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How to Resolve Trust Issues in a Relationship

Audrey is a medical transcriptionist and freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics, including grief and loss, pet care, and more.

Trust issues are one of the biggest problems for relationships.

Trust issues are one of the biggest problems for relationships.

There are many aspects of our everyday interaction with people closest to us that can go haywire.

We can all develop interpersonal relationship issues around things like sex, money, or fighting about who does more than the other. We can have conflict issues with a friend because we don't see eye to eye or they've wounded us in some way. We can have issues with our partner or spouse who doesn't seem to take the relationship quite as seriously as we do or put enough effort into making it work.

However, perhaps one of the biggest issues for many relationships and the cause of their demise is the result of a problem with trust. In fact, some of the situations mentioned above can be the result of trust issues within the relationship.

Relationship problems come in all sizes and shapes but in order to have a good relationship, it can't exist without trust.


The Source of the Issue

So where do trust problems come from? Most of us aren't even aware that we have trust issues, if we do, until something dramatic happens as in the end of a relationship. When things go wrong, then we start examining the whys and what fors, but until then, most of us go blindly on as we're used to doing.

Consider this important idea—in every relationship, people bring to the table what they have in their repertoire—or as the video below terms it, "background." It's as unconscious as breathing and it's as much a part of each and every person as the organ beating in their chest giving them life.

No one thinks about why they react the way they do until something bad happens—like trying to get through a breakup.

The YouTube video below illustrates quite simply how people bring their background with them into each and every relationship whether they mean to or not. Call it your family of origin or where you came from, but all of your trust issues stem from how you grew up and the experiences that you had. Then lump in all that happened since you grew up and you begin to see the picture forming.

Let's say that someone grew up in a chaotic household where there was a lot of violence and lack of personal boundaries. Let's add to that some scenes that perhaps a child should not have been privy too or some inappropriate ways to deal with anger or stress. Let's call this fictional character Person A.

On the other hand, let's think of someone who grew up in an environment where nothing was ever said in an angry manner and relationships always seemed solid. There was never a raised voice or an argument witnessed, never a problem and a cloudless sky...until the mother suddenly died of cancer because she never told anyone she was sick and the world was never the same again. Let's call this fictional character Person B.

As you can probably imagine, both of these situations could and would most definitely generate trust issues for either person. Consciously or subconsciously, somewhere along the way, there is going to be some expectation in the back of the person's mind that "the other shoe is going to drop" and their world is going to be tilted off its axis.

Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

Everyone on the planet has triggers. Some are so minor that we don't even know they exist. Other people have severe triggers that can temporarily put them into a deer in the headlights situation where they overreact. The extreme of this spectrum is PTSD.

The most important factor if you got down to the bottom of trust problems is whether both parties actually trust themselves. That's right—it's not really about trusting (completely) the other person. It's about trusting themselves and their reaction to something the other person does or says. Or how they will handle themselves in any given situation.

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People who do not trust themselves or have good self-esteem or self-confidence automatically set themselves up for trust problems. They consistently pick people who will hurt them and who will disappoint them because they expect it. Trusting the wrong people has become a habit and they continually seek out the same kind of person over and over who will in fact break their trust again, reinforcing the idea that they knew it - they couldn't trust anyone.

So how do you build trust? In yourself and in a relationship?

Trusting relationships or healthy relationships must have:

  • Knowledge of yourself.
  • Trust in yourself to do the right thing and make good choices.
  • Belief in yourself (different from knowing yourself).
  • Understanding that you can survive on your own and that another person does not define who you are.
  • Being proud of your accomplishments.
  • The ability to face your demons. If you don't do this, you will bring trust issues to every relationship.
  • Not allowing people to know all about you until you are sure that you can trust them.
  • Self-protection with the ability to give yourself without reservation.

That may sound like a tall order but self-image and what you think of you is at the root of building trust with another person. It has been said that if you do not love yourself, you can't love anyone else.

