Relationship experts will be the first to tell you that trust is incredibly important to relationship satisfaction and success. Another thing they’ll tell you? Trust is fragile. As the saying goes, trust is hard to build and easy to break—so handle it with care.
But in between long, laughter-filled dates and passionate first kisses, moments filled with doubt—maybe even fear—about where your budding romance is going creep in. Because the not-so-great truth is that people bring all kinds of baggage with them when they enter a new relationship.
We’re all carrying our pasts around with us in some way: Whether we’re scarred by an unfaithful partner from a previous relationship or we’re working through a childhood trauma, learning to trust a new partner can be tough. And getting your partner to trust you is no easy task, either.
So how can you build trust in a relationship—or rebuild it if it’s been lost? Read on for tips from the experts.
Why is trust important in a relationship?
Let’s start at the very beginning. Trusting your partner means you can rely on them to meet you halfway. That you have complete faith that they’ll pick up the toilet paper you asked them to get on their way home from work, sure, but also that they’ll handle any sources of stress, worries, or insecurities you share with them with care. And mutual trust means they are able to depend on you in equal measure.
That’s why Alison Stone, LCSW, says trust and communication go hand in hand. “You really can’t have trust without healthy and clear communication,” she says.
How can you make your trustworthiness clear from the beginning?
As much fun as the beginning stages of a relationship are, they’re also packed with anxiety. If you’ve ever sent a text into the void and then thought through every scenario from “they’re just not that into me” to “they probably died” while you wait for a response—only to get a friendly text saying, “sorry for the delay, I was in a meeting!”—you’re not crazy. Really. Everyone has had that experience at one point or another!
If you’ve ever sent a text into the void and then thought through every scenario from “they’re just not that into me” to “they probably died” while you wait for a response, you’re not crazy.
Stone says the beginning months of a relationship often feel like one big guessing game while you try to understand what the other person is thinking and feeling. This is also the most important time to start building up trust, and she suggests starting with transparency. “Transparency can go a long way in providing comfort and clarity,” Stone says.
Another important aspect of building trust? Following through, even when you don’t want to. “Being dependable, consistent, and reliable are crucial components in building trust, not just in the beginning, but throughout the course of the relationship,” explains Stone.
Licensed family and marriage therapist Linda Carroll echoes that few things build trust faster than simply keeping your word. “And when you don’t keep your word, clean it up, make amends and don’t do the same thing again,” she says.
How to rebuild trust in your relationship
Whether it needs to happen after as minor an event as not following through on something small or as big as cheating on your partner, the bad news is that rebuilding trust is not easy. The good news? If you think it through and take the right action, it is possible to repair. (In some cases.)
Stone says that while rebuilding trust happens on a spectrum depending on how big the infraction was, the important thing to do is take responsibility immediately. “Taking responsibility for your actions and not getting defensive is an important first step in rebuilding trust, as well as making an effort to be sensitive to your partner’s needs moving forward,” she says. “Additionally, remember that things often take time to heal—try to be sensitive and have patience with your partner as they begin to trust you again.”
What to do if your your partner doesn’t trust you
Maybe trust is coming easily to you in your relationship, but your partner is second guessing your every move. First, let’s get this out of the way: It’s really frustrating when your partner doesn’t trust you, even when you’ve done nothing wrong and have proven yourself trustworthy over and over again. But if you want the relationship to work, helping your partner learn to trust you is crucial.
“If your partner doesn’t trust you, remember it’s not really about you. It’s about them.” —Linda Carroll, licensed marriage and family therapist
“If your partner doesn’t trust you, remember it’s not really about you. It’s about them,” advises Carroll. “Once you acknowledge that, it’s important to do two things: First, don’t react to their doubt as any kind of reflection on your behavior. The next thing to do is to just keep proving how trustworthy you are. This can be tough when your partner is constantly doubting you, but it’s worth it if the relationship matters to you.”
Stone suggests taking Gary Chapman’s famous book The 5 Love Languages into account when you’re working to build trust. Simply learning how your partner expresses and wants to receive love can go a long way. “The premise is that all of us have specific ways that we prefer to receive love,” Stone says. “Understanding your partner’s love language can be a great way to build trust, particularly with someone who is skeptical or has been hurt before. Expressing your love and commitment to your partner in the way that feels good for them will help your partner feel seen, appreciated, and understood.”
And once they feel supported and valued, they’ll be much more likely to lean on you in return.
Let’s say your partner cheated on you and you decided to work to rebuild your trust—here’s how can you explain that to your loved ones who are worried about you. But if you see any of these signs, it’s likely time for you to end the relationship for good.
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