How to Build Trust in a Relationship (Or Rebuild Lost Trust)

Trust allows both people in a relationship to feel secure. When you can trust someone, you know they have your best interests at heart. You can open up to them and be yourself without fear of judgment.

In this article, you’ll learn how to earn and build trust in a romantic relationship. You’ll also discover how to deal with trust issues and how to regain trust when it’s been broken.

If you want to learn more about handling trust issues in a friendship, you might want to check out our article on building trust in friendships and our guide to overcoming trust issues with friends.

Sections

    1. How to build trust in a relationship
    2. How to handle trust issues
    3. How to rebuild broken trust
    4. Common questions

How to build trust in a relationship

Research shows that a lack of trust is an important predictor of problems in a romantic relationship.[1] Without trust, a person might be reluctant to invest in their relationship, which can reduce intimacy and commitment.[1]

Here are some strategies you can use to build trust between yourself and your partner:

1. Prove that you can be relied upon

Show your partner that they can count on you to keep your word. For example, if you say you will pick your partner up from work or a party at a particular time, don’t leave them waiting. If you can’t follow through on a promise, tell them as soon as possible, apologize and make alternative arrangements if you can.

Do not lie or bend the truth, even to spare your partner’s feelings. If they work out that you’ve been lying, they may find it very difficult to trust you.

2. Respect your partner’s boundaries

Your partner will probably find it difficult to trust you if you don’t honor their boundaries, so make it clear that they can rely on you to respect their wants and needs. For example, if they have a strict boundary around phone privacy and never allow anyone else to read their texts, don’t try to access their messages.

If you aren’t sure what your partner’s boundaries are, ask them. In a healthy relationship, it’s normal to have open, honest conversations about what you do and don’t want from a partner. Our article on setting boundaries with friends contains advice that also applies to romantic relationships.

3. Address problems early

When a problem comes up in your relationship, talk about it as soon as possible. If you tell your partner that you aren’t upset but later admit that you were concerned about something, they may assume that they can’t trust you in the future when you insist that there’s nothing for them to worry about.

Here are some tips for raising an issue with your partner:

  • Avoid harsh, accusatory language like “You always…” or “You never…” Instead, use “I” statements. Explain what you are feeling and why. For example, you might say, “I feel disappointed when you promise to call me but then forget.”
  • Try to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Don’t jump to conclusions; give them a chance to share their point of view. For example, you may be worried that they have been slow to reply to your texts because they aren’t interested in talking to you, but perhaps they had an extremely busy day at work and were concentrating on meeting a deadline.
  • Propose a solution. When you raise an issue, be ready to offer a realistic solution too. This approach can make your partner feel like you are on the same team. For example, you might say, “We seem to have trouble dividing the housework fairly. I was wondering whether we could get a cleaner in a couple of days per week and split the cost? What do you think?”

Our guide on how to have difficult conversations is a useful starting point if you aren’t sure how to discuss a sensitive issue.

4. Open up and be vulnerable

Sharing personal things can be a powerful way of building trust and deepening your bond. Research shows that opening up to another person creates a feeling of closeness.[2]

In the early days of your relationship, you could share things that aren’t too personal, such as where you grew up, what classes you most enjoyed at college, and what you thought of a recent movie you saw. As you get closer, you can move on to more personal topics, such as your ambitions, hopes, regrets, and political or religious beliefs.

However, try not to overshare too early on in a relationship. Telling a new partner absolutely everything about yourself and your past can make you come across as too intense. If you aren’t sure whether it’s time to share something, ask yourself, “Would I feel uncomfortable if my partner shared something similar?” If the answer is “Yes,” or “Maybe,” it’s probably best to wait for a while.

Check out our guide on how to open up to people for more tips.

A couple talking about something important in the kitchen while sharing a cup of tea.

5. Be an attentive listener

In a balanced, trusting, relationship, sharing should go both ways. If you just talk about yourself all of the time, you may come across as self-centered. To encourage your partner to share things about themselves, it’s important to use active listening skills. You want to show your partner that you are genuinely interested in learning more about them and that they can trust you to pay attention when they want to share something.

Here are a few ways you can become a better listener:

  • Give the other person your full attention. Put your phone or other distractions away.
  • Avoid interrupting. If you catch yourself speaking over the other person, say, “Sorry for interrupting, please carry on with what you were going to say.”
  • Reflect back what the other person tells you in your own words, e.g., “If I’ve understood you correctly, it sounds like you loved your sister but never really got along well with her?”
  • Make eye contact to show you are paying attention.

