How To Get Over Trust Issues: Tips for Old and New Relationships

Photo: Getty Images/bedya
When a partner shatters your trust, it’s almost like breaking a mirror. While you can certainly piece it back together, the more cracks there are, the tougher it can be to see anything clearly again—whether in a new or old relationship. But, unlike an actual mirror, trust can be fully rebuilt with time, and you can learn how to get over trust issues with the support of loved ones.

What causes trust issues in relationships?

Trust is important in relationships, so before taking the first steps toward healing trust issues, it's helpful to analyze and understand what might lie at the root of them. That answer might come obviously to you, if you’ve had a partner who handled your trust poorly. “If your agreements with someone were broken in the past, like with infidelity or dishonesty, it’s understandable that you would expect the next person you’re with to behave the same way,” says Maya Maria Brown, relationship expert at relationship app Coupleness.

That said, it’s also possible to struggle with trust even if you’ve never had a previous romantic relationship go south. In some cases, having an inconsistent or abusive relationship with your parents during childhood or witnessing such unstable relationships among family members or close friends could lead you to expect the same for yourself later in life—and to develop trust issues as a result, says Brown.

Part of the reason why those trust issues can linger is the body’s physical response to trauma. “When you go through a difficult relational experience, like having an inconsistent parent or an abusive or unfaithful partner, your body remembers that experience,” says Brown, citing the work of trauma researcher Peter Levine, PhD. “In that case, your body may respond to any future threats of harm—which can just mean being in a relationship—in ways that prepare for the pain. That could mean having a bad feeling in your stomach or an urge to run away, or lashing out defensively, all in order to try to prevent any more harm.” And the more natural those self-protective responses become, the tougher they can be to move past.

Is it possible to get over trust issues?

A healthy relationship requires the kind of vulnerability that you can only achieve with full trust in a partner. You are holding your heart in your hands, offering it to someone else, and essentially saying, "Here is this gushy, sensitive organ of mine—please don't mess with it." So when someone cheats on you, breaks up with you seemingly out of the blue, or commits any other action that leads you to feel like you made a grave mistake in opening up your heart and world, it can seem as if the universe is gaslighting you. That feeling is tough to get over, and trusting fully again is even tougher.

"It can be a long road to rebuild that trust," says relationship therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT. "When trust is broken, you ask yourself, 'Am I being a fool for trusting again?' 'Will I be hurt again?' People block themselves from trusting again because it feels so painful and so vulnerable to do so after it has been broken."

And yet, falling and being in love requires that trust—so, it’s essential to devote the time and energy to learning how to get over trust issues. “There isn’t a magic path to healing, and it’s not even necessarily about having the exact right partner to help you work through your trust issues,” says Brown. “Ultimately, it’s up to you to heal and hold yourself accountable to learn to build trust and embrace vulnerability in your relationships.”

Of course, that will be much tougher if your trust is repeatedly broken by partners. Even so, trust issues aren’t necessarily insurmountable. “It can help to look for people in your life who model a trusting relationship or to speak with close friends, family members, or ideally, a therapist,” says Brown, “who can help you unpack difficult experiences and gain insight into how your past may be affecting your present.”

Below, therapists break down the steps you can take to work through trust issues in a new or long-standing relationship and move toward a secure understanding of intimacy.

How to get over trust issues in a new relationship

1. Be open and honest about what you’ve been through

While you may not want to disclose all the details of how you've been hurt in the past due to a loss of trust, communication is key for setting up a healthy foundation in a new relationship. That's especially true when it comes to handling trust issues because you want your new partner to be aware of what actions might be triggering for you in a relationship.

"If you’ve been badly burned, your impulse might be to keep it to yourself. However, talking about your experience is likely to make you feel a lot better." —Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, relationship therapist

"If you’ve been badly burned, your impulse might be to keep it to yourself and to not discuss it with the next person," says relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW. "However, opening up to them and talking about your experience and your hesitations is likely to make you feel a lot better." And that doesn't need to require every detail at once, if this is a painful process: "You don’t need to throw it all out there on the first date, but once things get going, let them know what you’ve been through and how you may be feeling challenged," Hartstein adds.

2. Ask loved ones for a second opinion

If you notice what you suspect are red flags of untrustworthiness in a new partner, consult with those who want the best for you and will answer honestly about what they think. In particular, gauge whether your loved ones think the situation at hand is truly an issue or whether you might be projecting an outcome from an untrusting relationship you’ve previously had or witnessed, suggests Hartstein. "You can also try to ask yourself objectively, 'Are there actually red flags here, or am I overreacting because of a past situation?'"

3. Seek closure from the past, if possible

This is something to consider if your trust was broken in a previous relationship and you haven't (literally or metaphorically) burned every picture of your ex. If the relationship is cordial enough to seek clarity about what happened, it could be worth meeting with your trust-breaking former partner to have a post-mortem.

It’s just important to approach this with caution. "If their behavior has been particularly abysmal, this might not be a good idea," Hartstein says. "But in certain cases, getting some perspective from them can help people to wrap things up and mentally move on."

4. Be aware that time really does help

It may just be a matter of time before your sense of trust feels restored. Usually, though, the time component is more so in regards to strengthening the new relationship in front of you than it is about moving past the one you left. "The more time you spend with your new partner and the more you build on the solid foundation that you are creating, the better you are likely to feel," says Hartstein.

