Build Trust with Your Partner

Build Trust with Your PartnerArthur Ashe is credited with saying, “Trust has to be earned, and should come only after the passage of time.” That’s the conventional wisdom. We think of trust as something people earn from us.

But is that the best way to build trust?

Surface level trust is common. It happens all the time. But finding someone you can trust with your life is a much taller order. That kind of trust requires a more proactive approach.

In other words, sitting back and waiting for the guy you’re dating to earn your trust isn’t likely to create a deep sense of loyalty. If you want that kind of trust, you’ll have to build it on purpose as a couple. And how do you do that? By doing something that’s both simple and terrifying.

Give it away.

I know that sounds weird. It flies in the face of how we think trust is built. You don’t just give it to people. They’re supposed to earn it. But let’s think this through. Suppose you trust me with a small amount of money, and I handle it responsibly. If I need a bigger loan later on, you’ll be more likely to agree.

The practice of giving trust builds trust. But that’s just the beginning.

To create a really deep sense of trust, you and your partner will need to know what issues are the most important to you. You’ll have to openly share some pretty personal information. This is, itself, an act of trust. And once you both know the other’s core fears about trust violation, you’ll be able to practice giving each other trust in those specific areas.

Here’s a practical example.

Let’s say you’re a very private person. You don’t like having pictures of yourself show up unexpectedly on his Facebook wall. You’re also not comfortable with the idea of him sharing personal information about you and your feelings with his buddies. Privacy might be an area where people have violated your trust (perhaps without realizing it) in the past.

Your first step would be to talk to him about the things that cause you to lose trust. Explain your feelings. Let him know why these things make you uncomfortable. Don’t sugar coat it or act like it’s no big deal. Tell him in no uncertain terms that this is the kind of stuff that could undermine your trust in him.

Then, give him trust before he’s even had the chance to earn it. Give him permission to post pictures of you on Facebook. Tell him he can talk to his friends about you.

That’s right. Give him permission to do the things that scare you. Having heard why those things make you uncomfortable, he should have enough information to move forward with your insecurities in mind. Let him know that this is an opportunity to demonstrate that he’s heard and understood what you need to feel like you can trust him.

Make sure you’re very clear about this. He needs to know that how he handles this stuff will either build trust or tear it down.

Also, make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to expectations about each other’s behavior. For example, he may think it’s perfectly okay to continue relationships with his platonic female friends, including meeting for coffee one-on-one. If you’re not comfortable with that, you’ll need to let him know.

This is kind of like the opposite of discussing your core fears. It’s important that you both understand what the other feels is normal and permissible within a relationship. If you don’t have this conversation upfront, one of you may do something that damages trust without realizing it.

Trust isn’t that difficult to build. It takes courage, sure, but it’s not rocket science. Rebuilding trust, however, is hard. It’s best to build trust with crystal clear communication so you minimize the number of times you have to repair or rebuild it.

The key thing to remember is the active role you both play. Trust isn’t a wild flower that grows and thrives without attention. If you want a relationship of deep, soul-level trust, you’ll have to work to build it.

Start by giving it away before it’s earned.


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24 thoughts on “Build Trust with Your Partner

  1. Liliane said:

    Should you trust a person with multiple addictions?

    • James Bauer said:

      A question about trust must always be asked in the context of what it is you are trusting a person with. So for example, I would not trust someone with multiple addictions to manage my financial affairs because of the high likelihood that some of my money would be diverted to fund the addiction. However, I might trust that person to keep a secret or I might trust them to be honest with me depending on whether they had proven themselves trustworthy in those areas.

    • Debbie said:

      No simple answers to that question. If you know a person had or has addictions you really can’t be responsible for that. If they are in a program and working on themselves then you have to watch and see if they are being genuine or just mimicking solutions. Are they all talk or getting into action. What type of personality are they? If you are unsure be careful, don’t invest to much until you have a good feeling the person is genuinely into recovery.

  2. Carma Spence said:

    Very insightful … and applicable to many areas of our lives outside of romance. I like the idea of being upfront about what scares you or makes you uncomfortable. I’ve always felt it was unfair to be angry at someone for stepping on your toes when you never let them know your toes were there in the first place. πŸ™‚ Being upfront with those you love, helps them know where your toes are so they wont’ step on them.

  3. Karen said:

    Thanks for your post, it helps me a lot!
    I’m now rebuilding the trust on my man, be

  4. Pat said:

    Great article, James. There are so many things we can take for granted in a new relationship, and if it’s been awhile since our last one, it may not even occur to us that we can be proactive rather than wait until there’s something negative to react to. I appreciate your words and hope they hit home for a lot of your readers.

  5. lisa said:

    this is really big! I’ve having a hard time trusting because my bf cheated..I’m gonna try giving trust and hope it works.

