“If you want a healthy, happy, long-term relationship, you’ll need to prioritise building and maintaining trust,” Theresa Herring, LMFT says. “Without it, other things—emotional intimacy and connection—can’t fall into place.”
Why? You need trust in a relationship in order to feel secure in what you have and know that your person won't bail the second things get tough. You need trust in a relationship in order to know that your partner has your back when you're dealing with life's ups and downs (a job loss, a death). You need trust in a relationship in order to feel safe, respected, and truly loved.
To get real official here, trust is, by definition, “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone.” It’s the foundation for so many aspects of a solid relationship, like feeling heard, confidence in the other person’s words and actions, and the freedom to express your whole self. And wow, that’s an amazing (and rare!) feeling. “Everything else feels a little easier and safer when there’s trust,” Herring says.
The bad news? Trust is a **delicate** thing, and even that is an understatement. It’s a tough ask, especially if you tend to be emotionally guarded or have had one too many people betray your loyalty (ahem, cheating exes). It’s also way too easy to break: Think about how simple it is to hide shady behaviour (ugh, thanks Instagram for taking away the Following tab), or how quickly a night of drinking can turn into a night of not thinking.
Relationships are hard work, and building and maintaining trust is a long-term, must-do job for both parties. “Trust is built on regularly showing up in your relationship,” Herring says. “Small, consistent efforts are worth more than grand gestures."
On board? Great! Here's how to build trust in your relationship:
1. Get in touch with your vulnerable side.
Bust down those walls, baby! Sharing yourself can be awkward, raw, and downright intimidating, but you gotta risk it to get the biscuit. Start off by sharing that secret project you’ve considered starting, or why you’re nervous to meet their friends. While it might not come easy to you from the get-go, it’s a great way to feel more comfortable with the other person. That’s how you build intimacy and confidence in your bond—both of which create trust.
Oh, and don’t be afraid to make eye contact with your partner. Even that small gesture shows you’re open and willing to connect on a deeper level.
2. Prioritise quality time.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is another one of those “Get off your phones!” moments. Chances are, you won’t develop a strong sense of trust if the only time you spend together is sharing TikToks. It means carving out time dedicated to each other, so those open, vulnerable conversations have a chance to happen.
3. Respond to their needs.
Building trust can actually be very simple. “Listen to what is important to them and do it,” Herring says. Sometimes, this calls for a little sacrifice, like rescheduling happy hour plans when your partner tells you they had a bad day at work and could use a cuddle. “Doing so says, ‘I hear you, I see you, and you’re important.’ And that is the foundation of trust,” she says.
4. Set boundaries.
If you can hand over your phone to your partner without feeling like the teacher is looking over your shoulder, power to you. That’s some real trust right there. But one thing to remember is that boundaries are healthy to put in place and help build trust when the other person respects them.
Sharing is one thing, but handing over passwords, accounts, et. al. because one partner wants to “check up” on the other is quite the opposite of fostering trust. That’s controlling in bad faith.
5. Respect each other.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but it makes the list for a reason. Sure, it’s like the first rule of being human, but it slips by the wayside all too often. “Belittling, criticising, and yelling erode trust—fast,” Herring says. “Over time, it can make rebuilding next to impossible.”
Set up rules for fighting, since that's when respect often becomes an issue. Agree to never resort to name-calling, cursing at each other, or calling each other crazy in the heat of the moment, and stick to your rules.
6. Follow through on promises.
“Say what you mean and do what you say,” Herrings says. “If your partner can trust your word, that goes a long way.” It can be small things, too, like promising to call the plumber and actually doing it. Trust develops in situations when people have the opportunity to drop the ball but actually come through to show they’re reliable.
7. Take responsibility for your actions.
On that note, if you ever do drop the ball (you're only human), know that you can still nurture trust in your relationship by acknowledging your shortcomings. I know, I know—easier said than done, right? But accountability proves that you’re a team player and that you know your words and actions hold weight, so don't skimp on it.
For example, if you forgot to pick up the dry-cleaning, instead of blaming your partner for not reminding you, fess up and do it as soon as you can. Not only does doing so encourage them to do the same, but it also says, "Hey, I'm not perfect, but I'm going to try my best for you." That's genuine trust at its finest.
8. Don't bail on commitments.
Of course, life happens, and sometimes you can't show up to bae's office holiday party because you're dealing with a sudden fire at your own 9-to-5. But as often as you can, follow through on plans that you agree to, especially ones you make well in advance (say, that concert in January).
Doing so shows your partner that by sticking to the commitments you make with them, you're sticking to your commitment to them—regardless of how you might be feeling when the time comes. You want the same from them, right? So be the example and you'll help form a level of mutual, deep trust.
9. Be there, especially in the low moments.
When life throws you punches, it sure helps to have someone to weather the blow with you. Herring says that when these moments happen, like a family death, miscarriage, job loss, or the like, being present is essential. It will show you’re always there to provide support in a vulnerable time.
“If your partner knows that you will validate their feelings and avoid defensiveness, it makes it easy to trust you with their emotions,” Herring says. “And we all want a partner who can be here for us when we’re having a hard time.”
10. Bring up issues as they happen.
Take it from me: When something in the relationship bothers you, don’t bite your tongue. That’s holding out on your partner! You might think you're doing them a favour, but you'll likely end up airing your grievances in other (worse) ways down the road. No one wants to be that girl who stews on an off-handed comment from three months ago, then starts an unfair argument out of nowhere. Instead, share concerns as they arise: It shows you’re comfortable enough to be honest and straight with your significant other in the moment.
“Your partner won’t have to worry that a bad mood is about them, and they can more easily be there for you,” Herring says. “Good communication facilitates trust.” Just be sure to keep your cool—no angsty yelling, please!
What if I have "trust issues"?
Oh, honey, doesn't everyone? Before you confront your partner about any reason you might have to not trust them, take a step back to figure out where your feelings of discomfort are coming from.
To avoid anyone from getting defensive, Herring suggests clearly telling your partner how you feel (say, disconnected) and what you need from them (like, reassurance about your future). “If you make it about their actions, they’ll reinforce the insecurity you’re already feeling,” she says. “Make it more about you, so your emotional needs are the ones focused on.”
Trust yourself...you got this!
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.