- Antoinette Beauchamp, certified professional life coach
- Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist, life fulfillment expert, and author of Date Smart, Joy From Fear, and Aging Joyfully
- Gabriela Reyes, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
- Lauren Cook, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Sunny Side Up! and Generation Anxiety: A Millennial and Gen Z Guide to Staying Afloat in an Uncertain World
- Tracy Ross, LCSW, New York City-based couples and family therapist
Why trust breaks
A person can lose trust in their partner for various reasons, says Gabriela Reyes, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and resident dating expert at Chispa. It might be due to infidelity, for example, or lying—whether by commission or omission. A lack of communication is another possible reason, and as Beauchamp mentioned, it can cause trust issues when expectations aren’t clearly expressed in a relationship. It can also leave room for interpretation and uncertainty, adds Reyes, and as a result, it can cause a person to feel unsupported or unsafe with their partner.
Common signs of a lack of trust in a relationship
More often than not, you know when you trust your partner or when you don’t. “Trust feels safe, comfortable, and secure,” says Beauchamp. “You feel like you can consistently rely and depend on your partner in times of need. No matter what is up in the air, you have a safe foundation and somewhere to land.” Conversely, a lack of trust might not have any of the feelings just mentioned.
While a lack of trust will look and feel different for every couple, there are some common signs that indicate a person has lost trust in their partner:
- They anxiously cling to their partner and never want to let them out of sight.
- They don’t allow themselves to feel vulnerable or get too close to someone out of fear of getting hurt.
- They’re weighed down by uncertainty and insecurity.
- They’re fixated on signs of their partner’s untrustworthiness
- They question their partner’s actions and feel like their partner is hiding something from them. They may even look through their partner’s emails, text messages, or call logs.
However, a lack of trust might manifest, reestablishing it when it’s lost becomes imperative to save a relationship. “Trust is a building block for all the challenges that arise in relationships for the growth that you would hope happen in a relationship, for taking risks together, for becoming better versions of yourselves, [and] for sharing a life together,” says Tracy Ross, LCSW, New York-based couples and family therapist. “If you don’t have trust, then you’re constantly paying attention to that. But when you have solid trust, it’s the strongest foundation you can have in a relationship.”
Is it possible to rebuild trust in a relationship?
Fortunately, it’s possible to restore trust in a relationship, says Reyes, but you and your partner have to be willing to put in the work. Saving a relationship takes concerted effort from both partners. “You need to be committed to making it work or committed to at least trying to make it work,” she says.
Reyes adds that there also must be a willingness to forgive—not just your partner, but also yourself. “It’s very rarely just one person at fault for the demise of a relationship or for it getting to a point where trust is broken,” she explains. “It’s usually a buildup of sometimes years of a relationship slowly deteriorating, of less effort being put forth, less connection. You have to forgive yourself for your part in getting to this place.”
But forgiveness is often easier said than done, especially when there is shame surrounding a partner’s betrayal. Some might feel shame about forgiving something like infidelity, but Reyes says there is no shame in forgiveness. On the contrary, it can be “empowering” because you have the choice to make an effort and choose to forgive.
How to rebuild trust: 13 expert-backed tips
If your partner has betrayed your trust
1. Ask for what you need
Communication is key when you’re reestablishing trust in your relationship—Beauchamp recommends getting very honest with yourself about what you need your partner to do in order to regain trust. What, for instance, would help make you feel more supported and secure in the relationship? Once you identify your needs, communicate them clearly and openly with your partner. If they still display signs they're someone you can't trust, then you have information to evaluate about whether you want to have them in your life.
2. Communicate your feelings
Just as it’s important to express your needs to your partner, you’ll also want to tell them how you feel and what you’re going through. “Giving the other person an understanding of exactly what you’re going through gives them more of a chance to respond in the right way and to try to shift perspective into there not being any shame in forgiveness,” says Reyes.
With that said, you’ll want to avoid brutal honesty, which is often done with the sole intention of hurting another person. “If you think you need to punish your partner, working to make things better is not going to be easy,” Reyes says.
3. Remember that people can be trusted
When someone betrays your trust, it becomes easy to put your other relationships into question, too. If you find yourself caught in this downward spiral of negativity, take a step back. “Look at your other relationships with family, friends, and other connections, and remind yourself that the majority of people want to be good and want to keep your trust,” says licensed psychologist Lauren Cook, PsyD.
