Rebuilding Trust in Romantic Relationships
As a therapist, I can easily say that trust is one of the most critical ingredients to a healthy relationship. Experiencing trust in a relationship creates opportunities for emotional safety, which allows us to thrive. According to Dr. John M. Gottman, author of The Science of Trust, there are five areas to evaluate the trustworthiness of others: (1) honesty, (2) transparency, (3) accountability, (4) ethical actions, and (5) proof of alliance. Let’s explore these further.
- Honesty is practiced through the absence of deception or lying.
- Transparency is modeled by being an open book to each other and having no secrets from each other.
- Accountability is performed by doing what you say and promise to each other.
- Ethical actions refer to each partner having good ethical standards that are agreed upon.
- Proof of alliance in relationships is evidenced by being totally on your partner’s side, not operating from out of self-interest, forming coalitions against them, but with their true interests at heart.
According to clinical psychologist and developer of Emotional Focused Therapy Dr. Susan Johnson, there are small moments couples can maximize to promote emotional bonding, safety, and security. These components are coordinated through the acronym A.R.E.—Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged.
- Accessibility in relationships means you are available and can be reached when you’re needed. “Can I reach you?”
- Responsiveness means connection to your partner being attuned to their emotions, attachment needs and fears. “Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?
- Engagement is the special attention provided to a loved one through a gaze, affection, and attention.“Do I know you will value me and stay close?”
But what happens when that trust is breached? When your relationship, which was once filled with affection, confidence, and appreciation is now riddled with doubt, resentment, fear, and avoidance? According to Merriam-Webster, trust is defined as a belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc. Betrayal is the opposite of trust, which can present itself in relationships through various experiences such as: lying, not keeping promises, keeping secrets, infidelity, intimate partner violence, humiliation, and/or putting down a partner. Trust can be broken, in seconds with a significant violation, or slowly with subtle infractions over time.
Either way, there are seven key components to repairing trust, according to Psychology Today:
- Listen to the other person’s anger and hurt feelings.
- Empathize with them.
- Ask what is needed to prevent a recurrence.
- Be conscientious to do all the things listed that show trustworthiness.
- Take full responsibility for your actions. Don’t sidestep the issue or try to shift blame to the other person.
- Make a heartfelt apology expressing your regret.
- Continue to have open and honest communication.
The exact steps needed to rebuild trust in your relationship will depend on your specific situation, which is one reason I’d cite for the recommendation of seeking a therapist to support your journey back to one another. But you can also begin this work independently through self-reflection. How do your actions align with the pillars of trustworthiness? Where is your relationship strong, and where is it shaky? Focus on repairing the foundation of your relationship, and remember that the work will be painstaking at times. But it’s worth it.
Gottman, J. M. (2011). The science of trust: Emotional attunement for couples. W W Norton & Co.
Johnson, S. M. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love.