How To Overcome Doubt and Build Trust in a Relationship in Just a Few Steps

Photo: Stocksy/ Ezequiel Giménez
We’ve all been there: One minute, you’re feeling totally confident in your relationship with your significant other, and the next doubt rears its ugly head. Perhaps a text to your partner went unanswered or you start to ruminate on a comment they made that seemed harmless at the time. Before you know it, you’re suddenly having doubts about your relationship. Thankfully, learning how to overcome relationship doubts has as much to do with shifting your perspective as it does communicating your concerns to your partner.

Experts In This Article

If you’ve ever had relationship doubts only to emerge on the other side with your partnership intact, you may know that a great deal of doubt comes from within. The problem—the doubt itself—and the power to overcome it might spring from your perception of the relationship—not necessarily elements of the relationship itself. Still, being unsure of a relationship can take a serious toll on your quality of life—and bring about some relationship anxiety. You might even find yourself asking, is it normal to doubt your relationship?

Below, relationship experts break down the origins of doubt, explore why you might experience it within a relationship, and offer advice on what you can do to keep doubt from damaging your partnership.

Is it normal to have doubts in a relationship?

Rest assured, it is normal to have doubts or uncertainty in a relationship because doubt is part of being human, says relationship therapist Genesis Games, LMHC. “Having relationship doubts, in particular, may be more common in newer relationships, those that are long-distance, those in which betrayal has happened previously, or among people who have a history of betrayal or abandonment,” she says.

“Having relationship doubts, in particular, may be more common in newer relationships, those that are long-distance, those in which betrayal has happened previously” —Genesis Games, LMHC, relationship therapist

While those circumstances might set the stage for doubt—because they create a context of insecurity—doubt can be present in any relationship, according to Games. Licensed marriage and family therapist Jenn Kennedy, PhD, LMFT, founder of Riviera Therapy and The Pleasure Project agrees: “Relationships invariably have doubts. You are two different people negotiating needs and expectations, so doubts are part of the process.”

In fact, “not having any doubts ever would be a huge red flag to me,” says Games. It’s normal to invest time and energy into a relationship, and, in turn, to care about whether those resources are being well-spent—which will likely bring about some healthy degree of uncertainty in a relationship. These doubts apply doubly to people who tend toward overthinking when it comes to romantic partnerships. “This would be typical of someone with an insecure attachment style,” says Games. “A person with an insecure attachment style desires connection and intimacy and they are also afraid of it, which can lead them to hold negative beliefs related to how lovable or how deserving of happiness they are.” If you have doubts about your own self-worth, you might assume your partner holds the same beliefs about you, leading you to doubt whether they really want to be with you.

That’s not to say that all relationships or even all relationships involving a person with insecure attachment are bound to be doomed by doubt. “Doubts, in essence, are not unhealthy; they just are,” says Games. It’s how you react to those doubts, and eventually, how you communicate them to a partner, that can become problematic, she says.

Why am I having doubts about my relationship?

1. You’re afraid

Fear can serve us well sometimes—for example, when it helps us avoid a real threat—but much of the time, it simply stops us from living our lives to the fullest. This is definitely true when it comes to relationships: “There’s so much fear surrounding relationships,” says certified relationship coach Jillian Turecki. “There’s fear of intimacy, fear of being rejected, fear of being left, fear of losing yourself, fear of losing the other person.” Any of the above can keep you from having confidence in a partner or in a relationship, even if things are otherwise going well.

2. You have trauma from past relationships

If you’ve ever been dumped by a fling or even a full-blown significant other after a few days of silence, it only makes sense that an unanswered text would cause a stream of doubt and relationship anxiety in any subsequent partnership. “All our insecurities and old wounds and past relationship traumas get stirred up when we start to fall for someone,” says Turecki.

If you’re prone to keeping someone at arm’s length or you struggle with a lack of emotional permanence because you’re not sure if your feelings are reciprocated—and you don’t want to get the rug pulled out from under you via out-of-the-blue rejection again—know that you’re not alone. “Doubt can be a fear-triggered protective response to getting close to someone,” says Turecki.

3. You don’t know if the person is right for you

The all-too-common question, “How do I know if my relationship is right?” can lead to doubts for the simple reason that no one person will be a perfect match. According to relationship therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT: “No one person can give you everything.” Amid a culture that over-emphasizes the necessity of finding your soulmate or twin flame, it’s easy to become fixated on a partner’s imperfections and begin to doubt whether you should stay with them or if you’re settling in a relationship as a result.

However, Turecki says this usually has less to do with the other person and more to do with not knowing what you actually want out of a partnership. Once you’ve clearly identified your priorities for a significant other, you can stop trying to find a “perfect” person for you—which will stoke doubt in almost every scenario—and start to work toward finding the right person for you, based on your realistic expectations for a partner.

4. You don’t know if you and your partner share the same goals

Say things are going fine—great, in fact—until suddenly, your partner casually mentions your future hypothetical children. Maybe that would be fine if you two had talked about having future hypothetical children, but you hadn’t. In fact, you never thought you’d have kids, and the comment has made you realize that you and your partner may not be on the same page on some of the most important basic issues of life. The result? Doubt—and lots of it.

