Trust is essential in couple relationships as much of our lives together rely on trusting our partner emotionally, physically, financially and practically. Broken trust can feel like a betrayal and can take time to heal.
The difficulty for couples is that there is no universal definition of what constitutes a betrayal or a broken boundary, and we all have our own rules of what is or isn’t acceptable. We may think we are aligned with our partner, however, when we are not it can feel devastating. This can lead to conflict, disappointment, blame, judgment, criticism, feeling alone, ashamed, a lack of sexual or emotional intimacy, anxiety, jealousy, sadness, distress, or rage. Sometimes relationships head toward separation and/or divorce.
Here are 3 tips to build a relationship based on trust:
1. Conversations to create a framework of trust
Have a series of conversations around (a) how we will treat each other and (b) important issues that we will need to navigate in life together. It is critical to understand each other’s viewpoint, as this can guide behaviour, actions and words to be more protective and trustworthy. These issues include:
- Emotional and sexual intimacy – How do we like to be sexually intimate? How often? What will we do if we are worried about the frequency or type of intimacy in our relationship?
- Being with others – flirting, porn, strip clubs, sex. We all have a different line in the sand. Discuss this upfront so there is clarity about your boundary.
- Sharing information with others – What do we tell others about aspects of our relationship? Do we complain or bitch about each other? Do we reveal financial information? Do we talk about details of our sex life? Do we share any intimacy struggles with anyone else?
- Communication – What do we do when our communication is hurting us? Do we say sorry? How do we talk to each other? Are we fighting too much? Do we listen anymore? How do we become more respectful again?
- Children – Do you both want them? If you do and they don’t, do not assume you can change their mind. If yes, how many? When? Views on day-care, nannies, and private or public education. Who takes time off work? For how long? Who is the primary carer for children? Organises babysitters and playdates? Liaises with the school?
- Financial matters – How do you feel about debt? Mortgages? Spending? Savings? Separate or shared bank accounts?
- Drugs and alcohol – How do we use substances in our relationship? Do we expect the other to be more moderate or stop at some point? When is that point?
- Roles – Do we take on particular roles? Who does the cooking? Food shopping? Cleans the home? Earns the money? Has career development?
- Extended family – Expectations around the role and involvement of extended family members.
2. Understand your conscious and unconscious past experiences regarding trust
We all need to understand aspects of our own past experiences with broken trust and how we carry these into our couple relationship. Some of our trust difficulties are conscious and others are unconscious. As you will see from the examples below, trust issues will impact our relationship whether we are aware of them or not. It is critical to understand them so we keep our relationship as healthy as possible.
Example 1: If an ex-partner cheated on me then I may secretly check my new partner’s phone in an attempt to feel more secure that no one else is on the scene. Can you see that my conscious need for security in this area changes my behaviour, and I justify being secretive with my new partner. Will this ever solve my trust issues? What do I do with any “evidence” I find? Will my partner be happy with me checking their phone? Or will they mistrust me now? Will this cause us further relationship issues if I don’t resolve it?
Example 2: If one of my parents had an affair when I was young, I may not be aware this is impacting me in the present. It is unconscious. Do I understand why I send my partner frequent text messages when they are out at night or why I question them like a detective on their return? I am filtering my relationship through my historical lens. What impact is my unresolved trust issue from the past having on our relationship?
3. Create an agreement
If you want to build a relationship based on trust, I believe partners should create an agreement stating that “if we cannot solve a difficulty in our relationship by ourselves, and one of us wants us to go to couples therapy – we go. No excuses, no waiting period, we honour our agreement.”