  6. Lorna (LaLa) said:

    Gosh, that is a hard one to get my head around. But I am sure you are right. We all need each other, cannot possibly survive without each other, so we MUST learn to trust other people, even though we may have been battered and bruised in the past and find it very difficult, and put up barriers.
    “No man is an island entire of itself”
    I DO have a problem with trust, but will try to put your recommendations into practice.
    Give trust away first? I am not sure I can see what you mean. I suppose a bit like letting your guard down. Tearing down the walls or removing the outer shell to reveal your vulnerable self? Becoming transparent. Then the other person can see your real self and not the hard outer shell you put around yourself to protect yourself, which keeps everyone out? Then THEY feel trusted and trustworthy and more likely to open up and trust you? Interesting. Is that right?
    Thank you, once again James. You do have some wonderful gems of wisdom to offer, and have helped me enormously over the months.
    I keep your write-ups handy and often re-read them when I feel the need.
    Lorna

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi LaLa. I always enjoy your comments. Basically, what I mean in this article is that by actively finding ways to take baby steps toward trust you can build it on purpose.

  7. Marta said:

    It wasn’t until I read this that I realized I had been doing this recently, but it didn’t really feel like I was building trust. Your words hit home. Give it away. Tell him what my fears are first. Give him the opportunity to know how it would make me feel to do or not do in any given situation. It not only builds trust but strengthens the communication between us. Thank you, again.

  8. kiala said:

    In terms of what you said about some people being very private and experiencing loss of trust through sharing too much information about them publicly…I have lost a man’s trust in this way and I am wondering how to repair the situation.

    We are part of an online community where we have lots of mutual friends. We were just online friends for 4 years. Over the last year, after we met in person and became sexually involved, we’ve had a close relationship-like long distance connection. I’m pretty open expressive person, and I was very smitten with him and very excited about us meeting and enthusiastic about our closeness, so i was often mentioning his name and things about him/us to our mutual friends in the chatroom in our online community.

    He let me know that he is a very private person and that me talking about him too much made him uncomfortable. I asked him why privacy was so important to him but he only said “i have always been like that”. I tried to respect his wishes but I felt hurt, like he was trying to hide our connection from people. I was worried he wasnt as enthusiastic about us as I was and that maybe he was trying to hide how close we were so he could flirt with other girls. Besides, I was so infatuated with him that I just thought about him all the time and it was hard not to talk about it. I couldnt help myself and I ended up continuing to talk about him and us more than he liked. We started fighting about this and he started getting distant.

    I finally stopped talking about him/us 6 months ago but he just can’t get over the past now. He still says he doesnt trust me to change. After I stopped discussing him and our “relationship” with these people, he had a go at me several times when I publicly discussed things about my own life, things that had nothing to do with him… things he thought were too personal to share. I don’t understand why this would bother him when it’s about my own life and not about him? He would snap at me saying that he “thought I’d changed and I clearly hadn’t” and that I still had no understanding of what should be private… I would be left bewildered as to why he was mad when i hadnt mentioned anything about him and only things about myself, and didnt understand how it was his business what i share about myself. Why is he bothered by this?

    He is getting very distant and keeps acting really resentful and I’m scared of losing him. Explaining why I acted the way I did hasn’t helped. How can I get this man’s trust back? I’ve tried giving him space but he continues to be resentful and irritable

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Kiala. This might be a situation where you would make more progress with a third party involved, someone who could “translate” your very different perspectives on privacy while perhaps also adding a perspective on what is and what is not “normal.” In the end, normal doesn’t matter, but sometimes it helps people to realize that their own perspective is not necessarily the right one, but rather just one perspective. The real key is to discover if there is a middle ground that exists, a compromise that you both feel comfortable with even if it is not what you would have chosen if the other partner was not involved.

      First reach for understanding. Then reach for compromise.

      Asking him about the meaning of privacy and the emotional reaction he has at the thought of sharing private information will help him to explain why he feels the way he does. Don’t accept “I’ve just always been this way” as that is basically just a refusal to engage in introspection. Also, I advise you ask several friends if they see you as a person who shares a little too much online. Many of us have friends who seem oblivious regarding what is TMI. I’m not saying that’s you, but it wouldn’t hurt to be on the safe side by checking with several close friends after asking them to tell you the real truth rather than what they think you want to hear.

      Wishing you the best,

      James

      • Kiala said:

        Hi,
        Yes a few people have said I share too much online. In the meantime I’ve also heard a few people say that he is overly private to the point where it’s strange. There seems to be divided opinion among our friends with some thinking his perspective is right and some thinking mine is right. So I’m pretty confused.

        I want to compromise but can’t seem to be able to get past this anger and irritability he has developed since this happened. I don’t even really share about him online anymore but he’s still angry and keeps assuming I’ll do it again. He even admitted that he overreacts to small things I say now because he’s still affected by what happened. I thought this would pass but he’s been like this for some time now and interprets everything I do and say negatively. He is someone I was good friends with for 4.5 years without a single fight before this happened and he was quite fond of me. I just want it back to how it was.

