How Can I Build Trust in a Relationship?
Last updated on July 5, 2023
“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most
An essential ingredient in effective
Communication. It’s the foundational
The principle that holds all relationships"
Stephen. R. Covey (Author and Educator)
As the above quote eludes, trust is fundamental in establishing a healthy, successful relationship. This could be a business, friendship, or serious (love) relationship. Trust has a massive impact on all of these. Without trust, you enter into a relationship always fearing the worst and wondering when, not if, things will go wrong. The Cambridge Dictionary defines trust as the following:
- "To believe that someone is good and honest and will not harm you, or that something is safe and reliable"
- "To hope and expect that something is true"
- "To have confidence in something, or to believe in someone"
Ultimately, to trust someone is to have the belief that they will always be there for you, support you and never make you feel undermined or hurt. It is also the belief that they will never lie to you or mislead you in any way. Almost half (48%) of people in a recent study believe that finding someone trustworthy is the most important aspect of establishing a new relationship.
In order to fully understand how to build trust in a relationship we must first understand why some people find it hard to trust others in the first place. Only when we have a good understanding of the reason for distrust can we ensure we know how to build trust. In other words, we develop an understanding of the signs that trust is being lost or picked away at so that we can better understand how to build trust.
What Causes People to Find It Hard to Trust Others?
Trusting another person can be exceptionally hard to do. This difficulty to trust others does not always stem from the actions of our partner. Many people believe that a lack or loss of trust always comes from infidelity or dishonesty. This is not always the case. Trust issues can arise from a number of experiences. Here we look at a few in more detail as understanding the potential causes can help develop the knowledge of how to build trust.
1. Childhood Experiences
Our first loves are, more often than not, our parents. We learn so much from them and love them unconditionally. Despite this, how our parents behave can have an adverse effect on our future selves and cause us to find it hard to trust others. If a parent lacks trust in their child, fails to keep promises, or delivers inconsistent responses to things it can produce a lack of trust. The child will grow up to believe that there is no consistency and that what someone says they will do is not always going to happen. There are also more extreme breaches of a child’s trust that can leave life-changing, unseen scars. Either of the aforementioned experiences can cause a child to grow into an adult that will either expect betrayals to happen or cause a person to lack the ability to accurately assess how trustworthy someone is. If you realize that you have trust issues it could be worth looking back on your life, seeing if there could be any triggers, and seeking help. If your partner demonstrates trust issues you may want to dig deeper into their past. Have an open, honest conversation and see if there are experiences from the past that need addressing.
2. Mismatched Views
Do we always have to agree with our partner for our relationship to be healthy? No, of course not but there are times when particular differences can cause the trust to be lost, or dented. It has been proven that couples who share the same core values feel more fulfilled, loved, and trusted (and trusting). However, if in a relationship you both have different core values or prioritize different values this can lead to a breakdown in trust. With similar values, you cannot share a similar view of where your relationship is going which in turn causes each of you to lose trust in the other.
3. Attachment Style
It has been said that we all have different ways of relating to our partners. These are described by Professor of Psychology, Chris Fraley, as secure or insecure. It is said that people learn what a relationship looks like from their parents and caregivers and that we take these observations into adulthood. So, if someone had a parent who was unavailable (emotionally) they will more than likely grow to need a lot of reassurance and deep intimacy. Unfortunately, people who are insecurely attached often attract each other. Lack of trust develops because you have two anxious people trying to establish a relationship while being terrified of losing the other one. They both end up seeing something in the other person that they are missing which increases the anxiety.
Now, this may seem obvious but if you discover there has been infidelity you are likely to lose all trust in your partner. We are certainly not justifying such behavior but it can be possible that infidelity arises out of unmet needs unless the cheater has no feelings for their partner, is a serial cheater, or has a problem. If one person's needs are not met, whether personally or at work, they will look elsewhere which causes the trust to falter. If someone feels they are not listened to when speaking about their needs they will lose their trust in their partner, causing even more problems.
5. Unrealistic Expectations
Trust in a relationship is established when both people have the same, or at least very similar, expectations. However, there are times when one, or both, of you, has expectations that can never be reached. These unrealistic expectations often stem from one of two starting points. The first is that the desires, needs, and expectations are not talked about and there is just an assumption that the other person knows how you feel. When this happens neither of you are aware of what the other expects from the relationship. Not knowing what the other person wants or expects causes a lack of trust as they do not respond in a way that is first thought. The second issue here is when one partner expects the relationship to be like a Hollywood movie or a fairytale. While these may look good on the big screen they are not achievable expectations. This can cause pressure in a relationship which leads to trust being lost. It is also worth mentioning that control in a relationship can cause a loss of trust. If one partner appears to always try to influence or control the other they will lose their partner’s trust as their partner will start to question the intentions of their love.