Check out our guide to being a better listener for more tips.

6. Try not to judge your partner

In a healthy relationship, both people should feel able to share their opinions and feelings without fear of being mocked or harshly criticized. If you put your partner’s views down because they don’t align with yours, your partner will learn that it isn’t safe to voice their real thoughts when they’re around you.

7. Show kindness

Most people find it easier to trust someone who is consistently kind and caring. Treat your partner—and everyone else around you—with consideration. For example, try to be polite to everyone and lend a hand to people who need help.

We have an article that explains how to be more kind as a person that contains lots of ideas you can use to lead a kinder life.

8. Never gossip about your partner

If your partner tells you something in confidence, don’t pass it on unless you are seriously worried that your partner is putting themselves or someone else at risk of harm. Your partner probably won’t be so willing to share personal things with you if they think you might gossip about them.

9. Work on a shared goal or project

Overcoming a challenge or taking on a big project together can help you feel closer, which may build trust. For example, you could sign up for a course to learn a new skill or train for a big athletic challenge such as a marathon.

A smiling couple works in a garden close together.

10. Avoid becoming defensive

In a good relationship, both people feel able to speak up when they feel uncomfortable. If you become angry or defensive when your partner raises a problem, they might decide that it’s safer to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves because they can’t trust you to respond in a reasonable way.

You don’t always have to agree with your partner or go along with what they want, but try giving them a fair chance to raise their concerns. When you feel yourself becoming defensive, it may help to:

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  • Remember to use your active listening skills to learn what your partner really thinks and feels. Focus on them and what they are saying, not what you plan to say in return.
  • Asking for a five-minute “time out” so you can take a moment to calm down.
  • Try to assume the best of your partner. Unless you have good reason to think otherwise, assume that they are raising an issue because they want your relationship to improve, not because they want to make you angry or upset.

How to handle trust issues from previous relationships

People who have been let down or abused by previous partners may develop trust issues because they worry that future partners will behave in a similar way. Trust issues can also have roots in childhood experiences. For example, if your parents couldn’t be relied upon to meet your emotional needs, you may find it difficult to form healthy, trusting relationships as an adult.[3]

Trust issues can make it hard to build a secure relationship. You might feel that trusting someone or opening up to them is dangerous. Here are some tips that may help you trust your partner:

1. Learn how to spot red flags

If you’ve previously been in unhealthy relationships, you might have lost trust not only in other people but also in your own judgment. Specifically, you may not trust yourself to choose a respectful, kind partner. When you can’t rely on yourself to make smart choices, you could end up feeling on edge around a partner, trying to spot early signs of danger.

To rebuild trust in yourself, it can help to take time to learn about toxic relationships, including red flags you should watch out for when dating someone.

Here are some resources that may help you spot red flags:

2. Tell your partner about your experiences

Even if you try to hide your insecurities, your partner might be able to sense that you find it hard to trust them. It may help to tell your partner about your past so that they know they haven’t done anything wrong.

For example, let’s say your ex-partner cheated on you with one of their colleagues after reassuring you that they were “just good friends.” You might find yourself feeling worried when your current partner tells you about the great time they had with their closest work friend at the office party, especially if you know that the work friend happens to be single and attractive.

In this situation, you might say, “I know that I might come across as a bit anxious or standoffish when you talk about your work friend. My ex-girlfriend/ex-boyfriend cheated on me with one of their colleagues, and it brings up insecurities for me. I know you haven’t done anything wrong, and I’m not asking you to do anything different, but I wanted to share my feelings because I want to be honest with you.”

If you find it difficult to talk like this, you might like to read this article on how to express emotions healthily.

3. Take responsibility for your trust issues

Trust issues may explain why you feel insecure in a relationship, but they are your responsibility to overcome. Your partner does not have to make unreasonable allowances for you, for example, by allowing you to log in to their social media accounts or look through their phone.

It is unfair to treat your partner as though they are about to betray you. In time, they may come to feel as though they are being punished for someone else’s behavior.

Ultimately, if you want a healthy relationship, you have to decide that you are going to trust your partner. Trusting someone is always somewhat risky, but it is an unavoidable price to pay for a relationship.