If you find yourself in a spot where you don't meet the above criteria, counseling or self-analysis can help you reach that goal.

"I do not trust people who don't love themselves and yet tell me, 'I love you.' There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt."

— Maya Angelou

How to Resolve Trust Issues in Any Relationship

  • Be honest. Talk things over and be clear on your feelings.
  • Listen to the other person's feelings.
  • Put the past behind, live in the present.
  • Focus on what you want to do today, not a year from now.
  • Trust takes time. Work at it in baby steps.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat.

How to Trust

Whether you're just starting out in any kind of relationship, be it lover, friend, family or workplace, and you notice that one or both of you are having conflicts that just might be based on underlying trust issues, it can be fixed. It's never too late to resolve trust problems.

Or you could be in a long term relationship and maybe have had problems for years but are just starting to ask yourself "is this a good relationship?" Remember it's never too late to change.

Resolving relationship issues or trust problems is easier to do if you examine the root of the problem.

Some great questions to explore:

  • Is the trust issue yours?
  • Are you projecting past trust issues onto this person or are the relationship trust issues real? (As in your boyfriend is repeatedly cheating on you with other women or you are having the same kind of issues with friend after friend)
  • Is the trust issue the other person's?
  • Is there some kind of imagined wrong doing on the part of the other person about what you supposedly are doing when you aren't doing it?
  • Is the trust issue the other person's but you are actually causing it because you are abusing the other person's trust? (As in you claim that you are not seeing other people but you are in fact seeing other people)
  • Are you holding back part of yourself because you can't seem to let go and really deep down trust anyone?
  • Are you afraid that if you were the "real" you, the other person would walk away?

What Does Trust Mean?

Relationship trust in any kind of relationship means that you can trust on a basic level that the person you are in the relationship with will not purposefully betray you. They might still make mistakes or not be "perfect" but they will meet the criteria you have set for your own self preservation of what you can and cannot tolerate.

Let's say you have a trust issue with lies. That said, if your son, your husband, your friend, or your coworker repeatedly tells you lies and expects you to continue the relationship, you can do the following things:

  • Have a non-emotional, non-blaming talk with the person explaining how you feel when he or she repeatedly lies to you and ask if there is a way that this can change.
  • Try in the course of your interaction to discover why the person is repeatedly lying—as in this is their trust issue not really yours.
  • Set boundaries. Your self-esteem requires that you not be lied to.
  • Try to cooperatively figure out ways that these lies can be eliminated. Can you handle the truth if the other person tells it to you?
  • Pinpoint triggers for lies on the other person's part.
  • Pinpoint the trigger for you—the result or how you feel because of the lies.
  • Brainstorm ideas on how to turn this into a healthy relationship and eliminate these trust issues.
  • Seek the help of a professional counselor if the pattern continues.
  • If all else fails and trust is violated repeatedly, it's time to walk away.

What Is a Healthy Relationship?

A good relationship or a healthy relationship is one based on relationship trust. That is to say that two people know that they can trust the other person implicitly. That does not mean that either person is perfect and will not screw up from time to time or hurt the other person. That simply means that both parties have managed to hone out a relationship of trust or dependable behavior with each other.

Before we trust anyone, we should make sure that they are "trustworthy." That means that we should always start out small and see if our trust is correctly placed. That may sound hard to do but it really isn't. Especially in a relationship as large as a marriage or a life partner, we should proceed with caution if we want to consider more than a disposable relationship.

Trust means something different to every person and it changes in every situation. There is nothing wrong with having criteria that must be met in order for someone to be "trust worthy." Ernest Hemingway said it well when he said, "The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

Start out small and work at building trust. Again, whether you're in a long term relationship or you're on the cusp of a new relationship, a good relationship can only be built on honesty and trust. Be honest with yourself and with each other. This is the best way to start a trusting relationship. It's also the way to repair a relationship that has skidded off the tracks in terms of trust. Figure out why you do what you do. You will not only have an answer but you will also discover a repair plan.

