Are you wondering how to build trust in your relationship? That's good because trust is one of the most essential building blocks in a healthy, happy relationship.
Maybe you feel as though you’ve hit a wall with your partner. There’s more to learn about him or her, but something is blocking your access to their deepest self.
Maybe the person you love has been through some rough times with other relationships. Trusting others has led to betrayal and pain, so why should this relationship be any different?
Knowing how to build trust in a relationship is one thing; working at it day by day is another.
But you hope to rewrite your loved one’s expectations and allay their fears.
To build trust, you’ll have to go above and beyond what comes naturally. Because this person has been hurt before by other ordinary mortals, you’ll have to be extraordinary in your efforts to build a trusting relationship.
So, what should you focus on?
Why Is Trust in a Relationship Important?
In order for two people to have a deeply satisfying relationship, both have to be able to open themselves up to the other. Both have to be willing to be vulnerable to the other.
But if you don’t trust the other person (or vice-versa), making yourself vulnerable to him or her feels a bit like exposing your neck to a hungry wolf. It doesn’t make sense, and it’ll most likely lead to pain and regret.
Even little things in the heat of a moment can sabotage the trust you worked for months to build:
If you want to build a relationship that nurtures you both at the deepest level, mutual trust is essential. Without it, your relationship will remain in “safe mode” — like a computer restarting after an unexpected shut-down.
And while you want the other person to feel safe, you know that the kind of relationship you want involves risk. We’re not meant to be satisfied with superficial relationships.
But to go beyond that, both parties have to work at cultivating trust – both in themselves and in the other person.
- Why Is Trust in a Relationship Important?
- How to Build Trust in a Relationship
- 1. Be honest.
- 2. Say what you’re going to do and do it.
- 3. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
- 4. Communicate with clarity.
- 5. Don’t make threats.
- 6. Listen to understand.
- 7. Live with integrity.
- 8. Don’t rush to judgment.
- 9. Make a habit of doing the right thing.
- 10. Acknowledge and make amends for your mistakes.
- 11. Make forgiveness a daily habit.
- 12. Be increasingly vulnerable.
- 13. Always show respect.
- 14. Learn to express your true feelings.
- 15. Give and receive equally.
- How Do You Build Back Trust in a Relationship?
- It’s not too late to trust again.
How to Build Trust in a Relationship
How do you build trust in a relationship that's new or one in which one or both partners have trust issues?
Building trust isn't an overnight endeavor. It requires careful, tender, and compassionate efforts from both people. One deceit or breech of trust can set your relationship back and undermine emotional intimacy between you.
Let's look at what it takes to create a solid foundation of trust that can grow as your relationship matures and becomes stronger.
1. Be honest.
This should be a fairly obvious candidate for the top eleven ways to build trust. Being honest with yourself, though, is just as important as (if not more than) telling the truth when a loved one asks you a question.
When you’re lying to yourself, you might not realize it until you see the look on the face of a witness who knows you. And when challenged to defend the lie, it gets harder when the one challenging you knows you well enough to see the conflict between what you’re saying and what you truly believe.
If you can be dishonest with yourself, you can also be dishonest with others. If you tell yourself the truth even when it costs you, you’re also more likely to be truthful with others. And those who can trust you to do so are more likely to reveal their true selves to you.
2. Say what you’re going to do and do it.
When you commit to doing something (especially if you’re doing that something for someone else) make your commitment clear and then do it. Hold yourself accountable and allow others — particularly those affected by your actions — to help keep you on track.
If you want others to trust you, let them see your ability to follow through and finish what you start — unless you come to an agreement that finishing a particular project isn’t in anyone’s best interests.
Building trust in a relationship is hard enough without broken commitments. So, either don’t commit at all or go all in.
3. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
If you’re in the habit of making promises and then breaking them, don’t be surprised if no one trusts you to keep your word — even if the excuses you give every time you break a promise are “understandable.”
Better to underpromise and overdeliver. It works as well for personal relationships as for customer service.
If your significant other wants you to commit to driving them somewhere, be upfront and admit that a prior commitment may make it impossible. Better to surprise them by showing up in time to drive them than to have to call them at the last minute to cancel.
If you make the promise and can't follow through at the last minute, the window of opportunity to find someone else to drive them has probably closed (detrimental reliance). So they’re depending on you to show up in time, which makes your broken promise all the costlier for them — and all the harder to forget.
4. Communicate with clarity.
One way to sabotage trust is to use ambiguous language to reach an agreement and then to exploit a loophole for your own benefit.
It’s deceitful, and no matter how clever you are at getting what you want, if others feel tricked or cheated by your ambiguity, you’ve lost more than you’ve won.
If you want someone to trust you, use clear language that leaves no loopholes for you to exploit, and then do exactly what your words commit you to.
5. Don’t make threats.
Even idle threats can wreak havoc on trust in relationships.
Don’t try to scare people into submission, because while it might get their attention the first few times, the shock wears off, and they’re left with the impression that you’ll say anything — no matter how outrageous — to manipulate or to punish them — and that's emotional abuse.
