No one wants to have trust issues in a relationship. However the relationship started, most likely neither of you wanted to betray each other. But figuring out how to rebuild trust in a relationship is crucial if you want to overcome massive trust issues.
Sometimes I wonder what went wrong with a relationship I had in my early 20s. Truth be told, I thought I was in a strong partnership until my ex started pulling away. We were both overseas at the time and they wanted to keep traveling for another few weeks.
Two weeks later, I got a message saying the relationship was over. Because I believed my ex to be a good person who would at least maintain respect for me, I assumed that the breakup couldn’t be easy for them, either. Sadly, I found out later through friends that my ex started dating someone soon after. They wanted to remain friends, but I felt so betrayed that we could never move past this incident.
Hopefully, if you maintain trust, you can move on and still have a healthy relationship. Keep reading to learn why trust is so important, why it’s so hard to rebuild when it’s broken and some practical ways to do so.
What is trust, and why is it important?
The concept of trust can be hard to define since it’s not exactly tangible. You can feel that you’re able to trust someone based on their behavior and verbal expressions. These are cues that are evidence of trust.
Some of this evidence can include:
- The ability to accurately predict certain types of behaviors from someone.
- Acting in a manner where you and your partner depend on each other.
- Feeling confident or secure that your partner is reliable and they care about you and your well-being.
Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, a couples financial therapist at Mind Money Balance, adds that trust is a like a mutual belief with someone.
“Think of it as the fact you don’t need to see your partner’s texts because you know what would be there, like innocent messages from family and friends,” she said.
Trust is a crucial part of intimacy. Without it, it’ll be hard to communicate your needs and wants, plus feel they will be met.
“Trust is important in a relationship because for most of us, trust takes time to build,” Bryan-Podvin added. “Once we do build it, it creates a bond within that relationship that strengthens it from outside issues.”
What this means is that trust gives you a safe space where you can express yourself constructively to your partner. You want to feel understood, and so does your partner. If trust issues get in the way, that’s when communication issues arise and can lead to one or both partners feeling unsafe or insecure in their relationship.
To put it another way, having your trust broken means that you can’t feel you’re able to predict what your partner will do, therefore leading to feeling a lack of confidence in the relationship.
Why is rebuilding trust in a relationship so hard?
As difficult as it can be to build trust, rebuilding it after someone’s violated it seems even harder.
Bryan-Podvin suggests there’s an evolutionary explanation. In a study conducted by Penny Spikins, an archaeologist at the University of York, trusting people in our tribes was essential to our survival. If someone violated your trust, your lives could be at risk. That means you want to stick with people who will care for each other’s well-being and where you can communicate to have everyone’s needs met.
“Unfortunately, our modern brains haven’t caught up,” Bryan-Podvin said. “Whether it’s a partner that betrays us by lying or withholding information, most of the time, our life isn’t at risk.”
When someone’s betrayed your trust, it means that their actions and words haven’t meshed up. For example, if your partner says they’re taking their mom out to dinner but it was really a romantic interest, you may not believe this person is where they say they are next time. If your partner were to rebuild your trust, they would need to find some way to ensure that their actions line up with their words.
If you think about it, this can get complicated, fast. Does this person need to tell you exactly where they are 24/7? Or are there ways to communicate that they’re trustworthy again where you can feel safe with them? And that’s to say nothing about more abstract betrayals of trust that don’t have obvious corrections.
How to reestablish trust in a relationship
As mentioned, rebuilding trust in a relationship can be tough. While there are no clear-cut ways to do so, there are some best practices you can implement to understand how to rebuild trust in a relationship.
First, Bryan-Podvin suggests creating open communication as quickly as possible after a mistake. In her line of work, it often looks like fessing up to debt incurred without the partner’s knowledge or hiding some other form of financial account. Whether you’re the one doing the confessing or being confessed to, make sure there’s honest communication.
“I often find that this type of honest communication needs to be more frequent at the beginning of rebuilding the trust,” she said. “It might be talking weekly about the issue and moving to a check-in throughout a longer period of time.”