The only way to repair broken trust is to get to the bottom of the issue, solve the relationship problems by building trust again, and then move forward. Don't dwell on past issues but instead look to the future and a good relationship.

But keep in mind that not all relationships are salvageable. As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango, and when a relationship is over, it's important to sidestep the blame game and know when to move on.

Let's go back to our two fictional characters.

Looking at the major trust issues that these two people have, you would not expect that they would be able to sustain a meaningful relationship nor a long term one.

Person A brought a background of mistrust and low self esteem to the table with a liberal dose of fear of abandonment. Lack of trust in people would be putting it mildly.

Person B learned early on that life was not what it appeared to be and developed issues around abandonment but also about false security. Emotional distancing became a good defense against being hurt.

Life is full of surprises. These two people actually met and fell in love. Both had tremendous trust issues and went through some tumultuous times. But they were both able to lay out their weak points and allow themselves to be vulnerable. Sometimes that's what it takes - to let someone you think is trustable to see who you really are.

They spent a lot of time growing and learning to pay close attention to each other's backgrounds and triggers. Their life was not perfect but they managed somehow to hone out almost 40 years of marriage. They also became best friends.

If you think about it, almost everything we do in life is about trust. Our children trust us to catch them when they fall and to care for them. Our dogs trust us to feed them and praise them when they do well. Our spouses trust us to be faithful. Our parents trust us to honor them and grow up to be responsible adults. Our friends trust us to be there for them in times of need.

Trust is the vital ingredient in all relationships. Best put - "To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved." - George MacDonald

Questions & Answers

Question: She disappoints me, but I still love her. When she tells me something, I feel like she is lying to me. What can I do?

Answer: The only thing you can do is to try and get some counseling and figure it out. If you cannot trust someone completely, you will always have conflicts. I don't think that is worth the anguish. It will wear out a relationship over time, no matter how hard you try.

Question: I had a guy in my life who I wasn't sure about so I kept seeing other guys behind his back as I was afraid to tell him out of fear. He found out and was mad of course, but still wants me in his life, but I'm afraid he will never truly commit because he's afraid of me cheating again. I broke his trust more then once. Can that be fixed and how?

Answer: That's a tough one and one not easily solved. I would say that you both have issues trusting someone and the only way to work through that is with honest, open therapy. Sometimes someone else who is impartial can help you figure out why you do not trust other people. There is usually some reason for it in our past experiences. Until we face those and learn to work those out, we really can't be as "good" as we might be at these trust issues and circumstances. We repeatedly fall back into old patterns unless we try and fix the old patterns and establish new ones. It is fixable - I believe that things are always fixable - but the most important thing is the will to fix those things that are standing in your way - and to commit to the time required to fixing those things. If we think things are an easy fix or a once-and-done situation, we are probably going to not get to the plateau we want - true trust in a relationship.

Question: I had trust issues with my partner because of his past constant lies and flirting and he keeps on denying. Now he's changed but I'm still afraid to trust him again. What should I do?

Answer: Some people flirt and like being attractive to other people. The lies are a bit more difficult to handle. I always recommend counseling simply because it has been my experience that when people have cheated or have serious issues between them, without that professional additional counseling, the issues tend to come up over and over again. They never really go away. I watched that happen with my mother and stepfather for decades as well as with my sister and brother-in-law. I think that truly counseling is the way to patching up differences and assuring that we are really "letting it go." That can be true of anything though. Sometimes our heart doesn't want to let go of what our head tells us to. Also trying to live today without looking back at tomorrow is always the best policy - though it's the hardest thing I have found in the world actually to do!

Question: I’ve previously been involved with a sociopath, so now in my current relationship, I’m struggling not to look for signs of being manipulated and lied to. I know I need therapy but what can I do in the meantime to explain this to him? We’ve been together seven years, and the issues are only now arising, and I’m not sure why.

