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How to rebuild trust in a relationship

We explore why trust is important in a relationship, when to seek counseling for couples and look at how to gain trust back in a relationship.

What Exactly is Trust?

They say you should never trust an Adam. They make up everything. Oh - sorry, that's an atom. Atoms make up everything.

Many a lyric, joke, and story could be told about trust. We intuitively know it's part of the foundation of our world. Friendships, family, and business all rely on people trusting one another. Societies with trust even have greater longevity, better health, and less crime.

To understand why trust is important in a relationship - and to see how to rebuild trust in a relationship, we must be able to decipher exactly what trust is.

Trust: The DNA of Our Closest Relationships.

Trust can look different depending on what you saw in relationships around you when you were growing up. But like many invisible things, we know it when we feel it - and we also know when it's missing.

Perhaps you've always struggled with trusting those around you. Maybe you've suffered from the feeling of betrayal, or you feel like the trust has slowly leaked out of your relationship, Whatever the case, it's important to know that trust is not 'static' - either from an individual perspective, or in your relationship.

There are certain proven tips that can be of help. In figuring out how to gain trust back in a relationship, support from a psychologist can aid in navigating this important terrain.

Where is Trust Lost?

Trust issues in relationships are one of the top things that couples can worry about -even from the earliest stages of a relationship. In research, couples commonly asked questions like "Can I trust you to remain sexually faithful to me? Am I more important than your friends, your mother?" 1

The breaking of trust would most often be described as betrayal. As trust can feel different to different people, there may be more obvious trust-killers (like cheating), or less obvious ones (like slowly drifting apart).

Identifying where a leak is coming from is the first step in saving your boat. Similarly, a gnawing feeling of distrust - but no contemplation on where this is coming from can be harmful to the future of your relationship. The first step? Some honest reflection and discussion.

Betrayal: Cheating

Cheating has been documented throughout human history. Philosophers and biologists have pondered whether we should be monogamous creatures or not.

Yet this usually doesn't take much hurt away from the personal experience of your partner being unfaithful.

In the case of a committed relationship, infidelity can be a source of pain, deep loss and trauma. It can evoke feelings such as abandonment, and hopelessness for the future of the relationships - and even one's own sense of self.

Betrayal: Confidence

If one person in the relationship has broken the other's trust by sharing intimate details, the bond of the relationship can start to feel severely weakened.

Perhaps secrets have been kept from one partner, with dishonesty creating a deep sense of insecurity.

If even a small betrayal of confidence takes place, it can be hard for a partner not to wonder about the extent of lying in the rest of the relationship.

Betrayal: Does My Partner Choose Golf Over Me?

It's not always another person that can come between you and your partner.

It could be addictive behaviours with substances like drugs or alcohol. But it could also be an inability to tear oneself away from work, or even interests like sport, shopping, video games or other activities.

Though small, some people's experiences reflect the lack of feeling like 'my partner has my back'. In fact, these personal issues may signify an erosion of trust in the relationship that may lead to a negative spiral.

Apologising to your Partner

After a situation of harm and hurt, heartfelt apologies may be difficult to initiate. But they may be hard for less obvious reasons: i.e., what are the actual components to a proper apology? Can an apology backfire?

Excuses and defensiveness will generally inflame the situation. Rather, listening with empathy and looking for solid solutions together can encourage a better chance at healing.

Truly Listen

If a person feels guilty for hurting someone - or even that they've been wrongly accused, it can be a common reaction to want to tell their side of the story.

In the case of intimate relationships, a huge issue that can crop up is feeling unheard. And probably more in the case of apologies.

A helpful way to look at this kind of situation is that no one's feelings are wrong, and we can't own another person's feelings - even when those feelings are about us.

In the case of a betrayal or hurt, allowing the hurt party space to express their emotions and thoughts about the situation can be a part of a healthy discussion together.

Avoid Non-Apologies

If you've ever been hurt or humiliated, and the offending party says to you "well, I'm sorry you felt that way", you may be left feeling even more upset but not sure why.

A non-apology is the kind that shifts blame to the person that was 'wrongly offended'.

Don't be that person. When you know you've hurt someone - saying sorry may not take the hurt away, but a sincere apology is the first step to putting things right.

Forgiving Your Partner

In a world of human error, apologies are a wonderful necessity. But they may not be sufficient to repair the damage where a betrayal has occurred and trust has been broken.

Grudges can weigh heavily on an individual. Forgiveness has been shown to improve psychological wellbeing, and even physical health.

Interestingly, forgiving is not about 'letting that person off the hook'. Rather, true forgiveness offers empathy and compassion towards the person who hurt you.

Another important caveat here is where an offending party shows signs of chronic dishonesty and patterns of abuse - a clear area where outside help is necessary.

The Decision to Rebuild Trust

Rebuilding a relationship after trust has eroded is not easy, but it is possible.

Is looking at the foundations of trust in a relationship as simple as being nice to one another?

Make or Break?

A real conversation needs to take place - and not just with one's partner - but also with yourself. If trusting your partner again is a goal you would like to pursue, then there is a chance at rebuilding trust.

This may sound obvious, yet without this clear personal decision, staying without resolving the deeper issues may lead to further, and more serious, problems.

If each person has made a personal decision to continue, then a chat together doesn't need to 'work everything out' all at once. It's a simple first step on your new journey.

Survive or Thrive?

Couples who suffer infidelity might barely get through. Yet others may be able to turn the experience into an opportunity to recalibrate, learn and grow. How can the latter happen?

It's been found that the 'wake-up call' can disturb the status quo, or the ingrained and tired way that interaction looks within a partnership. It may be hard to define which direction a relationship might take when in the midst of painful upheaval, but each person taking stock of their own values and goals can provide the basis for that recalibration.

If both partners make the decision to stay in the relationship, deeper and more honest conversations are likely to be had - as compared to before.

How Would You Like Your Relationship to Look?

The patterns, beliefs, and interactions a couple has can paint a picture of the values and beliefs beneath them. Yet also, the current state of the relationship may not match how we would like our relationships to be.

If you feel that working with a psychologist could be beneficial to allowing trust to flourish, feel free to get in touch with a professional therapist.


1 - Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (2018). The science of couples and family therapy: Behind the scenes at the "love lab" W W Norton & Co.


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