6. Toxicity Fuelled by Insecurities
It is quite obvious that a toxic relationship is not a healthy thing and can lead to a lack of trust. Your relationship should enrich both your lives and make you happy. If there is a constant hindrance to this or you both argue all of the time then trust will not have the most beneficial environment in which to grow. However, toxic relationships tend to form when one or both partners have doubts or insecurities. These doubts or insecurities about the relationship promote instability and a lack of trust in your partner. This then leads to a lack of dependability on the other person and produces a relationship where you always doubt your partner's actions, intentions, and abilities.
7. Fear of Rejection
Most of us have been through this at some point in our lives but most of the time it is when we are looking for love that we fear rejection most. However, it is still something that causes a lot of trust issues within a successful relationship. Fear can have an impact on a person's behavior and personality. When this fear arrives it causes the person to doubt themselves and their partner. They then live in fear that, at any moment, their partner will reject them or do something to destroy the relationship. No one can live like this and it will eventually lead to you not trusting your partner at all.
8. Feeling Validated/ Valued
Whether at work or in our personal lives we all like to feel important, validated, and valued. It feels amazing to receive compliments and who should we receive most of these from? Yes, our partner. However, if your relationship has a large void in this area and you are deprived of appreciation and compliments you may begin to question your bond. When the bond in a relationship begins to fade you start to lose trust in your partner more and more. The lack of compliments and the lack of appreciation will begin to cause you to doubt your partner’s feelings and ultimately lead you to find it very difficult to trust them.
9. Complacency or Neglectful Behavior
Every relationship is an investment into the future of two people. You create a bond that you both hope will last forever. However, some people get comfortable in a relationship and complacency creeps in. When this happens trust is lost as their complacency presents itself as not caring, not as passionate, or not as invested as before. Often it is not complacency but neglect that causes a lack of trust, but this neglect can be caused by complacent behavior. If one person is not giving any consideration or attention to their partner it is neglectful behaviour. Neglect causes the perfect environment for insecurities and doubts to grow which leads to a breakdown of trust. Without recognition from their partner, a person begins to lose trust in their partner’s true feelings or commitment to the relationship.
10. A Need for Control
Now, this causes mistrust in two ways. Most of the time this need for control stems from a fear of being hurt but ultimately it causes a lack of trust to build. The person who is controlling shows that they have no trust in their partner and so must control all aspects of their lives. In turn, the controlled partner begins to lose trust as they cannot be themselves around their partner.
11. Fear of Being Hurt
If we are all honest we have all felt scared of being hurt by our partners at least once. Most of the time this fear stems from actually being hurt in the past. Fear can lead to unreasonable behavior such as constant questioning and doubts. The fearful partner’s doubts and insecurities cause them to suspect their partner (wrongly) and therefore lose trust in their partner. The more secure partner may start to lose trust as the constant doubting and questions may lead them to believe their partner has something to hide.
Jealousy is one of the most influential aspects when it comes to trust being tested, lessened, or even destroyed completely. When someone is jealous of their partner, for whatever reason, they will often have very little trust that their partner’s actions or intentions are honorable. When you are jealous you do not believe what your partner says or you will intentionally look for reasons to be jealous or reasons to not trust them. If your partner gives you reasons to be jealous then it is completely understandable that your trust will be tested. Just make sure to have all the facts before allowing your jealousy to kick in, you do not want to make a mistake!
On the face of it, it may seem that there is an endless list of reasons for trust to be tested, strained, or broken in a relationship. However, a lot of the above issues can be quashed early into a relationship through an open and honest discussion. In fact, most of the above issues can be solved through having a conversation and both parties being completely honest and open about their feelings, actions, and emotions.
We will now look into how you can build trust in a relationship. Some people find this difficult, especially if their trust has been destroyed in the past.
The Building Blocks of Trust
- Open, honest, and full of integrity. It is important in any relationship, whether business or pleasure, that you are honest and have integrity. In order to fully establish a relationship built on a solid foundation of trust you need to be open and honest with your partner. You need to make sure that you both have amicable conversations about issues that arise and that you both feel secure enough to bring up sensitive issues, knowing that you will be treated with respect. All of this will require you to have an in-depth understanding of yourself and face parts of your personality that you may not like. Having a better understanding of yourself will enable you to have more trust in your own thoughts, values, feelings, emotions, etc. If you not only understand yourself in this way but also live with integrity it makes you a person that can be trusted. In order to build trust in a relationship you need to follow the aforementioned values, be honest about this and stick with your principles. Live with integrity and your partner will not only respect this but, hopefully (!), return the sentiment.
- Avoid defensive behavior. If we are all honest, we all find criticism or negative feedback about something very difficult to take, especially when it comes from someone we love. We often become defensive which causes arguments as our partner does not feel listened to or that their opinions or feelings are not respected. Communication is key to any successful relationship. In order to build trust you need to learn to be less defensive. You need to have a more realistic view of yourself, and your partner and you need to be open to hearing any feedback, whether positive or negative. In order to build trust you need to look for any slither of truth in feedback or criticism you get from your partner. This will make you more likely to embrace the issue at hand rather than immediately arguing back. During this, you may discover that you are open to discussing some subjects but very sensitive about others. Rather than avoiding these subjects or becoming defensive about them, you need to be able to talk about them. If your partner already knows these are touchy subjects but you are able to talk about them they will not only respect you more but trust you further. In many long-term relationships, each partner will know subjects that are sensitive and, more often than not, avoid them. While this may protect your partner, and yourself, it can cause a lack of trust and build tension. In short, do not become defensive when facing criticism, respect your partner’s feelings and be open to discussing sensitive issues.
