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Building Trust in a Relationship

By: Danielle Bertini, LPC

Trust is one of the most important and fundamental building blocks of any sort of relationship, whether it be with a family member, friend, or a romantic partner. In order to foster emotional intimacy, there needs to be a level of trust within the relationship. Yet it is far easier to break and lose trust than it is to build and rebuild it. This process takes time, patience, and work. But it can be done if both people are motivated to do so. Bonior (2018) offers seven ways to build trust.


  • Say what you mean, and mean what you say.


As children, we begin to pick up on cues that people don’t always mean what they say. For example, having a parent who constantly threatens to make you leave the restaurant, but never actually follows through. As we take note of these things over the years, we adjust our behavior and expectations accordingly—learning not to trust the person quite as much the next time, in order to not be let down. This being said, if you want to work on trust in a relationship, you need to actually follow through with the things you say. 


  • Be vulnerable—gradually.


We build trust though vulnerability. Some of this comes naturally through time and daily interactions, such as telling your partner you will pick them up from the airport at a certain time and you show up. However, emotional vulnerability is also important. This means opening yourself up in way that has the potential risk of hurt. This might include things like talking about something embarrassing from your past or showing parts of yourself that you don’t think are “attractive” enough. Trust becomes built when our partners open themselves up in a way that could leave them being hurt by us—but we don’t do that.


  • Remember the role of respect.


Part of the greatest ways that our trust can be taken away is by being belittled by our partners, making us feel less-than or viewing us with contempt rather than respect. A basic level of respect is needed in ANY relationship, whether that be with a cashier, mother, friend, etc. Unfortunately, sometimes when we are so intertwined with someone, we show them our worst. Although you don’t always need to be formal or perfectly polite with your partner, just remember that every time you treat them in a way that demeans them or violates this basic premise of respect, it harms your connection and makes it that much more difficult for trust. 


  • Give the benefit of the doubt.


Chances are you’d feel far more comfortable with a doctor you’ve seen for 15 years versus one you’ve never seen before. You are more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt if they give you some difficult or surprising medical news. Same thing is true for personal relationships. If you hope to rebuild trust, you must be willing to let doubt go, or at least suspend it, and see if they come through for you. 


  • Express your feelings functionally, especially when it’s tough.


Emotional intimacy is fostered when you know you can express your feelings to someone, and they will care and not dismiss them. Obviously, it’s easier to have a relationship in which everyone pretends like everything is fine and difficult conversations are never discussed. However, trust may never be built then. It’s important to work on ways to talk about difficult feelings that feels helpful and respectful.


  • Take a risk together.


Being vulnerable is something that can happen together. This can include things like making a joint effort towards something rewarding (like an adventurous experience on a vacation), a joint healthy lifestyle change, expanding your mutual social circle, or even just expanding your minds together through books or movies. 


  • Be willing to give as well as receive. 


Reciprocity is important to a solid relationship. This does not mean that each person is giving exactly as much as they are receiving, but rather that both parties are happy with the levels and they feel relatively equal. That being said, this balance can sometimes shift in a truly close emotional relationship. Sometimes one person needs to lean on the other person. This can happen because there is trust in the relationship and because the person feels that they won’t continue giving and giving and giving without ever receiving anything in return. So, a significant component of building trust is to let this process happen. Let both parties give and receive, and let the imbalance happen at times.

Contact Symmetry Counseling to arrange an appointment for individual, family, or marriage therapy in Chicago


Bonior, A. (2018, December 12). 7 Ways to Build Trust in a Relationship


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