You don’t need threats (idle or otherwise) to get your point across. And if your loved ones can’t trust you to mean what you say or to say what you mean, they won’t know when they can safely trust the words that come out of your mouth.
6. Listen to understand.
One of the biggest problems with the way we communicate in relationships is that, too often, we listen not to understand, but to reply. We listen for weaknesses in the other’s position, so we can exploit those weaknesses.
We listen for triggers and for reasons to use one of our favorite responses. We forget to look beyond the words to the person speaking them.
It’s just easier to look for ways to win an argument than to put our egos aside and focus on what the other person needs from us. But this is not the way to build trust.
When you have a conversation, spend more time listening to understand the other. When it’s your turn to talk, choose the words that will communicate genuine interest in the other person’s perspective and ideas.
Don’t try to explain yourself, justify your actions, or prove yourself right. Whatever you “win” with your verbal gymnastics, it’s not worth the trust you’re forfeiting.
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7. Live with integrity.
If you honor someone or extol something in public but your private words and actions say something else, you are not a person of integrity. You might have a future in politics, but trusting relationships will remain out of your reach.
Integrity costs you something. You have to consistently speak and act in a way that communicates the values you claim to hold dear, and that’s not something you can phone in or fake.
But if you’re willing to consciously work toward cultivating integrity, you’ll also be well on your way to showing others you can be trusted.
8. Don’t rush to judgment.
When your partner's words or actions in a particular circumstance are different from your own, it’s too easy to take it personally
Sometimes, if you’ve already formed a strong opinion about how someone should handle a situation, any contrary response feels like a personal attack, even if the situation isn’t like any you’ve been in before.
If you want to know how to gain trust in a relationship, though, don’t jump to conclusions about the other person’s intentions or their words and actions.
You don’t know the internal context for their actions, so stop judging them by your own internal context. Assigning your own meanings to their words and actions ensures you won’t see them for what they are.
And rushing to judgment tells the other person that your own feelings matter more to you than understanding theirs.
9. Make a habit of doing the right thing.
A one-off good deed isn’t enough. If you want your person to trust you, you’ll have to make a habit of doing the right thing. Your consistency is what will communicate your commitment to doing the right thing even when it costs you.
Maybe you’ll have one-off mistakes now and then, but it’s easier to forgive those than to take one-off good deeds as evidence of reformation.
The more care you take to avoid those mistakes, though, the sooner you’ll build the kind of trust that can withstand the inevitable challenges to it.
10. Acknowledge and make amends for your mistakes.
Don’t be too proud to apologize and ask forgiveness when you’ve hurt someone. Call your misdeeds or hurtful words what they are (without “but” statements to explain or justify them), and do what you can to make amends for your mistakes.
Have compassion on yourself, knowing you’re a work in progress. Don’t let your ego get in the way of reconciling with someone you’ve hurt. You don’t have to be right — or in the right — all the time.
It’s better to give yourself permission to acknowledge what you did wrong, to apologize and make amends, and to move on.
I include “make amends,” because while your partner benefits from accepting your sincere apology, they’re under no obligation to pretend that what you did was okay or that it didn’t matter or cost anything. Do what you can to atone for the damage done.
11. Make forgiveness a daily habit.
Forgiving even small “trespasses” makes a difference. Forgiving large offenses is life-changing.
Spend some time each morning forgiving someone – or a few someones – for something that’s (still) bothering you. Don’t carry that with you throughout the day; when you release that burden, it makes every other load easier to carry. And it releases that energy for better uses.
More importantly, though, your ability to forgive makes it easier for your loved ones to trust that you will love them even when they make mistakes.
12. Be increasingly vulnerable.
When you are first involved with someone, you don't reveal your darkest secrets and deepest fears. You want to put your best foot forward without risking he or she will scram once the truth comes out.
It takes time to feel safe with another person and know that they will hold your confidences and revelations with dignity and compassion. And if you want that kind of acceptance and compassion from the other person, you must offer it yourself as well.
You must invite your partner to feel safe opening up without fear of judgment or rejection. These things will take some time, as you both see the other person accepting and caring despite your flaws, insecurities, or past baggage.
13. Always show respect.
Nothing undermines trust more than having your special person diminish you in some way. Harsh criticism, condescension, and unkind words make you wonder if your Dr. Jekyll has been masking a Mr. or Ms. Hyde.
Even during conflict (and maybe especially so), you both need to treat one another with consideration and care. A baseline of mutual respect is necessary to maintain trust and the security that you're not going to be thrown under the bus unexpectedly.
14. Learn to express your true feelings.
An emotionally intimate relationship requires a safe space between you in which you both can express your true feelings. If one of you holds back for fear the other will lash out or leave, then trust goes out the window.
It's often uncomfortable to say things like, “I'm not happy with our sex life,” or “I need more from you.” But the freedom to say these difficult things allows you to build a more trusting and honest connection.