        • Linda said:

          Kiala,
          I’ve been there. I met a guy and we got along great. He was hesitant about becoming Facebook friends. He said a past girlfriend would post pictures of them and tag him and he didn’t like that. I asked what the big deal was. He said because he was a private person After dating him for 3.5 months I realized it was because he was dating other women and didn’t want them to see the pictures. He didn’t want to introduce me to his friends or kids but made it very clear he was “falling for me”. He also said he was a very private person and didn’t like when people’s shared stuff on Facebook. We met on match.com. He said he disabled his account because he was happy being with me. I found out later that he set up a new match.com account and was contacting other women for dates. All while being with me. Insisting that he’s a private person is his way of saying he doesn’t want people knowing about your relationship in case he meets someone else. I confronted him numerous times about him dating other women and he said he wasn’t and that “he liked me”. I finally dumped him and two weeks later he contacted me to tell me he was an ass but never admitted to dating other women. He said I was the perfect one for him. He said sometimes it takes being away to realize what you had. I basically told him “you don’t Know what you have until it’s gone”. And by then it can be too late. He now wants to meet up to talk. But I really think I lost his trust because he never admitted to dating other women from the online dating sites. If a guy makes excuses to hide your relationship with you it’s not necessarily because he’s a private person. It’s because he’s hiding something. Be aware of that. Well that’s my opinion. I hope it works out for you.

  9. Sara said:

    How to deal with a man who is having a lot of platonic female friends and spending frequently time with them? He says, they are only buddies for him, but I guess that some of them may want more from him. So how to stay cool and not jealous if he says- on sunday I go for a long walk outside of the city with Anne? Or- Mary invited me to the cinema and to a dinner after it. Should I just smile and wish him fun, although I do feel jealous? I just don’t feel comfortable that he is spending so much time with other women. At the end, many affairs or relationships start from a platonic friendship. But I don’t want to mistrust him, because this is quite a non-appealing behaviour. I try to trust my boyfriend, but it’s still not easy. At the beginning of our relationship he said to me- a woman on my side has to accept that I will keep my female friends and continue spending time with them, or she isn’t the right one for me. I trust him that he isn’t cheating on me, but having so much oppportunities for flirting or just being toghether with other women all the time, could bring even the strongest man into a tempation. Any thoughts?

    • James Bauer said:

      Sara,

      A good way to test if they actually are only buddies is to invite yourself along from time to time.

      If they really are just friends, the more the merrier. But if he (or she) seems unsure how it would still be fun with you there, then I’d consider whether his stance will work for you guys long term.

      James

      • Lorna (LaLa) said:

        I absolutely agree with your comment and James’ reply. The other women “friends” are really hard to take on board, aren’t they. At my age (67) I find it hard because times have changed and it is much more acceptable for men (and women) to have friends of the opposite sex now than when I was young – it was out of the question in those days – a couple was a couple was a couple! Apart from opposite sex family members. I actually do have men friends of my own now who really are just friends, and I know that there will never be anything romantically between us, But believing that when it is the other way around is so hard to do. I do get jealous when my man meets up with other women – especially if I see a gleam in their eye, and I know how manipulative women can be when they want to hook a man. I think, as James says, to try to get yourself invited along, and see how the land lies. Also, it is important to voice your distress (in a calm, non-agressive, blaming way), because we all have different view points and boundaries, and maybe your man thinks in a different way to you. If he realizes how hurt, anxious and worried you are about his behaviour, if he really loves you, he should not want to distress you. Having said all that, he is at least TELLING you. If it was a big secret, there would be so much more to worry about. I wish you luck. Keep on in there. With love, LaLa .

        • Sara said:

          Thank you Lala! My boyfriend is used to have female friends since his early youth and some of those friendships are older then 20 years. He told me on the very beginning that he won’t give up those friendships for any woman, because women come and go, but friends stay for ever. If his girlfriend can’t deal with those female friendships, she just doesn’t fit to him. Of course I said, no, I’m having no problems with this fact, I’m having male friends too. But I’m a very jealous and possesive woman and with my 40 years I can’t expect I will suddenly change…

          • Sara said:

            I mean 49, not 40 πŸ™‚ whishful thinking, LOL

    • Jessica said:

      Are you married, engaged, or in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship? Either way, I think a man who is in a relationship with a woman (but especially when married or betrothed) should not be spending so much time with other women. It is an appearance of evil. It may be seemingly innocent to “Platonic Man Friend” and Anne, but it can appear as though there is more that meets the eyes to others. You are right that it is does open the door for temptation. He should strive to protect you, himself, and your relationship.

