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Trust is a fundamental component of a healthy and resilient relationship. It provides the foundation on which all other aspects of a relationship are built. Without trust, it is difficult to achieve emotional intimacy, effective communication, or long-term commitment.
When trust issues arise, the relationship becomes fragile and unstable. Trust issues can lead to conflict, insecurity, and emotional distance.
By confronting and resolving these issues, couples have an opportunity to rebuild a stronger, more resilient foundation and foster a healthier, more satisfying relationship.
Trust creates a sense of emotional safety within a relationship. This emotional safety allows individuals to be vulnerable and open with each other, sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences without fear of judgment or rejection.
Trust is also a prerequisite for building and maintaining emotional intimacy. Without trust, people may withhold their true selves and feelings, hindering the development of a deep and meaningful connection.
Trust is built on a foundation of reliability and consistency.
When you trust your partner, you can rely on them to fulfill their promises, meet their commitments, and be there when needed. This provides a sense of security and stability and strengthens the bond between you and your significant other.
Why Distrust Is Harmful
Dr. Gary Chapman, clinical psychologist and author of The Five Love Languages, explains that if you cannot trust your partner, it is difficult to feel close to them.
When individuals are preoccupied with doubts and suspicions, they may be less willing to be vulnerable and share their true feelings. This can lead to a sense of emotional distance and a decline in intimacy and affection.
When trust is compromised, individuals may doubt their partner’s reliability, anticipate betrayal, become overly protective, or avoid commitment.
Trust issues often also result in a breakdown of open and honest communication. When one or both partners in a relationship are suspicious or mistrustful, they may withhold information, be guarded in their conversations, or question their partner’s loyalty.
It can also lead to jealousy, increased conflict, and other destructive behaviors such as snooping, stalking, and in some cases, infidelity.
Furthermore, trust issues can lead to:
- Suspiciousness (e.g., questioning where your partner is going, who they are with, and what they are doing)
- Emotional distress for both individuals in the relationship (e.g., feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and unhappiness)
- Controlling behaviors (e.g., tracking your partner’s location, reading their text messages, or following them)
- Emotional distance and a decline in physical affection
- The stagnation or ending of the relationship
Signs of Trust Issues
Overly Cautious Behavior
Overly cautious behavior is usually a result of past experiences of betrayal, manipulation, or abandonment. This insecurity can cause someone to become excessively wary and self-protective, distancing themselves from relationships and avoiding long-term commitments.
Characteristics of overly cautious people include being:
- Reluctant to take risks and put themselves in situations where they might be emotionally exposed or dependent on others.
- Overly critical of others and assuming that everyone is untrustworthy as a means of self-protection.
Skepticism and Suspicion
A person with trust issues may be consistently skeptical of others’ intentions and motives.
Even in the absence of reasonable evidence, people with trust issues tend to:
- Wonder if their partner is being dishonest or untrustworthy
- Anticipate dishonesty
- Jump to conclusions
- Assume the worst
- Question their partner’s motives or loyalty
Signs of a suspicious partner include:
- Frequently asking their partner where they have been and who they have been with
- Checking their partner’s electronic devices without permission
- Accusing their partner of cheating or lying without valid evidence
- Snooping through their partner’s personal belongings
A person with trust issues may be consistently skeptical of others’ intentions and motives. They may be guarded about sharing their thoughts, feelings, or vulnerabilities with others because they anticipate being hurt or betrayed.
Anticipating betrayal is therefore a defense mechanism to shield oneself from potential disloyalty. People who anticipate betrayal in relationships may:
- Create emotional distance by keeping their partner at arm’s length
- Overanalyze their partner’s actions and behaviors, constantly looking for signs of potential betrayal
- Test their partner’s loyalty and commitment by setting up situations to see how they respond
- Project their fears and insecurities onto their partner by accusing them of being unfaithful or dishonest
- Maintain independence and self-sufficiency to avoid relying on their partner for emotional support
If someone has trust issues, they may feel the need to control their partner’s behavior to feel secure. This can look like:
- Constantly checking on their partner’s whereabouts
- Not allowing their partner to go out with friends or family without them
- Getting upset when their partner spends time with other people
- Controlling their partner’s social media accounts or phone usage
- Being overly critical of their partner’s friends or family
Need for Control
Trust issues can lead to a desire for control in relationships. Someone with trust issues may try to control their partner’s actions, whereabouts, or interactions to reduce their own anxiety.
