6 Ways to Build Trust in a Relationship
Trust can offer peace of mind and growth in relationships and takes time to build and, in some cases, rebuild. Here are expert tips to try.
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How to build trust in relationships
Characteristics of a healthy relationship include several things: clear communication, empathy, appreciation—but first and foremost, trust.
“Trust is the foundation of any relationship,” says Reena B. Patel, San Diego-based licensed educational psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, and author of Winnie & Her Worries.
“Lack of trust can sabotage a relationship before it begins.” Patel explains that respect shows your partner you value them, allowing you to feel secure and confident. “Trust provides motivation and positive energy to help support a healthy relationship.”
It can take time to create the foundations that trust requires; it’s not something that simply happens overnight. “Trust develops over time, requires a level of reliability in knowing you will always be there, and understanding. Trust also requires sacrifice,” says Patel.
Before you learn how to build trust in a relationship, it’s important to understand why trust is so crucial between partners. (For a head start, here’s how to make someone trust you.)
Why is trust important in a relationship?
Lasting relationships aren’t just about sweet words; a solid foundation is critical. “Just as important as those three little words ‘I love you,’ being able to say ‘I trust you’ is critical for love that lasts,” says Jessica L. Griffin, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
“Our partner should be our respite from the outside world, a soft spot for us to land. In order for trust to exist and grow, we need to know that our partner ‘gets us,’ has our best interests, and that we can depend on them to be available—e.g., be physically and emotionally present—for us.”
When a relationship has lost trust, it can feel off-balance, explains Sharron Frederick, a psychotherapist at Clarity Health Solutions in Jupiter, Florida.
“Trust is a difficult thing to define, but you will certainly know when trust has been lost in the relationship,” she says, citing lost trust as one of the main reasons people end relationships. Feeling safe is key to emotional honesty and authenticity, as well as communication that’s free from judgment, rejection, or ridicule. “Our partners having our back is paramount and it allows us to confidently go out into the world and take risks, ultimately working towards being our best selves,” says Frederick.
(Worried for your relationship? Beware of the relationship fights that cause serious damage.)
Now, here are six ways to help build or build trust in a relationship, according to our panel of experts.
Lies will erode the trust that’s so important to a healthy partnership. “Honesty is the mortar and bricks used to continue to strengthen, build, and shape the relationship,” says Bethany Cook, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist and author of What it’s Worth: A Perspective on How to Thrive and Survive Parenting.
“Some individuals trust completely from the start and others must build the foundation of trust through honest interactions,” she says.
Cook notes that all relationships will be tested, and being fallible, all humans will make mistakes. At times, that includes dishonesty.
“When these moments happen, the most important thing to do is to repair the tear in the relationship with an apology and changed behavior,” says Cook, adding, “One dishonest interaction may cause some crumbling of a relationship’s structure for a moment, but through continued honest interactions one is able to rebuild and repair the trust.”
Honesty isn’t just important to those you love; it’s also something you need to practice in yourself.
“There are two important aspects of honesty—consciously choosing to speak truth to your partner and the second, working on increasing your ability to be honest with yourself,” says Drew. “Honesty with oneself helps a person develop healthy boundaries as well as being able to clearly communicate their needs.” (Here’s why things are doomed if you keep lying in a relationship.)
Vulnerability leads to openness
It’s hard to truly connect with your partner without being vulnerable, however, openness is difficult for most people, says Frederick. “Vulnerability appears to be a word most people do not even like saying, let alone feeling,” says Frederick. “A lack of vulnerability results in us not being honest and forming trust in a relationship can be difficult.”
With vulnerability, you’re opening yourself up, which can be scary but also can lead to openness and increased relationship satisfaction.
“An expert in the field of vulnerability, Dr. Brene Brown, found that people who were happy could credit it to being vulnerable in their relationships,” explains Frederick. “By being vulnerable, people are being their authentic selves which helps others to understand them on a deeper level.”
However, vulnerability can’t be forced. “Some people feel uncomfortable sharing minor personal issues or ailments and that needs to be respected as well,” says Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Regine Muradian, explaining that people will decide whether sharing inner thoughts and emotions is safe only after assessing others.
“Trusting your intuition on choosing whom you will be vulnerable with is a good first step,” Muradian says. She recommends baby steps toward sharing. “Practicing in front of a mirror can also be a good exercise in decreasing the anxiety around sharing about themselves.”
Vulnerability can be good for your health. Here are the health benefits of hugging, backed by science.
Respect is an essential part of relationships
Without respect, a relationship doesn’t have a critical foundation. “Mutual respect is a must for any healthy relationship,” says Cook.
“Respect that is demanded or forced is bullish behavior and already sets up the relationship for failure with an unbalanced distribution of power.” When you respect somebody, even if you disagree with each other, you still value their autonomy, says Cook, explaining, “When we respect someone else, we see them as a whole person and are less likely to use gaslighting and manipulation tactics to get one’s needs met. We can’t trust someone we don’t respect.”
Respect is a two-way street: You want to feel respected by your partner, but you must respect them as they are, too. (Beware of the signs you’re in a toxic relationship.)
Taking chances together helps build trust
Taking risks can be scary, especially these days when there is so much unknown, but past studies have shown that risk-taking can lead to personal growth—and the same holds true for relationships.
“Trust is built before, during, and after doing risky things together,” says Cook. “You show vulnerability with one another while you discuss the ‘plan,’ sharing fears and concerns which are met by someone who respects your voice.”
By deepening the connection and trust during the scary event, you can lean on each other for support, Cook says. “After the risk is taken, a couple continues to bond as they process what happened—good or bad—remembering to remain vulnerable and honest. Doing something together which is outside one’s comfort zone is a great way to bring two people together and strengthen trust.” (Here’s how to make your partner feel loved in a relationship.)
Other ways to build trust in relationships
One of the most impactful ways to build trust with somebody is through empathy. “Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes is so essential,” says Patel.
For Frederick, boundaries are critical when it comes to building trust, as is follow-through and reliability.
“We all need to know where we stand, and making sure that boundaries are enforced is important. Are you reliable? It is difficult to build a relationship with someone who is not reliable, because if you cannot keep plans with someone, then how in the future are you going to be reliable when something difficult occurs? It is important that you are true to your word and follow through.”
Cook recommends being honest about even the touchiest subjects, despite it being difficult or feeling nerve-wracking. “Go to your partner with one or two things in the moment, versus saving up a long list. The latter option gives the impression of ‘holding out’ and doesn’t build trust.”
Patel agrees about the importance of honesty. “Letting your guard down, even if it scares you because you’ve dealt with trauma in the past, there’s no way for your partner to truly see you for you. And also talk about why you’re scared of letting them in,” Patel says, adding, “Relationships are ultimately all about compromise.”
Next, read more successful relationship advice.
- Jessica L. Griffin, PsyD, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusettes
- Sharron Frederick, LCSW, psychotherapist at Clarity Health Solutions in Jupiter, Florida
- Regine Muradian, PsyD, clinical psychology, Los Angeles
- Bethany Cook, PsyD, clinical psychologist, health service psychologist, a board-certified music therapist, and author of What it's Worth - a prospective on How to Thrive and Survive Parenting, Chicago
- Reena B. Patel, LEP, BCBA, parenting expert, guidance counselor, licensed educational psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, and author of Winnie & Her Worries, San Diego