In other words, over time both of you should be able to give each other plenty of space and autonomy to the point where it was like before the betrayal. If you or your partner feel you both need to constantly check in, is that truly rebuilding trust?
Here are some suggestions to try and be a better communicator:
- Find the time. You both need to create time to talk to each other. Making time is one way you’ll show each other that your relationship is important.
- Time your conversations. Sometimes when you say something is just as important as how you say it. Find a time to talk about heavy topics when neither of you feel rushed and both of you can feel calm and focused.
- Communicate face to face. Talking about serious matters, especially as it relates to rebuilding trust, cannot be done through text messages or emails.
- There’s no need to attack. Create a safe space for everyone to express their feelings. It’s fine if you feel angry but shouting or using language that sounds like you’re attacking your partner may put them on the defensive. If that’s the case then they’ll be less receptive to what you have to say.
- Be honest. Yes, the truth can hurt but it’s the key to rebuilding trust. Plus, you can be honest in a way where you’re both respectful to each other.
- Breathe. Sometimes both of you need to step away from a conversation if it gets heated. That’s OK. Take a short break and come back if you need to.
- Listen with your whole body. Active listening means you’re facing your partner and listening to what they have to say, not going over in your mind what you will say before they’re expressed themselves fully.
There are no cut and dry answers regarding how long it’ll take for both of you to rebuild trust since each relationship is different. Hopefully both of you will know when that happens—whether you explicitly communicate it to a partner or you can both sense it.
How to rebuild trust when you’ve been betrayed
Bryan-Podvin advises the first step is to not blame yourself for what happened. Doing so means it might take longer to heal from the lack of trust in your relationship.
“Sounds strange, but so many people who have been betrayed immediately jump into victim mode,” Bryan-Podvin said. “They can tell themselves things like ‘If only I’d X, they’d never have lied,’ which isn’t helpful.”
Instead, lean into your feelings and don’t censor anything. You have a right to feel how you want to feel. In addition, don’t judge yourself for how you need to heal. Bryan-Podvin suggested that you may need to consider a cool-off period from your partner or go to therapy.
“Forgiving isn’t condoning your partner’s behavior,” she said. “Forgiving is saying ‘I’m going to let the past live in the past.’”
How to rebuild trust with someone you hurt
If you’re the one who betrayed your partner, you’ll need to come to terms with what happened. You’ll want to take an honest look at yourself and check in to see why you felt you had to betray your partner.
Bryan-Podvin suggested that people tend to lie when they don’t have another option. Perhaps you were worried your partner wouldn’t “let” you do what you wanted to do. Or, perhaps you felt stifled in the relationship but either couldn’t or didn’t express that. In other cases, maybe you thought lying would protect your partner from bad news.
Whatever the reason is, you should try to communicate this to your partner when you fess up. You should also aim to give your partner space to feel their feelings and not to force them to forgive you, or else it’ll end up backfiring.
How to know when it can’t be salvaged
At some point, it’s not fair to either of you to stay together. One betrayal might not be a dealbreaker, but if it’s chronic, then it may be a warning to call it quits. That being said, if the particular betrayal is so big that you don’t feel you can trust your partner ever again even after some time has passed, then that could be a sign your relationship can’t be salvaged.
“There aren’t hard and fast rules, but if the person who betrayed you swear they’ll never do it again but goes ahead and does, then it’s not healthy for either person to be in the relationship,” Bryan-Podvin said.
It doesn’t matter who makes the call to end the relationship, because staying in the relationship at this point means both partners are enabling the poor behavior.
It’s always been a matter of trust
In a committed relationship, both of you need to trust each other enough that there’s a safe space to communicate needs and wants. It means knowing how to speak to each other so there are clear expectations in the relationship. If that’s broken, then it can be hard to rebuild it. Knowing when to repair or let go of a relationship isn’t easy, but necessary if both of you want to thrive as individuals, with or without that person.