Ways people with trust issues check in on their partner:
- Texting or calling them repeatedly throughout the day
- Asking their partner to check in with them at specific times during the day
- Getting upset if they do not check in with them as often as they would like
Individuals with trust issues find it hard to focus on positive characteristics of their partner or their relationship.
They may tend to overanalyze situations and read into things more than necessary, often seeing negative intent where none exists.
Examples of having a “negativity-bias” in relationships:
- Only remembering times when your partner has let you down
- Overanalyzing your partner’s behavior and looking for signs that they are being dishonest
- Feeling constant anxiety about your partner cheating or lying
Partners who struggle to forgive:
- Hold onto grudges for a long time
- Have difficulty letting go and moving on from past hurts
- Refuse to forgive someone who has apologized
- Bring up past hurts in arguments
If someone has experienced infidelity, it can result in a lingering fear of betrayal, making it difficult to forgive their current partner for mishaps.
Additionally, if your partner displays a pattern of unreliable behavior, broken promises, or dishonesty, this can make you particularly skeptical of their future words and actions.
Avoidance of Commitment
People with trust issues may be hesitant to engage in deep emotional connections or committed relationships as a protective mechanism.
Examples of how people avoid commitment in relationships:
- Questioning their partner’s motives (e.g., doubting the sincerity of compliments, gestures of affection, or expressions of commitment, fearing that these actions are insincere or manipulative)
- Pushing their partner away to create distance and avoid becoming too emotionally invested
- Setting unrealistic or high standards and expectations that can be difficult for a partner to meet
- Avoiding serious conversations about the future
- Finding reasons to sabotage or end relationships prematurely
Individuals may initiate arguments to:
- Avoid intimacy and emotional closeness
- Test their partner’s commitment
- Seek reassurance (e.g., expressions of love, care, and commitment) to ease their anxiety
- Confirm that their negative beliefs about their relationship and their partner are accurate
- Create a distraction from addressing deeper trust issues and confronting their insecurities and fears
What causes a lack of trust?
One of the most significant factors contributing to a lack of trust is experiencing betrayal in the past.
Betrayals can come in various forms, such as infidelity, dishonesty, broken promises, or breaches of confidence. When someone has been hurt or betrayed by a trusted person, it can lead to lasting trust issues.
Additionally, repeated negative experiences in relationships can reinforce trust issues. If someone has been in a series of unhealthy or toxic relationships, they may develop a generalized lack of trust in others.
People who have been cheated on in a current relationship often worry about their partner cheating again or leaving them for someone else. They may also feel resentful towards their partner and find it difficult to forgive them.
Furthermore, infidelity can make it difficult to trust future partners because it shatters your sense of trust and security.
Additionally, experiencing infidelity can trigger low self-esteem and feelings of insecurity, making it difficult to trust someone new.
Childhood experiences, especially those involving caregivers or early relationships, can shape a person’s capacity to trust.
Researchers have repeatedly found that childhood trauma causes alterations in brain systems involved in detecting threats and disrupts one’s ability to form healthy attachments.
Attachments are bonds that we form with important people in our lives. They should provide us with a sense of safety, security, and belonging.
Children who experience maltreatment learn that the world is unpredictable and dangerous and that people cannot be trusted or relied on for safety and support.
Hughes (2004) found that neglected or abused children often have disorganized attachment styles and do not typically view caregivers as a source of safety. They “learn to adapt to an abusive and inconsistent caregiver by becoming cautiously self-reliant.”
Additional research shows that, as adults, mistreated children are often “emotionally aloof and have difficulty forming close relationships.”
Older children in long-term foster care have been described as “suspicious and highly adaptable, all in an effort to control or manipulate people viewed as sources of fear rather than sources of love or security.”
Experiencing parental divorce can instill beliefs that relationships are unstable, unreliable, and likely to end in pain and disappointment (Can a Parental Divorce Impact a Child’s Future Relationships? | Qredible, 2020).
Growing up without positive role models who demonstrate healthy relationships and trust can make it difficult for individuals to develop trust in their own relationships.
Mistreatment in Relationships
When you are mistreated by a partner, caregiver, or loved one, this can create a deep-seated distrust of others.
Dr. Joyline Gozho explains that “with emotional abuse, the abuse is often hidden, subtle, and insidious, yet very deeply damaging. It leads to very deep emotional scars.”
