By: Cristina Trette
What exactly does trust mean? Does it mean that you know your partner won’t cheat on you? Or that you know your partner will tell the truth? True trust creates space and freedom. If you are having a difficult time trusting your partner, keep reading.
I love John Gottman's definition of trust:
“Trust refers to each partner knowing that the other partner will be there for them in a host of ways: when they are sad, angry, frightened, humiliated, overweight, underweight, triumphant, defeated, joyous, despairing, sick, broken, helpless, hopeful, dream filled, and so on. Trust is erected by each individual choosing to show up for the other – not perfectly, not every time, but as much as one can.”
Trust, along with commitment, is a key aspect of any meaningful, happy, long-term relationship. Therefore, if you discover that trust is lacking in your relationship, you will want you to spend time working to improving this aspect of your partnership. How exactly is that done? It may not be easy, it may take time, but it will be worth it. Read on for 8 tips to increase your ability to trust and be trusted. It may help to grab your journal and start writing down some of your insights.
1. Stop blaming
It only takes one person in the partnership to create a shift and improvement in the relationship. That person can be you. Rather then focus on all the things he has done to dampen trust, commit to taking responsibility for being the person to build trust in the relationship. If you are focused on blaming him it will be very difficult for you to move forward. Begin the shift by taking an inventory of where you, too, have contributed to the low trust dynamic. Take full ownership of all the ways you have contributed to your dance.
2. Scale your trust
On a scale of 1-10 how much trust do you have in your partner? Your answer may vary depending on different situations you are in. For example, let’s suppose you would typically score your trust in him at an 8, which is fairly high. But when he leaves you to go on a business trip with a flirty female colleague of his, your trust may dip down to a 6. In addition, your trust may jump up to a 10 when you spend a weekend together on a romantic getaway. Get a general idea of your typical score and what number it can drop to and jump up to. Generally speaking the higher and more consistent the level of trust is, the greater indicator that you have a mutually trusting relationship.
3. List encounters that lead to jumps on the scale
Make a list of situations and actions that increase your feelings of trust. Some trust enhancers may include vulnerable and open conversations, a fun night of dancing together, a quiet night in of sipping wine and talking after the kids have gone to sleep, trying something new together like rock climbing, or a particularly adventurous night of love making. Once you have this list, share it with your partner and make a commitment to bring more trust building encounters into your relationship.
4. Speak up and take action
If he is clearly engaging in hurtful behaviors that undermine trust, accept reality as it is. Lets suppose he is consistently late for dinner, flirts with almost every women he sees, or you have a intuitive feeling that he is not being faithful. Although I recommend that assume the best as a general rule, I do not recommend that you remain passive in a situation that is increasingly destructive or unhealthy for you. If trust has been an ongoing issue in your relationship, speak up and take action! It does not mean your relationship is doomed to fail but it does mean that it is time to have a conversation. Using “I-statements” is a great way to be assertive while remaining respectful. For example, instead of saying “How can I trust you when you are always flirting with other women?” you might try “When I see you flirting with other women, I feel scared and hurt. I would like to have a conversation about this”. One way to build trust is to engage in difficult conversations such as these and allow the opportunity for each person to take turns expressing their feelings, needs, and requests. Move slow in these types of conversations and monitor your tone and feelings. It is possible that your partner never realized the impact that his behavior was having on you. It is also possible that you can come to a compromise together such as, you feel comfortable with flirting when he is out with the guys, but when he is with you, you want him to keep his adoration and charisma focused on you.
5. Engage in inner work
If you find it very difficult to trust, without any evidence that he is not to be trusted, this may signal the need for you to heal past wounds. One woman, a divorcee, reported having a strong relationship with her new husband but lacked trust, as she had been cheated on by her previous husband. This woman found all sorts of ways to confirm that her new partner would betray her too, and this was interfering with satisfaction in the new relationship for both of them. Yet, once she healed the hurt from the former relationship, she was able to relax in her current relationship and the partnership grew even stronger. So if you discover that past betrayals are making it difficult for you to trust in your current relationship, do the necessary inner work with the help of a coach or therapist.
6. You will feel hurt
Part of loving means that you will feel hurt from time to time. It also means that your partner will feel hurt. It is up to you whether or not you want to use these hurts as reasons to not trust. No one is perfect. Everyone brings into current love relationships the ghosts of their past (family of origin as well as former lovers/partners/husbands) that impact current behavior. You have the choice to use these hurts to further destroy trust or you can see them as signals that something in your relationship needs attention and care. If you can nurture each other during these hurtful moments, it will be an opportunity to increase trust. As mentioned, if you find yourself feeling hurt with frequency this may be sign that you could use some extra support from a coach or therapist.
7. Check each other
It can be very helpful to ask your partner to share specific examples of encounters, situations, or behaviors that have decreased his trust in you. Next, share with him which behaviors make it hard for you to trust him, If you are going to do this, it is imperative that you respond to each other with shares grace, open-mindedness, and respect. If this exercise leads to a fight, you may miss out on a trust building opportunity.
8. Accept that some behaviors won't change, at least not right now
Once your partner tells you the various actions and situations that tend to decrease trust, make a list of what you are willing to work on as well actions you may never change. Be honest about what you are willing to address at this time and remember that you can always re-evaluate in the future.
To learn more about building trust in love relationships, I highly recommend John Gottman's work, which is where much of the above information comes from. I would love to hear what you have done to increase trust in your relationship. Tell me about it in the comments box below!
Hello! I am Cristina Trette. I am a Couples Therapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Certified in Perinatal Mental Health. I write on all things related to relationships, parenthood, and connection.