Answer: Sometimes when things are "good," we tend to believe that they just can't be so. I feel like it is something of an expect the worse, and you will not be disappointed fall-back behavior or mindset. I would encourage you just to try and take it one positive thing at a time and even him as well. If things are meant to work out, they always do. Counseling is the best solution for sure, as you have pointed out. Finding little ways to trust is also a helpful posture to take. The more you see that you can depend on each other, the better your bond will grow. Unfortunately, when there are traumas in anyone's past or mistrust, it can take time and care to rebuild.

Question: I am honest but sometimes I talk to other boys and he knows that. We had a big fight about that matter and I finally decided to stop talking. Now I am not talking to any other boys but still, he thinks that I am interested in other boys. Why doesn't my boyfriend trust me?

Answer: It sounds like the problem is with your boyfriend. He does not have the right to tell you who to talk to and who not to talk to. To be in a healthy relationship, both parties have to have levels of trust. They cannot control each other. I would recommend that your boyfriend works on his self-esteem by talking to a counselor and finding out why he needs to control situations.

Question: Is there such a thing as gut feeling? I love my husband, but when I come home from a 13.5 hour work day nothing is ever done and yet he is constantly exhausted and even our sex life has faultered. From 3-4 x a week down to twice a month if that in the last 2 months. I love him not knowing what to do?

Answer: I would suggest going to talk it out with a counselor perhaps if you cannot resolve it between you. It is normal sometimes in relationships to have things 'stall' a bit - and then again, it is possible to rejuvenate things by just being more spontaneous and/or doing different things together.

Question: I am in this relationship with a guy who I really love, and he really loves me too. He tried to make a relationship with someone else work for two years and failed. However, they had a sexual relationship. Now, they are in a band together and see each other most of the time. He said that he's over her, and she's over him, but I'm having trust issues when they are together. How do I overcome this?

Answer: That is a tough one. It all boils down to self-confidence and trusting yourself to make the right decisions. I would suggest speaking with a counselor about it because I am not really qualified to give in-depth advice. I would think that you would need to go slow, build trust again over time, and be able to believe that your fellow would be loyal to you. If you do not have complete trust, you don't have much, and the issues will continue to play out between you. Couples counseling would also be the best idea of all. When both parties feel that they understand each other and can meet on common ground, that is the ultimate measure of success in any relationship.

Question: For a while there, my girlfriend thought I was flirting with other girls. It wasn’t like that at all though. I never liked the girl. But a lot of my mannerisms and the things I did assisted in helping her not to trust me. She doesn’t think I’m loyal now but she says she’s not ready to move on. What can I do to help her move on?

Answer: I would just take it one day at a time - that sounds trite and I don't mean it to be. Sometimes you just have to grow into things and let time heal wounds - allow ourselves to grow. Trust takes a long, long time to build and if you have had mistrust at any point, it can take even longer. If someone is worth it though, you will realize a good payoff from the caring!

Question: I had trust issues ever since my ex-boyfriend cheated on me but now I'm in a new relationship and the trust issues are affecting my current relationship although my boyfriend has done everything he could to make me trust him, but I'm scared. What do I do to become more trusting of my boyfriend?

Answer: The only thing you can do is try some counseling or even reading therapeutic type books on it. Broken trust takes a long time to repair. It is on a day-to-day and thing-by-thing basis pretty much. Start with something small and build on it. Counseling definitely can get you there faster but reading about trust issues also helps a great deal. We do have to remember that what one person did to us is not necessarily what someone else will do to us. Caution is a good thing but trust is something we all have to work at to build - or rebuild.

Question: I have developed heavy trust issues since my husband has been working away from home. We've been together for over 10 years but since he's been doing site work things have changed. I've had multiple issues showing that he is not faithful to me but he always gets a way to make it seem like he did nothing. I just keep on feeling worse each time. It literally feels like I'm going insane. I don't know what to do or think anymore. What can I do?

