How to Resolve Trust Issues in a Relationship

Two Methods:Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Broken ItOvercoming Personal Lifelong Trust Issues

Trust is a central component of any healthy, thriving relationship. Trust issues can arise from any number of sources: infidelity, aggression, childhood trauma, etc. If one or both members of a partnership finds it difficult to have faith in the other, your relationship will suffer considerably. This article will give advice on how to reestablish a healthy, trusting connection in your relationship.

Method 1
Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Broken It

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    Make dedicated appointments to discuss your relationship openly. If you and your partner are having trust issues, you must make honest communication a priority if you want the relationship to survive. However, it can be hard to bring up serious issues in casual conversation, and problems might go unaddressed until they explode in argument.
    • Set aside dedicated time to discuss your relationship one-on-one. The frequency of these conversations can vary depending on the needs of your specific relationship.
    • If your relationship is very rocky, you might set aside an hour every week to have an honest exchange of feelings.
    • Alternately, make a promise to one another than whenever one partner feels tension building in the relationship, they will voice their desire for a serious conversation.
    • Give yourselves time to prepare for the conversation. This will both keep the discussion from turning into an emotional, spur-of-the-moment argument, and allow each of you to think about everything you need to say, so you don’t overlook major issues.
    • Choose a time for the conversation that is free of distractions, and make a commitment to focus your attention on your partner without diverting your attention.[1]
    • Be a good listener — let your partner speak without interruption.[2]
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    Speak honestly about how you interpret each other’s actions. This includes both the behaviors that raise your alarms, and those which make you feel secure in the relationship. Be as explicit about action and reactions as possible. Some examples might include:
    • “I felt so relieved the other day when you told me honestly that your ex called, but that you only talked about work.”
    • “I’m uneasy about how you have to see him/her every day at work, but I’m so glad you’re not hiding your interactions from me. Please keep telling me about your interactions, so I don’t let my imagination run wild.”
    • "I felt ignored and unimportant earlier when you took an unimportant phone call right in the middle of my story about how hard work was today."
    • “I'm scared of you right now because you're raising your voice and getting in my face.”
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    Seek and give forgiveness together. Once trust has been broken, a relationship cannot be rebuilt without forgiveness; however, in many relationships, the betraying partner is too afraid to ask for forgiveness, and the betrayed is too angry to give it. Evidence suggests that a couple’s ability to ask for and provide forgiveness is a key indicator of the stability of a relationship. [3]
    • You may find it difficult to forgive because forgiveness is a difficult concept to define. Keep in mind that forgiveness does not imply approval of or consent toward untrustworthy behavior in a relationship; it is merely the letting go of negative, unproductive feelings for your partner’s past behavior that will allow you to move forward. It is an act of kindness in a relationship, and nothing more.
    • If you are the betraying partner, understand that when asking for forgiveness, you cannot expect your partner to forget past indiscretions. Forgiveness is not the same as trust. You still have to prove your trustworthiness every day.
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    Make a conscious decision to trust and be trustworthy. Until it has been broken, trust isn't something most people have to think about explicitly; only after someone has proven untrustworthy does it become a conscious choice you have to make on a day-to-day basis. Consider this metaphor as a way to help you choose trust every day:[4]
    • You drive to work every day without worrying too much about dying because you've never been in a bad accident. However, one day, a dangerous driver on the road causes an accident that lands you in the hospital, and you almost die. The next time you have to drive, you will likely be far more anxious about trusting the other drivers on the road than you were before. However, you have to drive again, so you choose to drive cautiously, perhaps being overly vigilant about other drivers. As time goes by and you continue driving without incident, you'll find your anxiety decreases and you can drive as normal again.
    • However, if another car cuts you off one day and almost causes another wreck, your anxiety will likely return ten-fold, making you mistrustful once again.
    • So one partner must choose every day to trust in the behavior of their partner, while the other partner must choose every day to act in a trustworthy manner.
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    Practice Rogerian arguments when you disagree about something.[5] Carl Rogers was a therapist whose practices have become widely accepted as model for conflict resolution. Rogerian argumentation posits that:
    • You should not begin to state your case until you can thoughtfully, empathetically state your partner’s case from their point of view. Before voicing your feelings, show your partner that you fully understand where they’re coming from.
    • For example, “I think that you probably feel like I’m trying to control you.”
