WRITTEN BY Felicia Kashevaroff
How Do We Lay the Foundation of Building Trust in a Relationship?
Building trust in a relationship is really about good communication. It means saying what you mean and doing what you say. This sounds simple, but it’s more complex than you think. We all face many barriers when it comes to communicating successfully with our partners and following through on our promises. According to The Good Men Project, “Trust in a relationship means you believe that your partner is reliable and has your best interests in their heart.”
So, how can you become a clear communicator and follow through consistently? Let’s start with…
Saying What You Mean
Sometimes, in your relationship, you might avoid saying what you mean to prevent conflict, to please your partner, or simply because you’re unsure how you actually feel. The issue with not saying what you mean is fundamentally that you’re not being honest. And if you’re not being honest, how can your partner trust what you’re saying?
But being honest can be scary. Many of us have had poor modeling from our parents or other adults in our lives to show us how to share our feelings in an authentic way that the listener can also receive well. Maybe when you were young, and you shared your true feelings with the adults in your lives, they told you that you were too much or ungrateful or your feelings were unreasonable. And so, you developed a barrier to saying what you really feel — instead, keeping your true feelings inside and unresolved.
In an adult partnership, that lack of sharing is unsustainable because, before you know it, you’re on a path that isn’t of your own choosing.
Let’s say, for example, that your partner decides to join a local soccer league. They played in high school and college and miss the sport. The team has practice two nights per week and games on Saturdays. You know this would be great for their health and psyche, and you want to be supportive, so you say, “Great! That sounds so wonderful. You should definitely sign up!” But you also know that is a lot of time away from your family and puts an extra burden on you to be on duty without support, but you don’t want to kill their joy, so you don’t say anything about it.
Halfway through the season, you start to feel angry and bitter that your partner gets so much leisure time and you’re not getting the same. You find yourself getting snippy every time they prepare to leave for practice, and one Saturday morning before a game, you lose your shit. Goddamn it! I’m so tired of being left alone with the kids so you can play some dumb game like a child. You’re not even good at soccer!”
Your partner is shocked and hurt because you never told them how you felt until it was too late. Can you see how that would erode trust in your relationship because you said you were okay with something that you really weren’t?
What can you do to disrupt this pattern and start building trust in a relationship?
Start by identifying the feelings that show up when you aren’t saying what you mean. Think about a time when your partner shared something with you, and you withheld your true feelings on the subject. You can do this as a thought experiment, or you can journal on the topic.
- What happened in your body? Did you feel tightness in your chest, a sinking feeling in your stomach, pressure on your shoulders?
- Try to put a name to the feeling you experienced. Was it annoyance? Fear? Sadness?
- Identify the stories you started telling yourself about what would happen as a result of what your partner shared. Are those thoughts true?
- Now, imagine telling your partner your concerns. What comes up for you when you imagine that conversation? What if your partner was open and receptive? What is the benefit of keeping your true feelings to yourself? What is the benefit of sharing your true feelings?
Your body and mind are very good at giving you signals when you’re out of alignment with your wants and needs. Now, you have a blueprint to identify what happens when you don’t speak your truth to your partner. Try noticing when these signals show up and perhaps share your true feelings on a smaller, more inconsequential topic. Notice how it feels different when you’re honest. How does your partner respond? This is a terrific way to start building trust in a relationship.
Now, let’s move to the other side of the coin.
Doing What You Say
The flip side of saying what you mean is doing what you say you’re going to do. Part of the issue when you’re not honest in the first place is that it becomes much more challenging to follow through on what you said you would do. Reliability and consistency are critical for laying a foundation of trust in your relationship. This applies not only to the significant issues in a relationship like monogamy, parenting, and finance but to more minor everyday issues like taking out the trash and showing up on time.
In fact, those minor issues can add up to big problems in your relationship when one partner consistently fails to show up for the other partner. Let’s look at another real-life example.
Let’s say one partner is a golfer, and they play a round every Saturday morning that takes five hours. They have agreed that their partner should get equal leisure time to compensate, so their partner signs up for a 2.5 hour class twice per week. The golfing partner consistently plays their round of golf, but the other partner frequently has to miss their class. Sometimes, their partner doesn’t get home from work in time, sometimes they claim to be too tired to be on kid duty, and often, they call their partner with questions, concerns, or requests to come home during class time.
On the surface, this is an equitable arrangement, but in practice, the golfing partner is not honoring their commitment to give their partner equal leisure time. Again, can you see how this will erode trust in the relationship? One partner can reliably unwind and engage in their desired hobby. In contrast, the other partner doesn’t know whether they will get their time. This shows a lack of equal value for one partner’s time and well-being.
So, what should you do if you want to work toward building trust in your relationship?
- First, identify why you’re not following through on your commitments. Are you simply being forgetful, or is there an underlying, unspoken feeling that your partner’s request is unreasonable?
- If you are being forgetful, work to find a solution that will keep you accountable. Is it a more robust calendaring system? Is it more notifications? Can you elicit the help of a friend or co-worker to help you do what you say you’re going to do? Remember, it is not your partner’s job to do this for you. Reminding you to do what you said you would do is the worst kind of mental load and does nothing to build trust in a relationship.
- If you have a sense that your partner’s request is unreasonable, dig into why you feel that way. Do you secretly think your time is worth more because you make more money? Are there unspoken gender stereotypes that your partner is a better caregiver than you because she’s a woman, and you shouldn’t be expected to contribute as much? Or did you just agree to something you didn’t feel comfortable with in the first place?
- Be honest with yourself about where your feelings are coming from. Once you identify the source, evaluate whether your thoughts are true. If they aren’t true, challenge yourself to show up more reliably for your partner. If they are true, gently present your thoughts to your partner, leaving space for their response. Remember that this is your opinion. Be open to receiving your partner’s opinion with curiosity and willingness to work toward a mutually beneficial compromise.
Building trust in a relationship is one of the most valuable things you can do to create a healthy, long-lasting partnership. By being honest about saying what you mean and becoming consistent about doing what you said you would do, you can lay a foundation of trust in your relationship.
If you’re struggling to implement these steps, our coaches can help. Book a free 30-minute balanced relationship session today.