Answer: I do know someone that this happened to - and that is a common avenue. The person doing the cheating tries to make the other person feel like they are the cause of it - or as if they are crazy for thinking that could be happening. If you have proof, you should go and talk to a counselor about it and decide what to do. The only person who can stand up for you is you. It is a form of abuse to let someone else make you feel small or insane.

Question: I am with a guy whom I’ve been with off and on for almost 18 years. We have two children together. When we were together there were times where I cheated. The first time I cheated we were young teenagers and he has never let go of that. Do you think he will ever let it go?

Answer: I think trust issues are really hard to deal with. My stepfather cheated on my mom and it never went away. However, they did not go and have counseling, which I think would have been the very best thing to happen to them. I think if you love someone, you should invest in the time to try and work out some of these hard, hard issues. Forgiveness is something all of us struggle with I think but when we give ourselves over to counseling, sometimes we can see different perspectives and let the healing begin.

Question: I get jealous of my boyfriend's ex because they still communicate with each other. He still lives in his ex's house as his relationship with her family grew deeper as years passed. He keeps telling me he doesn't love her anymore but I can't fully trust his words. What can I do?

Answer: Our self-doubts cannot be healed unless we truly come to terms with people's pasts. Being jealous of someone's relationship is perhaps normal to some degree, but if it is encroaching on your relationship with your partner, it is self-destructive and destructive to the relationship. Learning to trust someone can be extremely difficult sometimes, but most of that lies within ourselves. There are, of course, instances where our distrust is accurate (if we have proof of someone cheating or being disloyal to us), but if we have no proof of that and we are merely feeling insecure in our position with this person, it is important to work on our self-esteem. Once we do that, vulnerability decreases and trust (in many general ways) increases. I probably sound like a broken record, but I do feel that counseling (individual or group) is the best way to healing ourselves. We cannot heal someone else or make them do anything - the work comes from within.

Question: I was seeing somebody who I grew to love and respect by not seeing or entertaining other guys because our relationship was long distance. Problem was he never let me touch his phone and he acted single while I on the other hand introduced him to everybody close to me. I then let him go despite knowing I was still in love because time and again he would do the same thing. Was I wrong in letting go?

Answer: That is something only you can individually answer. I think it would be weird for someone to be so secretive about their phone - or their computer - or whatever. Sometimes things work out how they should and we cannot beat ourselves up and look backward. Follow your heart or your mind and heart and you should be okay.

Question: I constantly want to know who my partner is talking to, what can I do?

Answer: It is normal to have feelings of jealousy and even possessiveness toward someone that we share an intimate relationship with. However, the danger is if we become too jealous or possessive toward him or her - that can poison a relationship and lead to bad feelings. The best way to deal with these feelings is to be honest about them. By being honest about them, that means expressing yourself but not expecting that our partner is going to simply not communicate with other people. That would be unrealistic. The next step is to research how to feel less possessive and/or jealous of your partner's relationships with other people. By learning how not to be threatened by our spouse's or partner's other relationships, we grow ourselves. It builds confidence within us when we are not threatened by those relationships and see them as healthy and even stimulating to our relationship with our partner or spouse. Google ways to be less possessive or threatened by your partner's relationships with others and you will find lots of techniques and/or tips on how to deal with those feelings. Again, they are normal - it is all about what we do with those feelings and how we express them that will help you be successful.

Question: Am l wrong for not trusting or believing her when she received a text message but she deleted half of the message? I have never asked to look at her phone but for some reason today I did. She then tells me she deleted it because I would be mad. If there is no reason for me to be upset about why hide it? I feel she has betrayed me by not being honest with me. I need some advice. Please help me or am I wrong?

Answer: I had a situation arise with an old friend and was emailing back and forth and having a gay old time. It crossed my mind that I probably would not want my husband seeing some of those emails and that made me think - it was completely wrong then to be doing it. Anything that I cannot or could not share with him - that is a problem. I would expect the same from him.