How to get over trust issues in a long-term partnership

1. Voice your feelings, concerns, and questions

Upfront, it’s important to avoid punishing or playing the blame game with a long-term partner who broke your trust. But at the same time, it’s not wise to just let them off the hook or bury the pain they’ve caused you, either. Instead, you’ll want to clearly convey that you've been hurt and provide context as to why that is—whether it’s solely the result of their actions or a combination of their behaviors and past experiences that shaped your understanding of trust. In any case, learning how to get over trust issues in a long-term partnership starts with launching an ongoing dialogue.

"Part of building trust back means being able to voice the feelings and thoughts that have come up for you when you've heard about your partner's trust-breaking actions," says Thompson. "Your partner needs to hear where you’re coming from and the ways in which you have been hurt."

2. Understand that there is no time limit on building trust back

There are many reasons why someone in a long-term relationship may have developed trust issues. But one of the most common is some version of infidelity, whether that’s emotional cheating, sexual cheating, or any other act that falls outside the established boundaries of your relationship. And it's important to acknowledge that learning how to heal after being cheated on and that rebuilding trust in that scenario can take as long a period of time as it needs to take.

"Many couples who go through affairs ask how long it takes to move on and move through infidelity," says Thompson. "Both partners need to understand that there is no time frame on it. Working to be honest with each other and open, and perhaps getting help through therapy can make it move faster."

3. Work on your self-esteem

"Usually someone suffering from a betrayal feels badly about themselves and perhaps also not good enough," Thompson says. "It’s paramount to deal with these feelings and build yourself back up." Rebuilding your confidence and self-worth goes hand-in-hand with rebuilding trust. So, make sure to fill your schedule with activities and surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself.

4. Get support

If your trust is still shaky with your partner, make sure you have love and support from someone you do trust. This is a person who won't judge you if you continue with the affected relationship—someone with whom you can openly share your feelings and concerns.

"A lot of times, people will reach out for a therapist at this point, and that can be very helpful," says Thompson. "Healing from broken trust can be extremely painful and bring up a lot of past and current challenges and issues. It is important that you get support to help you navigate through them.”

In particular, you might look for a therapist who uses an approach called “relational therapy,” suggests Brown. “A relational therapist will work with you to help you build trust between you and them,” she says. As you get to know each other and they observe your style of communication, they can point out roadblocks and reflect back to you where your challenges tend to crop up. Once you move past those and begin to build trust with the therapist, that relationship then becomes a model for how you might build trust with a partner, says Brown.

What is some good advice for people with trust issues?

Are trust issues a red flag?

Though it can certainly be tough to navigate a relationship with someone who has trust issues, it’s important to know that trust issues aren’t an inherent red flag. In fact, working together with your partner to heal past wounds can be meaningful and lead to an incredible relationship, says Brown. Undoubtedly, that’ll take lots of patience and a strong demonstration of trust on your end.

What is the best way to help a partner who has trust issues?

The best way for you to help a partner who has trust issues is for you to follow through on your commitments. "Your partner with trust issues is hypervigilant and looking for any evidence that they are going to be betrayed, so you don't want to give them a reason to believe the narrative that they already have playing in their head," says therapist Joy Berkheimer, LMFT. 

Specifically, that means modeling trust for your partner in order to help reassure them that that’s the baseline or the norm for your relationship. “Saying things like, ‘I trust you to pick out a gift for our friend’s birthday,’ or ‘I trust that you’ll be home when you say you will,’ are examples of what that can look like,” says Brown.

How do you reassure someone who has trust issues?

According to Berkheimer, reassuring a person with trust issues is a very individual task that requires knowing a little more about your partner's past so you can steer clear of triggering behaviors. Transparency around your motivations and actions can really help reassure someone with trust issues, and can help establish new patterns for this relationship even if certain behaviors remind them of pain. For example, perhaps this person is triggered when you put your phone in silent mode and don't respond to their communications because a previous partner did that when they were unfaithful. Even if your motivations are different, that action can be hurtful to them, so bridge that gap and help your partner understand why they shouldn't worry. "Explain those things so that a new narrative can be created with this partner," says Berkheimer.

How can you be with someone who has trust issues?

To effectively be with someone who has trust issues, it’s also important not to take it personally when your partner struggles to let you in. “You can remind yourself that your partner’s trust issues didn’t begin with you and most likely are not a direct response to anything you’re doing but instead, a feeling or fear that they carry from the past,” says Brown.

If they continue to have issues trusting you, even after you’ve reassured them—perhaps, they’re questioning whom you were with or what you were doing when you weren’t with them—you can make a plan together for how they can feel more at ease when you’re out, says Brown. That could mean offering more frequent check-ins or even location-tracking via your phone.

“But, sometimes, it’s just as simple as giving them space to express their fears and showing them understanding and patience in return,” says Brown. Once a person with trust issues knows that their partner is fully aware of that and is taking it into account when they make decisions, they can work their way toward the kind of security that underscores a strong relationship.

Can therapy help with trust issues?

According to Berkheimer, therapy can help someone with trust issues immensely. "More than likely, trust issues are related to attachment styles and trauma, and these are things that are dealt with in therapy settings, either individually or in couples counseling," she says.

Can a person with trust issues ever have a good relationship?

If you have trust issues and are trying to heal from them, the experts say it's important to note that you're not doomed to suffer from them and that it is possible to have a loving, trusting relationship. However, Berkheimer says it's not enough to acknowledge that you have the issues in the first place—you must actively interrogate the root of your insecurities, and seek help to sort through them from a trained professional. She says that the core of many trust issues is self-hatred, so learning to love yourself again and to believe that you can be treated with care takes work. "They have to come to a place to believe another person can see them in that way and treat them with care," she says. "Once they've done that work where they can value themselves again, they can step back into a relationship, in a relaxed enough manner to treat another person well." This process will take time and will not be easy, but it's worth it.

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