Uncertainty is a fundamental part of life, one that cannot be evaded. In our daily lives, we feel uncertain about countless things – from the most basic questions such as what to have for a meal to existential questions such as what the meaning of our life is and whether we are on a trajectory that will lead to a fulfilling life. We resolve these uncertainties in our own unique ways – we read books, talk to trusted friends or colleagues, and take the time to process our thoughts.
Uncertainty in Relationships
In our relationships, however, uncertainty can be more difficult to resolve. Being social creatures, we interact with numerous people as we go about our lives. In our interactions, we can never truly know the contents of someone else’s thoughts, intentions, or desires. People can sometimes fail to accurately articulate their thoughts and feelings. Over time, to deal with this uncertainty about the thoughts of others, we learn to infer; and, most importantly, to trust. Trust becomes the foundational tenet of healthy relationships. But what happens when your partner has issues with trusting others? Does that imply the relationship is not healthy and cannot withstand the rigors of life? To answer these questions, it is necessary for us to first take a step back and understand what trust issues are, and why and in what ways they manifest.
Why People Develop Trust Issues
To forge healthy and nurturing relationships with others – be it friendships, romantic relationships, or professional relationships – we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable and accept all the risks that accompany vulnerability. However, this vulnerability opens us to emotional damage. We may, and often do, suffer the pain of dishonesty, of betrayal, of people not living up to our expectations or not having our best interests at heart. The damage inflicted on us can vary, but we always maintain a capacity to heal. We learn to trust again. Trust issues materialize when people suffer from damage that is extreme, is inflicted repeatedly, or, the damage is caused over a long period of time. This level of distress can have lasting consequences and impair a person’s capacity to believe the intentions of others and, sometimes, even themselves. Trust issues can be rooted in many past experiences:
The psychological wounds from childhood can affect us throughout adulthood. If someone’s childhood environment was rife with anger or fear, they may find it difficult to gauge and trust the intentions of others. If a parent repeatedly fails to keep their promises, the child may become cautious about taking people for their word. People who grow up in a dangerous neighborhood that constantly threatens their safety can cause equal harm. Friendships, where someone’s vulnerabilities and secrets are used against them, can cause one to be distrustful of others and always on guard.
Romantic relationships require intense trust. If that trust is broken – through physical or emotional infidelity – one may find it hard to recover from the trauma. The betrayal can cause lasting pain which may drive the person to avoid vulnerability; it can be an attempt to ward off future pain.
A toxic work environment can be equally vicious. If your colleagues spread false rumors about you or lie to you, or your manager constantly undermines your work, this may gradually erode your trust in others and make you skeptical of their intentions.
How Trust Issues Manifest in Relationships
If your partner is aware of their trust issues, they may have articulated their challenges and their needs. However, these issues have a tendency to float just below the surface of awareness and manifest in ways that mask these issues.
Your partner may feel excessively jealous of the people you spend time with, or they may call and text you constantly inquiring about your whereabouts when you’re out. They may also seem distant and detached and have trouble forming an intimate connection with you – be it sexually, emotionally, or physically. They may complain that you don’t spend enough time with them. If they worry excessively and without just cause that you might abandon them or are being unfaithful, they may secretly check your phone’s contents looking for evidence. Essentially, if they have trust issues, they may not give you the freedom and independence that a healthy relationship needs and they may not respect your boundaries.
Their unwarranted suspicion can lead to frequent conflicts, and lack of communication can cause them to withdraw. The resulting stress and ambiguity can strain your relationship and cause undue hurt. Navigating the complexities of such a relationship may feel overwhelming, but there are many ways you can support your partner and create a healthy and trustful atmosphere.
How to Build a Trusting Relationship
- Effective Communication – Even the knottiest problems can be solved through honest, clear communication. Talk to your partner about their issues and mutually figure out an action plan that could help abate their suspicion. Focus on how you communicate – be gentle and non-confrontational and use your body language to convey your comfort and openness.
- Transparency – Trust demands complete honesty. Try to be fully transparent about your life, your thoughts and concerns, and your feelings. If you keep secrets for fear that they might incite unnecessary quarrels, it would be wise to disclose them instead. If your partner uncovers your secrets, it might fuel their suspicion and mistrust, and make them even more vigilant and distant.
- Healthy Boundaries – Individual growth can only happen if you establish healthy boundaries. If you prefer that your partner not call you when you are at work or with friends, express this desire. If you’d like to have some time to yourself and want to resolve some of your life’s conundrums and take important personal decisions on your own, let your partner know. Your partner may be agitated or frustrated at first, so assure them that your relationship can flourish only if you both have freedom and agency in your lives.
- Reliability – A great way to earn your partner’s trust is to be reliable and keep your promises. If you have planned a night out, show up on time and be ready to give them your attention. If you promised to get the groceries, set a reminder so you don’t forget. If you volunteered to help them plan a get-together, make the time and be available when you said you would be. By committing to something and coming through on it, you show your partner that they can rely on you. Even when you cannot keep a promise, telling them honestly will boost the confidence and trust they have in you.
- Responsibility – It is only human to make mistakes. But taking or evading the responsibility makes all the difference. If you do something that hurts your partner or fails to keep a promise, the best thing to do is to own up to your mistake. If you take accountability for your actions, you come off as honest and, in turn, earn your partner’s trust. By expressing your regret and vowing to make amends you prove that you genuinely care about your partner, so your partner doesn’t have to second-guess your actions. If you place the blame on external factors, your partner will implicitly interpret it as dishonesty and deception which would only make things worse.
Seeking Professional Help
Your kindness, understanding, and support will go a long way in helping your partner learn how to trust. If you practice some patience as your partner tries to open their heart to you and be vulnerable, it will strengthen your relationship tremendously. Trust issues are difficult to resolve as they need one to probe deeper into their memories and come to terms with the lies, false promises, and betrayals they had to suffer in the past. A mental health professional can be immensely helpful in this process. A therapist can provide your partner a safe space to air out their worries, formulate plans to deal with difficult emotions and circumstances, and learn to incrementally build up their trust in other people. A professional can also gauge the severity of the situation and recommend additional treatment options, such as medication, that can complement therapy and lead to a faster resolution of the issues that plague your partner.
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
New Dimensions services:
Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.