    • You should point out the contexts in which your partner is right. For example “You’re right that last night, when I got upset that you didn’t text me back because you’d fallen asleep early, I overreacted and had unreasonable expectations of you.”
    • You should only state your case when you have validated your partner’s feelings: “I still feel like I’m putting more effort into this relationship than you are. Here are some examples of things you’ve done that have made me feel insecure.”
    • Instead of trying to “win” the argument, a Rogerian discussion should lead toward compromise that works to the benefit of both people in the relationship: “If I promise that I will stop overreacting to non-problems and you promise to set aside more time for us, we’ll both be able to trust each other again.”
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    Create a list of desired behaviors together. Perhaps one person in the relationship has been unfaithful or otherwise untruthful; perhaps you both have. In either case, work together to create an explicit list of things each partner can do to improve the relationship and rebuild trust. Some examples might include:
    • Both of you must call if you’re going to be home late, so your partner doesn’t wonder or worry.
    • Answer calls and texts from your partner immediately whenever possible rather than making them wait for a reply.
    • Eat dinner together every evening, and use the time to actually talk instead of eating silently in front of the TV.
    • Respect each other’s privacy by not snooping through emails and call logs.
    • When one of you feels like they're going to lose their temper, the conversation ends immediately — no questions asked. If someone needs to step away and decompress, the other does not follow them and continue arguing.
    • Be reasonable — unrealistic, overly demanding requests will only sow the seeds of resentment in the relationship.[6] For example, it’s not reasonable to expect your partner to pick up the phone immediately if you call in the middle of the workday; they may be in a meeting.
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    Use “I-statements” during difficult conversations. During highly charged emotional conversations, we often lapse into the second person: “you’re so inconsiderate,” or “you were ogling him/her!” However, beginning your sentences with “you” can make the other person feel attacked and defensive, and that rarely results in productive conversation. Instead, make statements that begin with “I” that focus on how you feel in a particular situation. This draws attention to how the offending behavior hurts you, rather than to how the other person is to blame. Be as specific as possible and try to avoid implying blame. Some examples of “I-statements” include:
    • “I was worried and anxious when you didn’t answer my calls all day, and I had trouble concentrating at work” instead of “you didn’t answer my calls all day and ruined my mood.”
    • “I couldn’t help but imagine the worst when I saw you talking to your ex” instead of “why were you talking to your ex?”
    • “I want to do something special, just the two of us, this weekend” instead of “you never make time for us.”
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    Keep your reactions proportional. If you and your partner have committed to openness and honesty, you may find yourself learning things that would otherwise have been kept hidden from you, or feeling compelled to share things you otherwise would have fibbed about. You might find it difficult to honor your promise to be accepting and appreciative of the truth.[7] While it’s perfectly fine to feel a natural reaction to the truth, both members of the relationship must work to keep your reactions proportional.
    • For example, if your partner has cheated in the past, you might find it difficult to accept that they have any kind of attraction to anyone who isn’t you.
    • If you catch them looking at someone, or if they admit finding someone attractive, you’re allowed to feel uncertain — but not upset.
    • Be rational: acknowledge that everyone has attractions to good-looking people, but that attraction is not equivalent to infidelity.
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    Stay in the present moment.[8] Your partner may have betrayed your trust in the past, but for the relationship to thrive, you have to acknowledge the past while accepting the present and looking forward to the future. Don’t live in the past unless your partner does something that specifically calls for a discussion of it.
    • For example, don’t bring up how your partner has lied about their whereabouts in the past unless you find that they have lied about it anew.
    • Don’t go in search of lies. If your partner has promised to make a fresh start, demonstrate your trust in them, even if it’s hard. Hunting out lies may result in your partner resenting you if they are making a good-faith effort to hold up their end of the deal.
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    Participate in relationship counseling as a couple.[9] Seek a licensed therapist — possibly one certified by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy if you can find one.[10] Ask your physician for a referral if you’re having trouble finding a therapist you trust, or seek the counsel of a spiritual advisor if you belong to a faith community.
    • You must each make a commitment to the therapy, and embrace the experience openly.
    • Do the homework your therapist assigns; it’s designed to guide you through difficult conversations in a structured manner that decreases the chance for arguments.
    • Even if your partner refuses to attend sessions, seeking professional advice on your own can help you implement changes that will rebuild trust and strengthen your relationship.

