The 5 Biggest Red Flags That a Friend or Partner Can’t Be Trusted, According to Psychotherapists
While certain signs of an untrustworthy person are more likely to pop up in the beginning of a partnership—say, someone who can’t stick to their word—and others tend to unfold over time, it’s worth keeping an eye out for these red flags at any stage because of how essential trust really is within a partnership. “Having trust in a partner allows you to feel safe, accepted, and validated, which fosters the opportunity for you to show up as the most authentic version of yourself,” says therapist Eliza Davis, LMSW.
“Trust is what allows you to overcome relationship obstacles.” —Eliza Davis, LMSW
To understand how, try picturing your relationship with a friend or partner as a home; in this metaphor, trust is what forms the foundation. When things get a little shaky at one point or another, or a partner lets you down (as they’re bound to occasionally do), the relationship is only able to withstand and overcome the blow if the foundational trust is solid, says Davis. If the trust is broken, just as with the foundation of a house, it often requires a lengthy process to rebuild—and surface-level fixes typically won't do the job.
That’s all to say, being aware of signs of an untrustworthy person can spare you from the trouble of building (or continuing to build) a partnership “house” on unsteady ground. Below, experts call out the red flags that should give you pause about a person’s trustworthiness, whether they’re a friend or a romantic partner.
The 5 clearest signs of an untrustworthy person, according to psychotherapists
1. They tend to change the details of a single story, depending on the circumstances
A changing description of a single situation smells of dishonesty—and honesty is one of the key components of trust. “If you notice that someone is offering you conflicting information or seemingly bending the truth of a story, those are signals that point to untrustworthiness,” says therapist Rachel Holzberg, LMSW.
But because these behaviors could hint at an isolated fib (or even a white lie that’s supported by a valid reason), it’s always worth addressing any honesty concerns before jumping to conclusions. “Having a conversation creates a space of awareness and allows an opportunity for the person to clarify anything that may be unsettling,” says Holzberg.
2. They don’t acknowledge their missteps or wrongdoings
If a person doesn't show remorse or take responsibility for having done something wrong, it’ll be hard to trust them to do what’s right in the future. Generally, this might look like the person always needing to be right or always acting as the victim. “Even if they’ve hurt you, they might be creating their own narrative and not listening to you or disregarding what you’re saying,” says psychotherapist and certified trauma specialist Susan Zinn, LPCC, LMHC, NCC, founder of Westside Counseling Center.
At the extreme, that kind of behavior could lead to you questioning yourself or your worth, says therapist Elizabeth Marks, LMSW. (And if that becomes a recurrent situation, it’s a slippery slope to gaslighting.) “In any case, a person telling you how to think, feel, or act based on how it best serves their needs is a strong red flag of untrustworthiness,” says Zinn.
3. They seem to be hiding a lot of ‘big’ things
While personal boundaries can certainly be positive, if a friend or partner seems to be shielding so much of their life that it fosters room for reasonable doubt about their character or motives, there’s a chance they’re concealing a secret (and not just upholding a sense of privacy). Because transparency is another cornerstone of trust, when someone categorically hides their space, their phone, or the important people in their life, it can be a sign that they’re not trustworthy, says Marks: “It just begs the question of what really is being hidden.”
The same goes for hiding explanations or plans behind a “why are you asking?” shield. For example, if you ask a partner what they’re doing later, and the answer is, “Why do you want to know?” you might question their desire to withhold information and to put a roadblock in an otherwise open dialogue, says Marks.
4. You can’t count on them to do what they said they would
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has stuck to every agreement or promise they’ve made. We’re all humans, and sometimes life happens, and you have to cancel on an important plan, even last-minute. But if a friend or partner is repeatedly flaky, you have to ask, Can lightning really strike twice…or three or four times? Inconsistent behaviors and a lack of accountability create an unnecessary state of confusion, which may signal that a person’s intentions are questionable, says Holzberg.
5. They give you a strange sense of anxiousness or unease
Often, one of the surest signs of an untrustworthy person is a gut feeling—sometimes, literally. “For instance, that feeling of having butterflies in your stomach when you’re around someone may actually be your body cueing you into something that feels unsafe or off,” says Zinn.
If a person’s presence seems to make you uncomfortable or uneasy, even if you can’t quite explain why, it’s worth tuning into that feeling. “We have to spend more time concentrating on how we really want to feel, and asking ourselves, Does this person feel emotionally safe? Do they make me feel good? Do they renew me?” Zinn says. And if you’re spending time trying to assess why things feel off when you’re around them or whether they might be untrustworthy, the answer to the above introspective questions is very likely, ‘no.’ “We only have so much energy every day,” Zinn says, “and when people or our emotions about them are depleting us rather than renewing us, it doesn’t allow for balance in our lives or a healthy relationship.”
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