If you’ve broken your partner’s trust
1. Openly apologize
If you want to regain your partner’s trust, it begins with a heartfelt apology in which you admit your wrongdoings. “Whether it’s a letter, a meaningful conversation, multiple conversations, or another way to express an apology, it’s important that a person expresses remorse and a desire to repair the relationship,” says Dr. Cook.
2. Avoid being defensive
“While it can be easy for the person who broke their partner’s trust to be defensive, this only aggravates the distress in the relationship,” says Dr. Cook. Reyes echoes this sentiment, adding, “[It] takes away from what your partner needs in the moment, which is just a genuine apology and an understanding that no matter what happened, what you did was wrong.”
3. Take responsibility for your actions
Ross says it’s also important to take full responsibility for one’s actions, which might require some looking within. She suggests questions like, “What would it feel like to be your partner if you did this? What is that experience like?” It might be an uncomfortable experience, but she says that’s often what it takes to build empathy for the other person, and fully commit to making things right.
Together as a couple
1. Have a willingness to work on the relationship
In overcoming relationship damage done by betrayal, there must be a mutual willingness to put in the work to rebuild that trust. “This means that the person who violated the trust is willing to demonstrate how they want to engage in the relationship and repair the brokenness,” says Dr. Cook. “The person whose trust was violated will be also willing to forgive and make themselves vulnerable once more for a renewed connection.”
2. Reflect on the experience
It might be uncomfortable to take the time to reflect on the experience that led to a betrayal in your relationship, but thoughtful introspection can provide a lesson that ultimately helps both parties move forward. “Spend time reflecting on what it is that caused you or your partner pain,” says Beauchamp. “Reflect on the actions taken that broke the trust to begin with, and ask yourself, ‘What did it make you feel?’ or ‘How are you feeling now as a result of everything that happened?’”
3. Reignite the connection
A breach of trust is most often a relationship speed bump, but it could be taken as an opportunity for a fresh start. Use this opportunity to rekindle the flame between you and your partner, says Beauchamp. You can start by learning—or re-learning—about what makes each other feel fully loved, safe, and supported, and with this information, consciously make an effort to fulfill the other’s needs in the relationship.
4. Build new memories
Building new memories—or simply having new positive experiences together—may help instill hope in the relationship and remind both parties that they’re capable of having happy interactions, says Dr. Cook. “A positive experience will shift the energy for any couple,” she says. Whether it’s a romantic night out, a pottery class, or a spontaneous trip to an amusement park, “do something that can make you laugh, smile, and reconnect in a positive way.”
5. Focus on the future
To leave the past behind you, both you and your partner must focus on what’s ahead rather than dwelling on past mistakes. Beauchamp’s advice is to have an open and honest conversation about how you both want to move forward into a new phase of your relationship. Take the time to envision your future together and how you want it to be. You might also want to touch on both short-term and long-term goals that you can look forward to in the present and over time.
6. Be willing to be vulnerable
“True intimacy demands vulnerability,” clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, previously told Well+Good, and though easier said than done when overcoming relationship damage, being vulnerable can help to reestablish trust in their relationship. “Put your walls down and your ego aside,” Beauchamp says. “Vulnerability invites vulnerability and increases intimacy. Creating intimate moments will help support and rebuild what’s broken.”
7. Keep the lines of communication open
As mentioned, communication is a top priority when restoring trust in a relationship. To keep the lines of communication open, Reyes suggests what she calls a “State of the Union,” a weekly date for dedicated conversations without distraction. She says that carving out this space is important because it builds a habit of communicating, “which is something important to create in a relationship—and a healthy relationship.”
When to seek professional help
When recovering from the relationship damage of a breach of trust, it can be difficult to go about rebuilding that trust alone—and there’s no shame in seeking professional help. “I think anytime is a good time to seek professional help because [this situation] can be very complicated to untangle,” says Ross, adding that it can be beneficial to have an expert’s guidance to help you examine why there was a betrayal of trust in a relationship and for both parties to better understand their part in the situation, and more importantly, to move forward.
How long will it take to rebuild trust in a relationship?
When it comes to how long it’ll take to rebuild trust in a relationship, there is no definite timeline. “It varies from couple to couple, especially depending on what it is that happened to break that trust,” says Reyes.
Ross adds, “If trust has been broken in a relationship, it takes longer than you think it will.” All to say, if both parties are committed to repairing their relationship after the damage has been done, they have to have a willingness to “be in the uncertainty for whatever time,” says Ross. “If you’re really both committed to staying together and doing some healing and then saying, we need to grow from this, then you can have a stronger relationship afterwards.”
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