Question: My boyfriend saw a message on my Instagram with an old friend from school not flirting or anything like that but he asked to catch up and I replied "ok whenever your free." I never intended on meeting up with this friend and it was never anything more than just a friend. Well, my boyfriend got very upset and said he doesn't want to be with me anymore, feeling that he can't trust me. How can I prove to him that I'm all about him and only him?

Answer: That's a tough one because some people are just more innately jealous than others. I think if I wanted to meet up or texted an old beau that my husband would probably be very angry - though he would probably let me do it anyway. I would probably offer to meet WITH the friend AND my husband because I would not want to jeopardize my hubby's feelings. Boyfriends - same thing. It all matters about proving to people sometimes that may be a little insecure that truly you are above board. If you are doing nothing wrong, what is there to lose?

Question: How do I get my fiancee to trust me and not feel like he has to worry about me cheating again? It was at the very beginning and was a horrible mistake.

Answer: Sometimes things just take time and some people are easier to forgive than others. Forgiveness is key to trust. We have to first forgive ourselves and then hope that the other person can do likewise. Sometimes it will take counseling and dedicated efforts to resolve trust issues. I always think that it is worth that if nothing else seems to be working. My parents struggled throughout their entire married life and refused to get counseling. They simply 'didn't need it' - their marriage was nothing but turmoil. I consider that a giant waste of one's life joy. Wishing you every hope at resolution! Sometimes you can fix it yourself but sometimes you have to call in an expert.

Question: My boyfriend doesn’t trust me and told me I have to find something to do to fix it and if I don’t he doesn’t know what’s he's gonna do or what’s gonna happen. What do I do?

Answer: I definitely would seek counseling. If your boyfriend has nothing to base his distrust on, then it sounds like something else is going on. It takes both parties to make a relationship built on trust. We all have our own issues of self-doubt and/or insecurity at times. The key is trying to figure out how to handle those issues and coexist in a healthy relationship rather than one of proving yourself over and over.

Question: My partner disappoints me but I still love her. When she tells me something I feel like she is lying to me like she has before. What can I do to solve these trust issues?

Answer: I always suggest counseling if you have had trust issues that are proven facts. You cannot heal someone and can only heal yourself. The best thing to do is to try and have a third party help you work through your issues - or even couples therapy can be very beneficial.

Question: I once was mad at her about something, couldn't control my emotion and said some mean things. I regretted it so much but now she can't trust me because she doesn't want to get hurt. What can I do to get my significant other's trust back?

Answer: Words are the gift that keeps on giving. Sometimes you cannot erase things that have been said. It is true in all relationships. All you can do is start anew and try really hard to never say things when you are emotional or angry. If we were all perfect, I guess there would be no strife in the world. All we can do is start over from today and hope for people to accept our apologies and forgive us. First, we have to forgive ourselves. Take today and every day as a new beginning and try to not go backward or look back at the past. Great advice - I think I will take it as well!

Question: It's taken me so long to get over my trust issues from previous relationships and now my partner is becoming harder and harder to trust. He's lying to my face, deleting messages after sending love hearts and x's. How can I trust my partner again?

Answer: That's a tough one. I definitely think counseling is the only way to go. We can work 24/7 at getting someone to tell the truth when ultimately, it's up to the person to either tell the truth or keep on lying to us. It boils down to it takes 2 people to make a relationship, not one doing all the work.

Question: My boyfriend of 5 years has felt like he is second due to a long history of us breaking up and him having intercourse with other women then coming back to me. As this has been repeated, I've then decided to move on and got into a relationship and then cheated on him with the boyfriend of 5 years. Since I didn't leave new boyfriend at that time, he now uses that against me to justify the disrespect he has toward me. How can we work this out?

Answer: I would say that definitely counseling needs to be entertained. It is really, really hard to put back trust when that has been violated - and on both sides, it sounds like. It is easy to blame someone else rather than look at our own frailties and mistakes. If it is worth saving the relationship, would invest the time in talking to someone and seeing if it is possible to work it out.

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