild Trust in Your Marriage: Use Your Powers for Good

By Samuel Rainey

First posted on

Note from Dennis: This post is part of a six-part series by my son, Samuel, on rebuilding trust in marriage. Samuel is a professional counselor and, with his wife Stephanie, is part of the speaker team for FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. This series offers great help from a man who has helped many couples in their marriage. 

by Samuel Rainey

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” ~ Genesis 1:27 (NIV)

When I was six, my favorite superhero was He-Man, the most powerful hero in the universe. I dreamed of being him. I would transform myself from the scrawny little kid, put my play-sword in the neck of my shirt on my back (just like He-Man did), and prepare myself for battle. When the villains (my sisters) attacked my pillow fort, I’d wield the sword and defeat the vicious enemies.

This was one of the first versions of “cops and robbers” that I remember playing with my siblings.

As we grew older, the story continuously changed, but the plot was always the same: There was a good guy and a bad guy. I don’t remember how old I was, but at some point I wondered what it would be like if the bad guy won the battle.

Sometimes I’d play the part of the villain and would win by not “letting” the good guys defeat me. But I never felt good about winning. Especially when it caused actual harm to my siblings or whoever else I was playing with. Winning has a cost.

Unfortunately winning at any cost is a common refrain of many adult relationships. Especially in our intimate ones. You can either be right, or you can be love. You can’t do both. Jesus addressed this idea in Matthew 6:24 when he said that you cannot serve two masters. Being right and being love are two opposing objectives.

Using your powers for good is the tool that integrates rebuilding trust to both parties. The first five tools are one sided in that the responsibility of using them is by the offender. This tool brings the responsibility to both parties. The offended person often feels like they have a right to dole out consequences, be angry or hurt. This can lead to self-righteousness and create a barrier preventing forgiveness.

The only way that trust can be restored is for both parties to be in service of love, not of being right.

Being right is about winning. Making sure that you come out on top. It’s winning at any cost, which means there has to be a loser. This is a “me first” stance, and this is in direct opposition to the posture of love. As I said earlier, this applies especially in an intimate relationship. Loving someone means that you hold your needs, wants, and desires in consideration of the other person.

Unlike the rest of the created world, one of the most fundamental powers that we have is language. Words shine light on the internal thoughts, feelings, and experiences we have. Words have power. Once something is spoken, you cannot take it back.

Your words have the power to build and to destroy. Your actions can bless, and they can curse.

Your unique, God-given ability to speak can be a gift and it can be a burden. Life is full of tensions like this. We reflect something of the image of God when we use the power of our words for good.

He-Man could have used his sword, and other powers, in service of something other than the good of the universe. But he chose to use his sword to save the planet from the evil bad guys. You have this same ability in you: What will you serve with your words? Being right, or being love?

Your words can rebuild the trust, or they can erode and destroy.

When I got married, my dad gave me an Excalibur sword modeled after the mythical sword King Arthur used. It weighs almost eight pounds and is over three feet in length. Every time I pick it up I am struck with how difficult it must have been to wield this sword in battle. It must have taken a tremendous amount of training to learn how to properly use it.

A warrior would need to be efficient with this sword to avoid becoming exhausted swinging it around wildly. They would also need practice to know how it could be used offensively, and defensively. And I’m guessing for it to be a precise weapon, they would need to feel like the sword was an extension of their arm.

Going into a battle without practicing or learning how to use a powerful weapon like this would be foolish and fatal. The same is true for us going into the process of rebuilding trust and our words.

Learn how to use your words in service of love. How to defend the other person, not yourself. How to cut with precision those barriers or walls that are standing in the way of restoration. And how to efficiently speak, when necessary. Regardless if you are the offended or offender, use the power of your words for healing, not destruction.

Using your power for good ...

Builds in You: HumilityHelps others trust in your: Gifts and limits

Conclusion: The Process

The six tools I’ve presented in this series are all incredibly useful on their own in rebuilding trust in a marriage relationship. But they are tremendously healing when they are bundled together as a process to follow.

Remember that practice makes progress (not perfect). Progress in your ability to own your mistakes, tell the truth and delay gratification. When you mess up, go to the top of the list of tools and practice owning your mistake!

Be very careful to not consider a mistake as “backsliding.” You haven’t returned to square one. Growth is not linear, so there is no beginning or end to our need for growth and transformation.

Mistakes are going to happen, even in your best attempts at following this process. This is why it’s so important to know that you can always get back on the right track by returning to step one, own your mistakes.

Here’s how this process looked for Rashad and Susanna (who I’ve discussed throughout this series) when they had an unfortunate conflict about a purchase she made.

Six or seven weeks after starting to work with me, Susanna spent $30 at Amazon and forgot to tell Rashad about it. Later that week he got home and saw an Amazon box on the front steps of their home. Was she overspending again? Exasperated, he went to confront her about it.

With some sternness and quite a bit of anger in his voice, Rashad asked what the box was.

Immediately Susanna felt guilt and shame. She wanted to defend herself by saying she forgot, and for a moment thought about telling an outright lie. Because she had been practicing the trust rebuilding process, she was able delay those impulses and tell him that it was some new makeup she wanted.

“I forgot to talk to you about it, and I’m sorry,” Susanna said. “I messed up. I know my forgetting probably hurts you because it looks like I was hiding it. Like I have done so many times in the past.”

Before she said all of this, he was planning on saying, “I can’t believe you’d do this to me again!” But upon hearing Susanna’s humility and ownership, Rashad couldn’t say that because she clearly understood what she had done.

He paused and reflected on what she’d just said. He told her that this felt like a step backwards and that he needed some time to process it. She replied, “I understand. Let me know when you’re ready to talk more, and let me know how I can make it right.”

In counseling that next week, Rashad told me this story. He smiled at the end, and then reached across the couch to where Susanna was sitting and grabbed her hand. It was clear to me, and to them, that trust was being rebuilt.

Regardless of where you are in your relationship of broken trust, this process can provide a path forward.

As you attempt to rebuild trust in your relationship, remember that no one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes compound the original issues of the broken trust, and that's not okay. But it will one day be okay.

A mentor of mine shared with me a formula that encompasses the entire process of human growth. It is: Time + Consistency + Grace = Change. Rashad and Susanna followed this process, and you can too. Change will happen. It might not look like you want, but you cannot do something consistently over time with grace and not see change.

All of us know the pain of broken trust. The pain that we have caused, and the pain that has been done to us. Hopefully you will come to know and grow in the joy of forgiving others and, more importantly, being the one who has been forgiven.

Samuel Rainey, son of Barbara and Dennis Rainey, is a marriage and family therapist. He and his wife Stephanie have four kids.

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