Method 2
Overcoming Personal Lifelong Trust Issues

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    Seek professional counseling. Psychotherapy, also called “talk therapy,” is the best way to begin the process of overcoming your reluctance or inability to enter into trusting relationships. Whether you suspect otherwise trustworthy partners of betraying you or consistently choose partners who prove to be untrustworthy individuals, the first step toward healthy relationships is to work through underlying personal issues that may be influencing your behavior.[11]
    • Psychotherapy sessions are typically held once a week, and last for 50 minutes.
    • Sessions are goal-oriented, and your therapist will equip you with techniques you can implement in your day-to-day life to manage both the symptoms and causes of your underlying trust issues.
    • Depending on your therapist’s evaluation, you may be prescribed medication that will help control your overall anxiety, including that directed toward relationships.
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    Confront past traumas that may be affecting your relationship now. The problems you face trusting your partner today may well have deep-seated roots that extend into your current relationship. Traumas such as childhood abuse — verbal, physical, and sexual — are common causes of trust issues in adults; severe traumas should be addressed under the guided direction of a medical professional.
    • Trauma need not be dramatic or severe to have lasting repercussions, though.
    • For example, the separation of one’s parents is a trauma often overlooked because so many people experience it, but don’t seem to suffer lasting negative consequences.
    • Don’t compare the severity of your experiences to that of other people. Whatever pain you feel is valid, and needs to be addressed.
    • If you cannot see a therapist, keep a journal about your traumatic experience. Force yourself to write about the memories that bring you pain.
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    Be open with your partner about past traumas. Though you will have to do much of the work in overcoming your trust issues on your own, you must include your partner in the process if you want to improve your relationship. When you find that you are deep enough into a relationship to want a future with someone, you have to make a conscious decision to share your past, your fears, and your insecurities with them.
    • Make clear both to your partner and to yourself that you don’t expect them to solve your problems.
    • All your partner can or should do is listen and be supportive, but that will go a long way toward building a strong relationship of trust with them.
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    Take ownership of the problems your issues might cause in the relationship.[12] This will be difficult to do, as nobody wants to hurt their relationship. However, if your inability to trust affects your partner in a negative manner, be willing to face them and admit that you have hurt them: “I’m sorry that I accused you of not loving me. Every day, you do something to prove me wrong, and I know that it doesn’t feel good to be accused of something like that.”
    • This will both show your partner that you recognize and appreciate them, and hold you accountable to yourself about the ways in which you externalize or take out your problems on your partner.
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    Admit that you’re not always right.[13] The need to be right or to feel superior is a natural human inclination — everyone wants to be right. However, the inability to acknowledge that you might be acting irrationally in withholding trust from your partner suggests an underlying problem that needs to be addressed.
    • Accept that you are wrong about any number of things in your daily life; simply because you believe something to be true does not mean that it is in fact true.
    • Generalize this acceptance to your perception of your partner’s trustworthiness. Your beliefs and the reality of the situation may not align as neatly as you want to believe.
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    Practice mindfulness in your relationship. Mindfulness, in a therapeutic context, means being consciously present in a given moment of crisis or anxiety in order to experience and work through it openly. Although its roots are in Eastern meditative tradition, it's become increasingly popular in western therapy. Studies suggest that the practice of mindfulness results in a demonstrative reduction in anxiety, depression, and stress, and improves both a person’s ability to recall specific memories from the past that might otherwise be painful or blurry, and their overall quality of life.[14]
    • Accept that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel in a given situation; simply allow yourself to feel what you are feeling in the present moment.[15]
    • Don’t focus on past experiences that might cloud your experience of the present moment. For example, the fact that your parents divorced has no bearing on your current relationship.
    • Don’t worry about the future either; focus only on what’s happening right now.
    • To focus your attention on the present moment, concentrate on your breathing; feel the air enter your body, experience the feeling of holding it in your lungs for a long beat, then concentrate on exhaling slowly and steadily.
    • Pay close attention to the sensory detail around you: what are you hearing, smelling, feeling, tasting, and seeing around you? Absorb the details of the present moment.

Sources and Citations

  3. Fife, Stephen T., Gerald R. Weeks, and Jessica Stellberg-Filbert. "Facilitating Forgiveness In The Treatment Of Infidelity: An Interpersonal Model." Journal Of Family Therapy 35.4 (2013): 343-367. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
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Categories: Relationship Issues