Such abuse can erode a person’s trust in the safety and security of the world and the people in it.
Emotionally abusive people seek to control and manipulate their partners. This can have long-lasting effects on the victim’s ability to trust future partners.
They may develop a fear of being vulnerable and getting hurt, so they may preemptively distance themselves emotionally from others to protect themselves from potential pain. They might believe they are unworthy of being loved and look for signs that their partner will hurt them.
Mental Health Issues
Conditions like anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder can lead to heightened mistrust and difficulty in forming healthy relationships.
For example, anxiety and borderline personality disorder (BPD) can make people fear abandonment and be hyper-vigilant and suspicious of others (Rethink Mental Illness, 2022).
Anxiety and depression can result in low self-esteem, self-doubt, and insecurity. People who lack confidence in themselves may find it challenging to believe that others can genuinely care about them or have their best interests at heart.
Additionally, people with PTSD may have difficulty trusting others because of past experiences of betrayal or abuse.
Research has found that having mental health issues can distort your perceptions of reality, making it difficult to regulate intense emotions (Bentivegna et al., 2022). This can impede decision-making and lead to impulsive behaviors (eg., accusing your partner of cheating).
Attachment theory suggests that the way a person forms attachments in childhood can influence their trust patterns in adult relationships.
People with insecure attachment styles (e.g., anxious or avoidant) may struggle with trust issues in relationships. Their interactions with caregivers in childhood may have made them unconfident in the availability, acceptance, and responsiveness of attachment figures.
Anxious individuals are often worried about being abandoned or rejected. They may be quick to accuse their partners of cheating or lying, seeing distance or withdrawal as a sign that their partner is no longer interested in them.
Avoidant individuals are afraid of being vulnerable due to a fear of getting hurt or rejected. They struggle to rely on others and protect themselves by withholding trust.
How to heal from trust issues
Practice Open and Honest Communication
Openly discussing your trust issues with your partner allows them to support you and understand the reasons behind your feelings.
Tips for communicating honestly:
- Express your thoughts, feelings, and concerns clearly and respectfully.
- Communicate your need for reassurance or support. Let your partner know how they can help and support you.
- Use “I” statements to express the emotions, fears, and insecurities that stem from your trust issues.
- For example, “I feel anxious when I think you are being distant” instead of “You always distance yourself from me.”
- Avoid placing blame or making accusations.
- Encourage your partner to share their own perspective. Be an active listener, demonstrating empathy and understanding for their feelings.
- Stay open to your partner’s feedback without becoming defensive.
Start by examining the root causes of your trust issues. Understanding the origins of your trust issues can be a crucial first step in the healing process.
Reflect on your past experiences, including any betrayals or traumas that may have contributed to your lack of trust. What events or relationships have made you wary of trusting others? What specific experiences made you feel betrayed, hurt, or unsafe?
Observe and challenge any unhelpful thoughts that occur when you feel distrustful. Ask yourself if there is any evidence to support your thoughts. Are you making assumptions about your partner? Are you catastrophizing?
When you make an effort to understand your partner’s point of view, it promotes open and honest communication. Your partner is more likely to express themselves when they feel heard and validated, even if they are discussing sensitive topics related to trust.
Ask questions to gain insight into your partner’s point of view and encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings about the situation. Try to understand their perspective and be empathetic to their feelings.
Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their feelings and motivations. Consider how their background, past experiences, and emotions might influence their actions.
Practicing empathy by seeing things from your partner’s perspective demonstrates compassion and care. It can help your partner feel supported and valued in the relationship.
Take Small Steps
Healing from trust issues involves taking gradual, safe emotional risks with your partner.
Start with small steps or risks, like trusting your partner to do something for you or sharing your thoughts and feelings with them. As you gain confidence, you can extend trust in more significant ways.
Healing from trust issues is a gradual process that may take time. Be patient with yourself and acknowledge that setbacks can happen.
Challenge Negative Beliefs
Identify and challenge negative beliefs and thought patterns related to trust. Replace irrational or overly negative thoughts with more balanced and realistic ones.
Dr. Margaret Paul, clinical psychologist and author of Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You?, reminds us that trust is a choice, and you can choose to trust your partner, even if you have been hurt in the past.
While past experiences may have shaped your trust issues, you have the power to change your beliefs and behaviors. Taking ownership of your trust issues can empower you to actively work on building trust in your current relationship.
