A couple cuddles up at a table representing how to build trust in a relationship

Welcome, seekers of stronger, healthier relationships! Today, we’re diving into a topic that forms the bedrock of any successful partnership: Trust. 

High levels of trust makes relationships resilient, joyous, and fulfilling. Trust is essential, and it’s also fragile. Many couples counseling clients are surprised by just how difficult the journey to rebuilding trust can be once it’s broken. 

Whether you’re starting a new relationship, or hoping to repair trust in an existing one, learning about the nature of trust, how it’s built and how it’s maintained will help you on your way. I wrote this article to put some of my marriage counselor expertise to use in giving you practical strategies, insight, and inspiration to cultivate trust in your relationships and become an architect of lasting connections.

If you would prefer to listen, I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can find it on this page (player below), or on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

The Power of Trust

Trust makes relationships work. Without trust, you cannot have the felt sense of security and emotional safety that makes deeper levels of love possible. When trust is low, communication will feel difficult. You might be reactive to one another, or, you might avoid conflict and vulnerability all together. 

Trust shows up in a few different forms. Certainly trust means feeling confident that you won’t be betrayed, lied to, cheated on, stolen from, or otherwise mistreated. But it goes much deeper than that. Trust is also about reliability, and following through on your word. It’s about vulnerability, and being open about your true thoughts and feelings, rather than concealing them. It’s also about loyalty. When we trust someone, we count on them to have our best interests at heart, and to be there through good times and hard times

Building trust requires patience, commitment, and careful nurturing. But trust can be shattered in an instant. That’s why it’s so important to be a person who values being trustworthy in your relationships. It reflects well on your character, and allows the people you care about the most to feel safe being close to you. 

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Building Trust in Relationships

So, how can you cultivate trust in your relationships? How can you be trustworthy yourself, and how can you work through trust issues and learn to rely on others? 

Here are some practical steps to follow:

  1. Build Trust in Yourself. 

Before you can trust others, or be fully trustworthy for others, you must first trust yourself. Self-awareness and self-love are the cornerstones of self-trust. Recognize your strengths, acknowledge your areas for growth, and build your confidence in your own ability to live by your values. Follow through on your promises to yourself. Show yourself that you are capable of keeping yourself safe from situations that would harm you. The more you begin to trust your own judgment and decisions, the easier it will be for you to trust others, and to show up for the people you care about in trustworthy ways. 

  1. Open and Honest Communication

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To build trust in relationships, you have to communicate openly and honestly. This goes far beyond not lying, although that’s certainly part of it. It means sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences candidly, even when it’s uncomfortable — scratch that, especially when it’s uncomfortable! When your partner learns that they can count on you to broach difficult conversations for the good of your relationship, because you care about them that much, it builds a profound trust in you and confidence in your ability to navigate conflict together

Open up about your boundaries, needs, and expectations in relationships, even if it causes conflict. This will encourage your partner to do the same and it will ultimately make your relationship stronger. 

  1. Reliability

Keep your promises to others and follow through with your commitments, big and small. 

When you are consistently reliable, you send a clear message that you are someone who can be trusted. Trust is built when words align with actions.

  1. Show Empathy

Failing to have accurate empathy for your partner is an underrecognized cause for damaged trust. The problem can be hard for both people on the end of this dynamic to put their finger on — it might not seem like there’s any clear reason that one person isn’t opening up about their true thoughts and feelings, but if they don’t feel safe because they worry they’ll be judged or criticized, that reflects a trust issue. 

And of course, the partner on the other side will not be able to fully trust, due to their partner’s lack of transparency. Empathy is the key to shifting this gridlock. That means validating your partner’s feelings and experiences, giving them the benefit of the doubt rather than interpreting them through a negative filter, and genuinely seeking to understand them, especially when you disagree. 

  1. Consistency

Trust is not something that can be achieved overnight; it’s a continuous process. I know that sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how many people in affair recovery counseling have to learn this the hard way. They stop having the affair, apologize a thousand times, and recommit to their partner… and then soon feel frustrated that their partner can’t just forgive, forget, and trust them again. Repairing trust doesn’t work that way. Understand that it is a long road that requires consistently following through with trustworthy actions over many months or even years. 

  1. Practice Forgiveness

Mistakes are a natural part of any relationship. Learning to forgive and move forward is an essential part of trust-building. Holding onto grudges erodes trust, while forgiveness strengthens it. By granting grace and understanding, you reinforce your commitment and build trust.

Similarly, acknowledging your own missteps and offering a sincere apology when appropriate can generate an enormous amount of trust in your relationship. 

  1. Challenge Negative Narratives

One thing that happens in distressed relationships that always damages trust is called “negative sentiment override.” This is a fancy term for when two people start to develop negative narratives about each other based on past experiences. 

For example, if your partner is late sometimes but they’re working on it, you might tell yourself “They’re always late and they don’t care, because they don’t care about me, because they don’t respect me…” and so on. And when you respond to your partner from that negative perspective, they’ll understandably feel hurt and misunderstood. They begin to lose trust in you to think well of them. They may stop trying to be more punctual, because they’ll start telling themself a negative narrative about you and how you are just critical and impossible to please anyway so they might as well stop trying. 

The best way to avoid this spiral and keep negative perceptions from harming your relationship is to be generous and give each other the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

  1. Set Healthy Boundaries:

Clear and healthy boundaries let people know what they can expect from you. We might feel bad when we set boundaries with others, especially if we have people pleasing tendencies, but it actually is the kindest thing you can do in the long run. Boundaries make our relationships more stable, comfortable, and secure. Setting boundaries creates mutual respect and understanding of each other’s needs and limits. 

  1. Vulnerability

Vulnerability is also an important ingredient in trust. When you’re open about your feelings, it invites your partner to do the same. Over time, you begin to trust that you are both sharing with each other and communicating about important things, which fosters a deep emotional connection. Being vulnerable shows that you’re willing to let your partner into your heart.

Support for Building Trust in Relationships

I hope this article gave you a new perspective on the many facets of trust and why they’re so important. If you’ve had a breach of trust in your relationship, even if it was relatively minor but still having an impact, I encourage you to reach out for support from a couples counselor who can help you rebuild trust effectively. (Before you do so, make sure you check out my article on how to choose a good couples counselor — and avoid a bad one). 

And if you’d like to do this work with a knowledgeable, trustworthy couples counselor on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 

P.S. — You can find more advice on building and repairing trust in my “relationship repair” collection of articles and podcasts. I made it for you!

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Build Trust in a Relationship

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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