You may need to discuss how you approach these difficult conversations in a way that doesn't feel threatening or hurtful to either of you. Have this discussion before these issues come up so you both know how to handle them.
15. Give and receive equally.
If one partner feels he or she is putting in more effort and giving more in the relationship than the other, then trust will be compromised. It's hard to trust someone who doesn't seem as invested in the connection as you do.
Giving and receiving isn't related to material things but rather to time, emotional energy, nurturing, and sharing. An imbalance in these things makes the relationship feel one-sided with the giver never feeling he or she can trust the partner to step up.
Sometimes a relationship can fall out of balance this way when one person is naturally more expressive or communicative and takes charge of the relationship. In this case, it's up to the giver to become more comfortable receiving and invite the receiver to participate more in giving.
How Do You Build Back Trust in a Relationship?
How do you trust someone who has betrayed your trust? If your partner has cheated on you or done something else significant to break your trust, the process of regaining it can be daunting and painful.
Somewhere along the line, one or more of the other trust factors outlined above have been neglected or never practiced — by the betrayer and perhaps the one betrayed. There's a reason this big breech occurred, and getting to the bottom of that reason is the most essential first step.
- Why did one partner betray the other?
- Why would he or she jeopardize the relationship with this behavior or choice?
- What's going on in the relationship that might have contributed to this betrayal?
Figuring out the answers to these questions and addressing the underlying issues is a process that's best handled with the guidance of a therapist. Ongoing couple's therapy is critical throughout the healing process to rebuild trust and security in the relationship.
Beyond therapy, there are other actions couples can take to rebuild trust.
16. Practice rigorous honesty and full disclosure.
The betrayed partner needs to feel completely secure that the betrayer is being honest and forthright in all things. Even white lies can undermine the confidence of the betrayed partner, as he or she may extrapolate that small lies suggest bigger ones.
Offer as much information upfront as possible, and if your partner wants details, give them — even at the risk of hurting him or her further.
The betrayer can't hold back on parts of the betrayal that are uncomfortable. Slowly dripping out details or not disclosing them until the other partner finds out sabotages any hope of building trust.
17. Be radically transparent — for a time.
For a period of time, the betrayer needs to open his or her life to the other partner completely. Allow the betrayed partner access to your smartphone, computer, wallet, purse, and diary.
Invite your partner to go through drawers, closets, and cars to ensure nothing is hidden or held back. Call your partner regularly to check in and confirm you are where you said you would be.
This transparency is necessary in gaining your partner's trust again. However, there is a limit to this extreme openness. At some point, the betrayed partner needs to let go and show trust even if they don't yet feel it completely.
18. Accept the anger and pain that's part of the process.
The betrayed partner will feel both of these emotions intensely, and the betrayer needs to allow the feelings without defensiveness or attempting to minimize the betrayal.
Going through these emotions is part of the healing process for both people. The betrayer should acknowledge the pain he or she has caused and allow it to happen.
It's uncomfortable and humbling to sit with another's anger and pain, but it allows room for trust to incubate.
19. Be patient with forgiveness.
Both partners are likely eager to get past this painful and unsettling time so they can move on with the relationship. But forgiveness doesn't happen overnight.
Even if the betrayed partner wants to forgive, they may find that the anger and hurt linger on or crop up unexpectedly.
The betrayer may feel he or she is living under a cloud of suspicion or anger for longer than necessary or commensurate with the betrayal.
Forgiveness rarely happens all at once. It's a process of letting go that aligns with the consistent trustworthy actions of the betraying partner.
20. Communicate regularly.
In addition to talking in therapy, it's vital that the couple speak weekly about their feelings and progress in rebuilding trust.
Not only should the betrayed partner share feelings, but he or she must allow the betrayer to safely share his or her concerns and emotions.
The betrayal doesn't demote this person to a full-time punching bag or persona non grata. Most betrayals don't occur in a vacuum.
21. Do things together.
Begin to go on dates again or work on projects together. If you've decided you both want to rebuild trust and save the relationship, you'll need a break from the heaviness of focusing on the betrayal.
Try to agree that you'll suspend anger or resentment during these times together and not discuss the issue. Use these times to remember why you enjoyed each other's company in the first place.
It’s not too late to trust again.
No matter what you may have done in the past that sabotaged your relationships, you can take steps today to repair the damage and become the kind of person other people can trust — with their secrets, their lives, and even their love.
Choose at least one of the ways listed above and make it your focus for today. Create a new habit around it and find ways each day to put it into practice.
And remember to listen in order to understand — not to reply. It’s a raw deal when you win an argument but lose the trust of the other person (as well as any witnesses to the exchange). But it doesn’t mean you can’t acknowledge your mistake and do what you can to make up for it.
Connections matter more than conquests, just as people come before profits.
People who care about their personal growth also care about being worthy of other people’s trust. So, the more you work on becoming the person you want to be — the kind of person you’d want your best friend to be — the more trustworthy you’ll become.
May your generous heart and commitment to growth influence everything you do today.