Work on forgiving those who may have hurt you in the past, even if it’s a process that takes time. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean condoning their actions but rather releasing the hold their actions have on your emotional well-being.
This can involve accepting that the past cannot be changed and focusing on building a positive future.
How to let go of the past:
- Reframe your story by focussing on the lessons learned from painful events to create a more positive outlook and a new narrative.
- Consciously work to let go of negative emotions associated with past memories.
- Forgive yourself and those who hurt you. Forgiveness does not excuse actions, but it frees you from carrying the burden of resentment.
- Do not let past experiences define your identity.
- Practice mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing to help you stay grounded in the present moment and prevent rumination on past events.
Therapy or Counseling
Consider seeking the guidance of a therapist or counselor, especially if your trust issues are deeply ingrained or significantly impacting your relationships and well-being.
A therapist can provide a safe and nonjudgmental space for you to explore your feelings, gain insight into your trust issues, and learn coping strategies. They can work with you to tailor a therapeutic approach that aligns with your unique experiences and needs.
Therapy can help you:
- Develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage intense feelings
- Understand your attachment style
- Build self-esteem
- Learn effective communication strategies
- Learn how to set boundaries.
Several therapeutic approaches are effective in addressing trust issues:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) challenges negative thought patterns and behaviors.
- Group therapy, where you interact with others facing similar challenges, helps you build trust and receive support from peers.
- Trauma-focused therapy helps you process past experiences.
Additionally, as you build a rapport with your therapist, you can experience a sense of safety and support, which may serve as a model for developing trust with others.
Is it normal to experience trust issues in a relationship?
Experiencing trust issues in relationships is a common human experience.
Dr. Ramani Durvasula, clinical psychologist and author of Should I Stay or Should I Go? says it is normal to experience trust issues in a relationship, particularly if you have been hurt in the past.
Having insecurities and doubts is understandable, especially when considering past experiences of betrayal and unfaithfulness.
Furthermore, early life experiences and family dynamics contribute to a person’s tendency to struggle with trust in relationships.
However, when trust issues significantly impact a person’s relationships and overall well-being, it may be helpful to seek support from a therapist or counselor to address and work through these issues.
How can trust issues look in a long-distance relationship?
Due to unique challenges posed by physical separation, trust issues can manifest in long-distance relationships in the following ways:
- Partners becoming preoccupied with and suspicious about each other’s activities (e.g., their late nights, travel plans, interactions with others).
- Failing to share experiences, feelings, or concerns can cause partners to feel left out or uninformed about the other’s life.
- Delayed responses to messages or being unavailable for calls can lead to assumptions and misinterpretations.
- Fears of infidelity can develop if partners worry about new connections forming.
- Trust develops through shared experiences and quality time spent together. The absence of this can cause feelings of detachment, making it harder to maintain trust.
Setting boundaries and communicating openly and regularly is especially important in long-distance relationships.
However, respect each other’s need for space–do not pressure each other to be available 24/7.
How long can it take to rebuild trust with a partner?
There is no fixed timeline for rebuilding trust as it depends on the individuals and specific circumstances.
It is a gradual process and can take anywhere from a few weeks to years to restore trust fully.
However, several factors can influence the duration of the trust-rebuilding process:
- The severity of the betrayal–a small lie requires less time compared to a major betrayal such as infidelity or financial dishonesty.
- The relationship having a history of trust issues can make it harder to rebuild trust.
- Consistently demonstrating trustworthiness over time. If promises are made to change certain behaviors, following through on those commitments is essential.
- A sincere apology, genuine remorse, and taking responsibility for one’s actions.
- The person who was betrayed needs time to heal and process their emotions, requiring patience and understanding from both partners.
Will a relationship work with trust issues?
Whether a relationship can work with trust issues depends on various factors, including the severity of the issues and the presence of any underlying issues that need to be addressed (e.g., mental health problems).
If trust issues are severe (e.g., infidelity), it may be harder to make the relationship work.
However, if both partners are willing to work on the relationship, it is possible to overcome the challenges and build a healthy relationship.
It is important to:
- Discuss feelings and concerns
- Discuss the impact of past experiences
- Work together to find solutions
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Show care and empathy towards a partner dealing with trust issues
- Make positive changes to prevent recurrence of trust issues
Julia Simkus edited this article.
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