How to Resolve Trust Issues in a Relationship
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.
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
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?
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.Helpful 38
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?
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!Helpful 25
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?
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.Helpful 23
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.
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.Helpful 3
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?
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.