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How to Build Trust in a Relationship

Ms. Carroll is a retired senior paralegal and consultant who enjoys freelance writing in her spare time.

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What Trust Is and What Trust Isn’t In a Relationship

Trust is knowing. It’s knowing that you can depend on someone to come through for you. To go to bat for you. Or simply be there for you. Trust is believing. It’s believing in something you cannot see. It’s feeling something strong enough in your gut to act on it. Trust is the ultimate form of intimacy. It’s a sense of knowing that even when the going gets tough, trust gets going. Perhaps a good way to define trust is to define what trust isn’t.

Distrust is unbridled skepticism. It is mistaken perceptions which are caused by excess garbage in the heart and mind. Distrust is the outgrowth of self-doubt and guilt. Distrust is dis-allusion and fear. It has the temperament of defensiveness and shows a lack of interest because it seeks to hide itself. Distrust is imprisonment, while trust is an attempt to set someone free.

Have you ever been upset when your partner told you he/she wanted to hang out with their friends without you? Where do those feelings come from? A sense of rejection, surprise, or disappointment? Sometimes those feelings are distrust. Ask yourself why the news bothered you. Then ask yourself if it’s because you don’t actually trust that your partner would rather be with you than his/her friends. This doesn’t mean your lack of trust is without blame. It takes two people to cultivate trust in a relationship. Insufficient trust means that something's wrong on the inside. Therefore, outsiders pose a threat to the delicate balance in a relationship and threaten the cornerstones of the relationship.

"You must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, let it go. "

— Mary Oliver, In Blackwater Woods

1. Be Loyal

Trust will be improbable, if not impossible, if the relationship brings with it a history of infidelity. A relationship shrouded with adulterous beginnings, is destined to fail. A relationship with secrets is also destined for failure. If you have infidelities in your past, it doesn’t mean that you are unworthy of trust. If you hide them, it does.

2. Build Self-Esteem and Confidence

Building confidence in the relationship itself is important, but it is just as important to build your partner’s confidence in him/herself. Taking the time to compliment your partner, especially in front of others, shows you are willing to go out on a limb for him/her. Showing an interest in your partner’s hobbies or interests says "you mean more to me than anyone else." This cultivates trust.

It eliminates the doubt that comes with superficiality. It expresses clearly that you are not the center of your own universe. It bridges the gap between feeling and knowing. With adequate confidence, a person is freer to trust not only him/herself, but to trust you. Trust allows you to give freely, without expectations for something in return.

3. Forgive

Forgiveness builds insurmountable trust. Do you say you can forgive but you cannot forget? What a wicked dart the un-forgetful mind throws at the inner sanctity of trust. Harbored resentment, grudges, and other negative emotions of the same ilk, only serve dis-allusion and skepticism. Retaliation, vengeance, and expectations are their by-product. If you want someone to trust you, you need to leave bad memories at the doormat.

Once an apology is made, accept it. If you say you accept it, then you must live out that acceptance. Otherwise, you will not be trusted. Just as "forgiveness is the fragrance of dew the violet spreads on the heel that crushes it" (unknown), trust is knowing that forgiveness is as certain as rain or sunshine. That doesn’t mean you are free to act out and then expect blind forgiveness. It means genuine repentance should be met with genuine acceptance of the repentant, leaving you both free to move past the pain of the circumstances.

4. Propose

In early Judaism, a man could marry by sex with a virgin. The act of submission by a woman or man said, in effect, "I Do." In 2800 B.C.E., a ring was use to symbolize a binding partnership. The advent of the diamond engagement ring wasn’t until the 1500's. But with or without the sex, the ring, or the paper license to remind you of the day of your nuptials, marriage is actually nothing more than an act of trust.

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Some might argue that staying together without the ink on the page actually shows more trust than the nuptials do. But the point here is that committing to stay together cultivates trust. The wedding vows were carefully written to carry the message of a binding trust—"in sickness and in health;" "for better or for worse;" "til’ death do us part." What a splendid way to cultivate trust in your partner. When you propose marriage or say "I Do," you are saying to your mate, "you can trust me to be there for you."

