We often hear from individuals who want to create or rebuild trust in a meaningful connection, whether it's a sexual connection or a connection with a friend or family member, in my therapy practice and in my advice column. One of the most important components of getting emotionally intimate with someone is trust; it is definitely necessary for a good, deep connection.
Yet it is significantly simpler to lose trust than it is to regain it, and it takes significantly less time. Rebuilding trust, like establishing it in the first place, requires time, patience, and effort. However, if both parties are motivated, it is possible. Are you prepared to put in the work in exchange for a large potential reward? If that's the case, here's what you should do:
1. Be clear about what you mean and what you don't mean.
Even as little toddlers, we pick up on cues that someone is stating something that isn't entirely accurate. We stop believing what they're saying. The parent who constantly threatens to kick us out of the restaurant but never does; the sibling who constantly pledges to share her cookie but usually eats the entire thing — we stop believing what they're saying. Our self-protective instincts, which have been refined through thousands of years for survival, are likely to notice the classic kid screaming wolf.
And we'll change our behavior and expectations appropriately, learning not to place as much faith in the individual the next time so as not to be disappointed. So, if you want to build trust in your relationship, you must quit stating things you won't follow through on or that don't accurately reflect your true sentiments. Even seemingly tiny falsehoods, if repeated, can convince the other person that they can no longer believe what comes out of your lips.
2. Become vulnerable with time.
We trust via vulnerability in the connections we pick in our daily life. Some of this develops through time and via regular encounters, such as knowing that if our spouse says they'll pick us up at the airport, they'll show up, or knowing that if we eat a supper they've made, it won't include the allergy they know would cause us to have anaphylactic reactions. However, emotional vulnerability is also crucial.
Building trust requires a willingness to expose yourself to the danger of being wounded talking about something humiliating from your past, allowing them in on what worries you right now, and revealing aspects of yourself that you don't believe are "beautiful" enough for a first date. When our partners have the chance to let us down or injure us, but they don't, trust is developed. And, in order for them to pass the test and earn our confidence, we must expose ourselves to disappointment. To safeguard ourselves along the road, it's essential to go slowly.
3. Keep in mind the importance of respect.
Belittling us, making us feel less-than, or seeing us with disdain or disdain rather than respect is one of the most emotionally damaging ways our partners may harm us — and our trust. Consider the common denominator in each interaction, whether it's between a cashier and a client or a mother and a kid. And, as your relationship grows more emotionally personal, maintaining that fundamental level of respect becomes more vital, not less. Unfortunately, when we are really entwined with someone, we sometimes show them our ugliest side – which may be beneficial in terms of being vulnerable to them, but it can also mean treating them horribly.
We may lash out at our mother, kid, or spouse in ways we would never lash out at a cashier, and we forget that respect is much more crucial with our loved ones because of the long-term harm that a lack of it can do. This does not imply that you must constantly be professional and nice to your spouse. But it does imply that you must remember that every time you treat them in a manner that degrades or breaches the very minimum of decency and respect, you are weakening your bond with them and making it more difficult for them to trust you in the long run.
4. Assume the best of intentions.
Let's imagine you've had the same doctor for ten years and have learned to appreciate and trust him. Now contrast how you feel about that doctor's opinion with that of a doctor you've never met before. While you may be ready to believe both doctors' medical qualifications, chances are you'll feel far more at ease with the one you've grown to trust. In fact, since you trust them and have a history with them, that doctor may make some tough or shocking medical news easier to accept. In personal relationships, the same is true.
Setting aside your misgivings — even if only briefly and allowing the individual to come through for you goes hand in hand with trust. In situations when trust has been destroyed and you are attempting to repair it, such as adultery or drug misuse, it may not be prudent to dismiss all uncertainty at once. In some instances, the phrase "once bitten, twice shy" may apply, since you may still need to keep an eye on someone to protect yourself from additional injury.
But, in order to properly reestablish trust, you must be ready to thread together some moments of letting go. At least suspending it and seeing whether they come through for you over time. (Of course, if they don't, they're the ones who are destroying the trust-building process.)