You need to be understanding. It is almost impossible to find a partner that is exactly the same as you. By nature we, as human beings, all differ in small (or some big) ways. However, many people search for a partner that is exactly the same as them. This could be in terms of having the same interests, same likes, and dislikes to having the same long-term life goals, values, and principles. The truth of it is that it is highly unlikely we will find someone exactly the same as us. You need to embrace, accept and appreciate the differences between you both. If you allow these differences to become a problem and degenerate into disagreements you are establishing an environment that harbors mistrust. In order for your partner to trust you, you need to see them as an individual, respect the fact they have their own opinions and views, and fully embrace their uniqueness. If you allow your differences to cause a division in your relationship or use them as a way of criticizing your partner they will not only lose respect for you but also begin to lose their trust in you.
Communication is the key — in any form of relationship, whether personal or work-related, communication is fundamental in that relationship not only surviving but also thriving and progressing in the way that it should. However, there are times when we avoid communicating directly about something, such as wishes or desires, for fear of upsetting the other person. Instead, we drop little hints or avoid the subject completely. Instead of doing this we should be open, honest, and direct about our feelings, hopes, and desires as well as our emotional state. Become more aware of your actions and your words. If you notice there are differences between the two then you need to make a change. If you and your partner communicate in a more direct way you will enhance the trust between you. While it is difficult, you need to be more straightforward about how you feel or what you desire. Yes, this will leave you more vulnerable but it will also demonstrate how you are more open with your love and desire to be loved. This builds trust as your partner will see how difficult it is to be so upfront about your desires and will trust you more for taking such a leap.
Giving the benefit of the doubt. We all know how it feels… you and your partner begin to fall out over something and neither of you will budge. More often than not this is down to past experiences, that time you said “I believe you, it's okay” or that you accepted something without question and it backfired later on. However, neither of you is able to read the other’s mind. You cannot know what they are thinking or how they are feeling. If you have concerns it is important that you raise them or ask questions but make sure you do so in a respectful way that is not seen as an attack. You must remember to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Your partner will only have complete trust in you if you listen to what they say and give them the benefit of the doubt. If they do the same for you, you will both be able to broach uncomfortable situations with trust that your partner will listen, understand and respect you.
Boundaries in a relationship build trust — Whenever we enter into a new relationship we want to spend as much time as possible with our partner. You go everywhere together and when you are apart you spend most of your time messaging the other. However, over time you learn to be apart from each other or that it is okay to spend time either alone or with other people. It is important to discuss your limits and boundaries early in a relationship. It is not only important to have boundaries but to accept that you will not only have but will also need time apart. It is okay for you both to be away from each other, whether with others or alone. If you both “allow” this separation you will trust each other more as you are happy for each other to be “out of sight” of the other person. This only works if you do not become unnecessarily suspicious of the other or begin interrogating them about their whereabouts, who they were with, and what they did. Obviously, you will show interest in their activity but you must respect their answers and not assume that they are lying to you. If you set the boundaries early on, such as saying that he will play golf every Sunday morning with his friend while she will play tennis with hers on a Friday evening, you are establishing trust while giving yourselves time away. This time away also gives you something else to talk about!
Making mistakes and admitting to it — from a very young age we often find it very difficult to own up to making a mistake. As a child, we would probably be punished whether we owned up or not and this has a knock-on effect on later life. The truth will always come out sooner or later so if you make a mistake, own up to it. If you take too long to do this you will create bitterness and mistrust. Admitting your mistakes shows your partner you are truly sorry and they will trust you more for this. However, despite your good intentions, admitting to a mistake may still cause hurt. Take the blame in a mature manner which will show your partner you’re truly sorry rather than admitting something to avoid discomfort later on.
To conclude, trust is one of the most fundamental aspects of any successful relationship. Trust helps to preserve the love and affection that partner feels towards each other throughout the entirety of the relationship. If you establish a relationship built on mutual trust from the outset you and your partner will be able to overcome any issue you may face through open discussion, mutual respect, and honesty. In short, build trust, build it fast, and build it strong.
- Chris Melore — a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York area. "When trust isn’t broken: Average person has 5 people they can truly lean on for anything";
- Rachael Pace — Expert Blogger "15 Reasons for Lack of Trust in a Relationship";
- American Psychological Association "Relationship satisfaction and similarity of personality traits, personal values, and attitudes.";
- R. Chris Fraley "Adult Attachment Theory and Research";
- Joyce Catlett, M.A., author, and lecturer "Trust Issues: Why Is It So Hard for Some People to Trust?".