If you have serious trust issues, you might feel that, right now, the risk that comes with trusting someone doesn’t outweigh the potential rewards of a happy relationship. If you feel this way, it may be a good idea to stay single for a while until you feel ready to trust someone again.

4. Practice challenging unhelpful thoughts

If you have trust issues, you may be quick to assume that your partner has broken your trust or is hiding something from you, even if you don’t have much evidence to support your conclusions. You may find it easier to trust your partner if you deliberately challenge unhelpful thoughts.

For example, let’s suppose you are worried that your partner secretly has a crush on one of your married friends and would date your friend if they got divorced. You could ask yourself, “OK, I may feel this way, but what evidence do I actually have that my suspicions are correct?” Try to take a step back and weigh up the situation as though you were an objective observer.

Perhaps your partner often smiles at your friend or compliments them. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your partner has a crush on your friend. They may just be eager to make a positive impression, or perhaps your partner is warm and friendly to most of the people they meet. Or it may be the case that your partner does find your friend somewhat attractive, but that doesn’t mean they would actually prefer to be with your friend instead of you.

5. Consider therapy

It can take a lot of time and effort to overcome deep-seated trust issues. If self-help hasn’t worked, it might be a good idea to get help from a therapist. They can help you identify the root cause of your trust issues and give you some strategies to manage them.

We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and are cheaper than going to a therapist's office.

Their plans start at $64 per week. If you use this link, you get 20% off your first month at BetterHelp + a $200 coupon valid for any SocialSelf course: Click here to learn more about BetterHelp.

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How to rebuild trust

Many things can break the trust between two people in a relationship, including infidelity, lying, flakiness, and unreliability. But in some cases, it is possible to trust one another again. Here are a few strategies you can try if you want to rebuild trust:

1. Take ownership of your mistakes

If you have damaged your partner’s trust, they might feel reassured if you acknowledge your mistake and explain how you will learn from it in the future.

For example, let’s say you’ve spent too much on the joint credit card you and your partner share, and they are struggling to trust you as a result.

You might say, “I shouldn’t have overspent on our credit card. I lost track of the budget and screwed up. It was completely my fault, and I am really sorry. I’ve downloaded a budgeting app, and I’m going to keep better track of my spending habits so that it doesn’t happen again.”

2. Plan new shared experiences

Making new, positive memories together can strengthen your bond, which may make your relationship feel stronger. For example, you could take a trip somewhere new or try a new activity or hobby together.

3. Be patient

It’s impossible to predict how long it will take to move past trust issues. In some cases, it may take months or even years to recover from a loss of trust. You need to accept that there’s a chance your relationship may never be fully repaired. It’s up to you—and your partner—to decide how long you are willing to wait.

Sometimes, you may feel as though you take three steps forward, then two steps back: relationship recovery isn’t always linear. It’s normal for the person who has been betrayed to feel more hurt or anxious on some days than others. Both partners need to realize that it’s almost inevitable to have a few setbacks.[4]

4. Consider couples therapy

If you and your partner are having problems re-establishing trust, therapy may help. Couples or marriage therapy can provide a calm environment to talk about how and why the trust in your relationship has broken down. A therapist can also help you learn communication skills and exercises that will improve your relationship, such as how to argue or resolve differences in a healthy way.

5. Know when to end a relationship

Not all relationships can or should be saved. If you and your partner can’t trust one another, it might be best to end the relationship. In general, you may want to consider going your separate ways if the same problem or issue keeps coming up again and again, or you feel like you’ve invested a lot of energy into repairing the relationship but aren’t seeing any gains.

It’s important to realize that if only one person in your relationship is willing to put in the work, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to fix it. Encourage your partner to be honest about their feelings. Bear in mind that if they can’t trust you, it might be hard for them to open up. They might also need some time to decide whether they want to work on your relationship.

Common questions

Why is trust so important in a relationship?

In a relationship built on trust, both people feel secure and safe because they believe their partner will act with care and integrity. They can be vulnerable around one another, ask each other for help, and talk about difficult issues, all of which are vital to a healthy relationship.

What is the fastest way to build trust?

Opening up to someone, and encouraging them to open up to you in return, can be a quick way to build trust. Sharing experiences and challenges together can also be a fast way to deepen a bond. However, for many people, trust does not develop instantly but over weeks, months, or even years.

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Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages SocialSelf’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.


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