How and why do doubts ruin a relationship?

Doubt can put the brakes on a relationship that was otherwise full steam ahead. “Doubt makes us question and take a step back,” says Thompson. “Over time, this can settle in with not trusting your partner as much or not leaning into the relationship, and it can also make you wonder what else is out there, leading you to be less happy in the relationship.” Once any of the above is true, it’s pretty tough for things to reverse course and for the relationship to get back on track: You’re too focused on the doubts to really perceive the positives, anyway.

If your doubts are tied only to your perceptions of the relationship, and not to your partner's actual actions, they can grow particularly weary of being doubted and begin to pull away, further reinforcing your doubts in a vicious cycle. “A loving and caring partner does not want to be crucified time and again for something they didn’t do,” says Games. Doing so can lead to a “very volatile and unstable relationship,” she says.

How do I stop doubting in a relationship?

1. Clarify what you actually want—to yourself

As Turecki notes, a lot of relationship doubt has less to do with the other person and more to do with you—and not knowing what you want. It’s important to take some time to get clear about your wants and needs in a relationship—whether that’s through journaling, meditation, therapy, or anything else that helps you access your innermost thoughts.

2. Acknowledge whether doubt is a pattern

Is doubt something you’ve felt in every single one of your relationships? If so, Turecki says learning how to overcome doubt in a relationship will need to start with understanding why it’s a recurring pattern. Perhaps you’re actually experiencing self-doubt in relationships, and your inner voice is leading you to believe that you’re not worthy of the care or love you’re receiving or that the relationship isn’t going as well as you might want to think. In which case, it may be time to learn how to stop gaslighting yourself, and instead begin to trust yourself and your reality over the critical voice in your head.

In other cases, doubt may manifest as the effect of a different commitment problem. “Being lost, being controlled, being left, being judged, or being rejected could lead you to struggle with committing to a partner and to have doubt in a relationship,” says Turecki. Simply understanding this reality can help you realize that the doubt you’re feeling is not a product of your relationship at all—which can help you let go of it.

3. Have an honest, clear conversation with your partner

If doubt isn’t a pattern for you, or you’re suddenly having doubts about your relationship, then your gut may be trying to tell you something. Some doubts are based on circumstantial evidence of a partner’s behaviors that may merit clarification, says Games. In this scenario, it’s important to give your significant other the benefit of the doubt by having an open, honest conversation with them.

“Get clear on your vision for the future as a couple, and get honest with one another about whether you are both in alignment about what it is you want, value, and envision your lives to be like together,” says Turecki. This can help quell fears about whether you and your partner are on the same page and remove any question marks surrounding their behaviors or the intent behind them.

If doubt still seems to be lurking in the background, perhaps due to any of the aforementioned personal insecurities, communicate that to your partner, says Turecki. Perhaps you just need more frequent reassurance from them, which they might be more than willing to provide—if you just ask.

4. Talk out your doubts with a trusted third party

Sometimes, both personal introspection and a conversation with your partner can fall short in helping you figure out how to overcome doubts or uncertainty in a relationship. In this case, it may be helpful to process what you’re feeling with a trusted friend or a therapist, says Thompson. “If they know you well, they may be able to remind you of what it is you’re really looking for in a relationship, and shed light on whether the doubts you’re feeling are something you should listen to, or if they’re coming from a place of fear or insecurity.”

Frequently asked questions

Why am I unsure about my relationship?

There are many reasons why insecurity arise in a relationship. These feelings might stem from fear—whether of intimacy, rejection, or of losing yourself in a relationship—or past relationship trauma.

Dr. Kennedy adds, “doubts can arise when a partner doesn’t say or do what was expected of them in any number of circumstances, or doubt can creep in when there is a lot of vulnerability on the line—say with an engagement or a request to move in or move to the next step.” The latter of which can go some way to explain when a person might suddenly have doubts about a new relationship. “Those big moments are scary and uncertain growth times can lead to fear and doubt, which is likely to resolve with more information and experiences together,” she says.

How do I stop doubting my partner in a relationship?

A healthy amount of doubt in a partnership is normal, but if it’s causing you—and your partner—a great deal of relationship anxiety, it’s important to acknowledge what is causing uncertainty and if it has to do more with you and your perception of the relationship than the reality of the situation. You might, for instance, be experiencing self-doubt that is leading you to feel unsure of your relationship, or it could be that you have reason to doubt a relationship.

In any case, it’s important to have an honest, clear conversation with your partner—one-on-one or in the presence of a trusted third party—to help quell doubts and gain clarity on whether you and your partner are on the same page.

Is it possible for a relationship to survive doubts?

Having relationship doubts is normal—and typically, relationships can survive bouts of uncertainty if both parties are willing to work together to dispel doubts that might bubble up in a partnership. However, according to Dr. Kennedy: “Doubts become harmful when they plague the relationship or when they become the central thought and cause excessive worry or feelings of insecurity.” In this case, it can take a serious toll on your relationship, and thus, make it harder—but not impossible—for the relationship to get back on track.

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