How to build trust in a relationship, according to the experts
You can learn how to build trust in a relationship, provided you're willing to do the work, experts say
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Whether you want to learn how to build trust in a new relationship - romantic or otherwise - from the beginning or rebuild trust that's been broken, the experts agree it can be done.
To trust your friend, partner, family member, colleague, and so on, means you feel safe relying on them. You have the confidence they're not going to deliberately do or say something to hurt you, and you can be vulnerable around them. It's an amazing quality to have in those around you but, unfortunately, it can be lost relatively easily.
Regaining trust is all about putting in the work, especially if you're the person who's broken it. If you're not, then it's about asking yourself whether you have the potential to truly trust the person again - and if not, deciding if it's time to walk away. To help you decide, we consulted a life coach to find out everything you need to know about attachment styles and how to build trust in a relationship.
Is trust important in a relationship?
Yes, most people would say trust is essential in personal relationships. In fact, the University of Eastern Illinois (opens in new tab) surveyed on this exact topic and found that all participants considered trust to be a key factor in friendships and all lengths of romantic relationships. More recent research from Eastern Mediterranean University (opens in new tab) shows that not only is trust important, but it's also the main predictor of potential romantic problems.
But the extent to which we need trust varies from person to person, says Michelle Elman (opens in new tab), a five-board accredited life coach, boundaries and relationship expert. "It can vary where 'trust' sits and it will be more important to some people than others but to have a relationship without any trust is rare. Whether it's due to fidelity or simply being able to trust the words coming out of their mouth, without trust, insecurities can be worsened and anxiety can increase because you are not able to rely on your partner," she explains.
The most common causes of broken trust tend to be when one person puts their needs first, forsaking anyone else's, when they break promises or agreements (especially more than once), or violate important expectations. However, as much as trust can be broken and this can cause problems, trust can also be rebuilt and it doesn't have to be one of the signs your relationship is over.
How to build trust in a relationship
1. Set boundaries
If you have deal breakers in a relationship, it's important to communicate these to your partner or friend before they come up naturally. "Set your boundaries before they are broken," says Elman, who is also the author of The Selfish Romantic: How to Date Without Feeling Bad About Yourself (opens in new tab). "Sometimes when trust is broken, it's because one party didn't know something was an issue, so have those conversations beforehand."
And vice versa, it's important to ask them about the lines you shouldn't cross. "For example, ask them if they consider sharing a bed with a friend cheating and what their feelings on flirting are. Everyone has different boundaries and until you know your partner's, you won't know that you're crossing a line," she says.
2. Be honest
Being totally honest with another person about your feelings, thoughts, and intentions for a relationship can be tricky - especially if your trust in them, or another partner in a similar situation, has been broken before. It's essential though if you want to learn how to build trust (or rebuild it) and avoid relationship burnout in the process.
"Vulnerability begets vulnerability," says Elman. "When you can be honest about how you feel, you create space for them to be honest too. Being able to be intimate allows for trust to build."
3. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt
"If you have chosen a person to be in your life, you have done so for a reason so they deserve to see the best before assuming the worst," the boundaries expert explains, so give your partner a little benefit of the doubt. Being constantly on edge and questioning your partner's every move isn't going to make for a good environment.
However, every situation is different and everyone's relationship is different. If you have suspicions, "then ask yourself if it's worth keeping someone in your life that you can't trust or move past the reasons why doubts were raised in the first place."
4. Take your time
Time is the biggest healer, the (slightly cliche) saying goes, and while it may not be true for many cases, it is the case for trust. "It's OK for trust to take a little time," says Elman, especially if it's early in a relationship. "After all, when you start dating you're ultimately strangers. It can take time to have experiences where the trust is earned, so let yourself take that time and just because you don't trust them 100% now, doesn't mean you won't in a few months or even years."
Many top relationship podcasts discuss how to use this time most beneficially, so it's always worth having a look through these stories and guides if you're in need of a little inspiration or advice on how to revive romance in a relationship.
5. Create the space for ugly truths
Being totally honest with your friend or partner will ultimately push you one way or the other. You'll either be closer together or further apart, but at least you'll know where you stand.
"Create a policy against white lies," suggests Elman. "If you can lie about the small things, you can lie about the big things. If you create space in your relationship for honesty only, even if it's an ugly truth or one that you don't want to hear, that lets your partner come to you with things before they build up."
That space for honesty can't just be the little white lies though, says Elman, you've also got to make room for the things you really don't want to talk about. If you're looking to learn how to build trust in a relationship where you've previously broken up with the person, this may mean talking about what happened in the interim between then and now, to determine if you should get back with your ex.
Is it possible to rebuild trust in a relationship?
Yes, it's entirely possible to rebuild trust in a relationship - but the biggest indicator will be whether the person who broke the trust is ready to accept what they did and change their behavior so it doesn't happen again. "They need to know specifically what they need to do differently to ensure it doesn't happen again," says Elman. "And for the wronged party, they need to ask themselves whether they can let it go or whether it will always be a question mark in their mind."
It's also important to know when to move on from a relationship for the sake of your mental wellbeing and future happiness and how to establish deal breakers in a relationship if you want it to continue. "Every person will be different but if you are going to continue to second guess everything they say, then that's an indication that it's likely the end," she says.
A digital health journalist with over five years experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.
She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.
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