Trust can be a funny thing. Many say they trust their partner — but how many marriages fail because one person refuses to cede any territory to the other? Trust is often an especially significant struggle for new parents, when territorial instincts and anxiety come out and one partner inevitably says to the other, “but don’t you trust me?”
The truth is, trust can be tricky because everyone has their own version of it. It’s often assumed, or contingent on “well, you love me so you should trust me.” But trusting another person isn’t as easy as loving someone. Both building trust and restoring it are complicated, but essential, parts of building a healthy marriage and family.
So how do you build trust in relationships? Here are some of the important steps.
1. Align your words and actions
In any important relationship, trust will grow when your words consistently match your actions. On the flip side, if you do one thing and say another, you’ll form a breach. According to California-based marriage and family therapist Amber Trueblood, being aware of your actions and correcting them when your actions differ from your words can allow trust to form again.
Focus on doing what you’ll say you do and keeping your promises. “If you say you’re the most important person in the world to me yet consistently prioritize work and friends and time at the gym over your time with your partner, the disconnect between your words and your actions can seriously damage trust in the relationship,” Trueblood says.
2. Show respect
Respect, which can be conveyed in the tone of your words, the time you spend together, and the support you show for your partner’s feelings and interests, is another core component of building trust in a relationship. If you feel like your partner is struggling to trust you, rebuild it by showing you’re listening and prioritizing an emotional connection rather than being right – even if you don’t necessarily agree with your partner’s take.
“Listening and seeking to understand rather than question your partner’s perceptions can truly help restore trust in a relationship,” says Trueblood.
3. Compromise your values
According to Saba Lurie, a marriage and family therapist in California, it can be difficult to trust your partner when you feel your values are at odds. If your top priority is fun, but your partner values safety, your partner might (understandably) struggle to cede territory to you.
If this is the case, put everything on the table and talk it out. Name what your core values are, and come up with ways to honor both. For example, brainstorm ways to have fun without making your partner feel like you don’t care about safety, and vice versa.
4. Be honest
Even if you aren’t spinning stories or knowingly deceiving your partner, don’t neglect the prioritization of honesty in your relationship. Do what you said you’d do, be emotionally honest during conversations, and don’t forget the negative impact of little white lies. Telling your partner you didn’t do something when you actually did do it (or vice versa) might not seem like a big deal, but over time, frequent white lies can easily erode trust in a relationship.
5. Say you’re sorry
The inability to admit fault is an easy way to lose someone’s confidence. Self-awareness and humility are crucial. Nobody’s perfect –– so when you make mistakes or say and do things you later regret, Trueblood says it’s important to own up to those things. Being willing to admit you messed up shows your partner you care about the relationship more than being right, which can play a big part in building trust between you.
6. Focus on connection
Life with little kids can be hard, and you may not get the time with your partner you’re both used to. It’s easy to tune out and do your own thing with the small amount of free time you get, but Trueblood says prioritizing a connection is important in maintaining a sense of trust. If your partner feels distant from you, it’ll be hard to trust you – even if your intentions are good.
When you get a pocket of free time, even if it’s 30 minutes before bed, tune in to your partner instead of zoning out, even if it’s just catching up on your favorite Netflix show together. You’ll be surprised how even the occasional connection point amidst the chaos of parenting can restore trust in your relationship.
7. Have a conversation
It’s important to recognize, per Lurie, that someone’s lack of trust in you might not always about you. It could be tied to another experience your partner is working through. For example, if your partner is hesitant to let you watch the baby, it might be that they’re struggling with general anxiety. Or, they could be fixating on one thing you messed up on – for example, if you forgot to put sunscreen on your toddler one time, it might be hard for your partner to let that go.
If you sense the lack of trust stems from a specific issue rather than a problem in the relationship, bring it up. Admit where you messed up if you did, or listen to their anxiety if that’s what’s beneath the surface. And don’t freak out about Oh it was just one time! This is obviously something they feel very strongly about. Validating the other person’s experience and having a conversation about what it takes to build trust moving forward could make a huge difference.
8. Create emotional safety
Without a felt sense of emotional safety in a relationship, it’s impossible to trust someone. If trust is wobbly, work to create an environment where your partner feels free to share their needs, and aim to honor those needs however you can. For example, if your partner shares they’re struggling and need some space, respect those boundaries.
Another way to do that, according to Trueblood, is to simply invite your partner to share what they need. For example, if you’re noticing they’re stressed or struggling, ask how you can best support them. When they share their concerns, validate them instead of trying to fix it.
Doing this – even if it’s hard – communicates you value the other person’s well being, which builds trust in your relationship.
And according to Trueblood, if you’re not able to provide that emotional –– or physical –– safety, then trust isn’t actually the goal. In that case, the partner who feels threatened should prioritize their own safety by seeking out a friend or health professional who can help.
9. Attend therapy
If trust is an ongoing issue even after you spend time working on it, don’t hesitate to enlist some professional help. Talking to a couple’s therapist together can be a great way to uncover why trust is difficult in your relationship, and to come up with some new strategies for restoring it. It might not be easy to take the leap, and talking through stuff might be awkward –– but the well-being of your relationship and your family are worth the investment.