5. Stand Up and Stand For, Don’t Just Stand By

Life throws punches. That is not mere chance, it is fact! Will you stand by your partner when the punches are thrown? Or will you criticize and debunk, leaving them to manage the ravaging waves alone. This form of trust applies analogously to friendships which pre-existed the relationship. If you move into a new relationship and shelter your mate from friends and family, you will breed distrust.

If you go out of your way to ensure your partner feels included, rather than excluded, you will build respect and trust. This says to your partner, "you are good enough for my friends." Guard against making unproductive comments to your friends about your partner. Ultimately, whether stated in humor or bachelor crass, the emotional intelligence of the one who trusts you will hone in on it. And he/she will not trust you any longer.

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6. Don’t Cross the Line of Scrimmage

Respect and understanding are the keys that turn the lock of trust into motion. Differing opinions, expectations, hurdles, hopes, and dreams, all complicate relationships. How you reach a solution to your problems or compromise when you have a different set of wants or needs is an important element of trust. Why? Because working together to solve problems shows your partner that you value him/her. Being willing to compromise on matters says to your partner, "you are worth a sacrifice."

When the line of scrimmage is drawn, however, you cannot bully your way to those solutions or compromises. You must amicably respect your partner’s position on the field. There is an imaginary line you cannot cross if you expect to maintain trust in the face of adversity. There is no place for accusations and name calling on the field of trust.

7. Tow the Line

That old adage that "trust is earned" is true! You might begin with a clean slate and a blind trust, believing that you have made the choice to trust until someone gives you a reason not to, but ultimately you will be given a reason. Only perfect people won’t and there aren’t any of those. It takes time to build trust and until that foundation is established, you will be operating blindly on gut instinct and your own sense of knowing. How you react to the dismantling of trust’s atomic bomb is critical to maintaining trust in the future.

Once an act of distrust occurs, communication is critical. You must explain yourself and you must do it with the kind of sincerity and openness that counter-acts the act of distrust. You must explain your position with compassion, understanding the impact of your crime. An apology will not help you here, but a heartfelt explanation may save you. Admit your insecurities or doubts. This means searching yourself, and that means caring enough about your partner to search yourself!

8. Walk the Walk

This should probably be number one on the to do list for trust. If you say A, then do B, you are not inviting trust. It is equally as bad to say you will do something and then not follow through with it. The consummate excuse maker will only get by a couple of times before trust begins to errode. If you say you will do something, it's simple - just do it.

Make yourself trustworthy. In the same vein, it is important to do things for your partner without being asked or told to. Silence on a matter doesn't breed trust any better than excuse making does. Your silence will not go un-noticed when it is perceived that you should step up to the plate, but are conveniently quiet on the subject. If you cannot or will not step up to the plate, then you should at least say why you cannot or will not.

The highest form of trust is self-trust.

how-to-build-trust-in-a-relationship

Trusting in Yourself

The highest form of trust is self-trust. Self-trust is allowing yourself to be who you are and who you were meant to be without fear of reprisal or rejection. It’s not taking your hands off of the steering wheel and trusting the car to stay between the ditches. It’s confidence in knowing that if you keep your hands on the wheel, you can and will safely drive yourself to your destination. It’s not an act of submission or omission, but an act of aggression. It requires effort. It’s not going with the flow, but it’s directing the flow. And with that effort comes the total confidence required to sustain you through your life’s difficult times and guide you to your aspirations.

At the same time, self-trust carries with it an element of responsibility. That responsibility is to yourself. If you don’t feel it in your gut, know it in your bones, or at least feel like you are progressing toward that end in a relationship, you have an obligation to let go. Otherwise, a cloud of self-doubt will engulf you and destroy what has taken you years to develop—trust in yourself. "To thine own self be true" and thine own self will be trusted. When you trust yourself, you make yourself worthy of the trust of others.

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