      I would ask him why he has the need to hang out with other women. From what you are saying, it sounds like he spends a substantial amount of time with other females. There’s nothing wrong with say, connecting with a childhood friend over lunch or taking a short walk on lunch with a female co-worker, but it sounds like he is doing more than this too frequently for comfort.

      The fact that he had to preface your relationship by saying, “a woman on my side has to accept that I will keep my female friends and continue spending time with them, or she isn’t the right one for me” is a blaring red flag in and of itself. Ask yourself if your values are aligned. If you are experiencing jealousy now, you are not on the same page. It may be true that you are not the right woman for him and that’s okay!

      I am going to have to disagree with James on this one. The more is not the merrier in this case. Why do you need to invite yourself? Why doesn’t he invite you to these outings? He should be spending more time with you than time with these “platonic” female friends. He needs to get some more guy friends.

      Please do yourself a favor, save yourself from heartache, and get out of this relationship ASAP!

      • Linda said:

        I absolutely agree with your opinion. A lunch now and then is fine. But dinner and a show should be with your partner not a female friend. That women should not be inviting a man on a “date” when he is in a relationship. She’s disrespecting you and your boyfriend should know that. That’s not someone you should be with. Basically he’s saying you’re probably not a long tern relationship when he says “women come and go” because ifcmy boyfriend said that to me I would have been gone!!

        • Sara said:

          An update two years later- we are now in a committed relationship, my boyfriend loves me and I’m the first woman in his life who brought him on this point. He doesn’t meet his old female friends anymore, only here and there he’s seeing his very oldest friend who’s married now and who likes me a lot and who’s like a sister for him. But he doesn’t meet any other women for dinners or walks, or shows like he did in the past with other female friends. He actually broke off the contact with the majority of his female buddies he had in the past. He changed completely!
          After two and a half years of our casual relationship and a lot of difficult times we went through, I confronted him with a desicion- either I’m the one and he will commit to me completely, or I will break up with him.
          His reaction and decision were very clear. He said, I literally had to “force” him to his luck, but it was the best decision he ever made, because he loves me so much and he almost lost me because of his stupid attitude as an old bachelor.
          Now we have almost too much relationship and closeness. He would also like to move together with me, but I don’t want to live together with a man once again, I was married for such a long time and I enjoy my space and time alone.
          This independency of me could lead to problems in out relationship, since he’s ready for the first time to share his life with a woman, but I don’t want another marriage-like relationship. I do love him, but I don’t have to be with him all the time. He’s having difficulties to understand my behaviour and feels rejected when I send him home after a long weekend together, or when I say I need few days break before we see us again. This doesn’t mena I love him less, I just don’t want us to become a typical couple who’s spending 24 /7 together and slowly loosing the erotic attraction and the passion for each other. I’v been there and I saw too many couples who were there.
          But I have enough experience with committed relationship and he doesn’t…
          Are there also other ladies like me who understand my need for my own space, or am I not really normal??

          • Lorna (LaLa) said:

            Hi Sara, It’s good to hear from you again and
            to know that things have moved on for you. I am just worried NOW that you may still have problems that are not being resolved. It seems to me that you are maybe a bit wary because of what happened in the past with him, and finding it hard to forgive him and trust him again? Or perhaps, more likely, that you still have trust issues hanging on from past relationships? This would be perfectly understandable, and quite normal, but it is maybe something you need to do a bit of soul-searching about and try to come to terms with it. Dig deep and be honest with yourself. I would worry that it may have repercussions on your relationship now – now that he wants to be more committed and he has given up such a lot for you, as you asked him to. He may start to feel resentful that you are not prepared to meet him half-way now. Ask yourself honestly how you would feel if you now lost this man? Maybe you will there find your answer. Maybe you need some counselling? I would think it more “normal” (is there any such thing?) to want to be with the person you love all the time. However, perhaps you could get beyond it by explaining that you DO love him but also need a bit more time to feel comfortable about moving in together, because of past issues, and that you would like to do more of the old-fashioned “courting” that used to happen years ago, before it was acceptable for couples to just live together. I hope things work out well for you eventually. Lorna

  10. Sara said:

    James,
    thank you for your fast reply. One of his close female friends I already know. My boyfriend introduced me to her, because she was curious and insisted to meet me. He was hesitating, because he’s is afraid of a catfight, he said, he doesn’t want to hear some critical comments from the both side. I’m actually also not eager to spend time with him and those women together, because I know I won’t really enjoy their company, they are just not my type of women I prefere as friends. And my boyfriend once said to me, he has to keep some space for himself, he’s neglecting his friends since he’s with me, so he needs to meet them without me. I’m also not meeting my friends together with him, I also want to have a separate place for my friends like I had before I started dating him. But he isn’t having any reasons to be jealous, I’m a 100% faithful person. I just don’t trust others..

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