FAQ about Trust

What is trust?

Trust is the belief that your partner is concerned about your well-being and acts with your best interest at heart. It’s the belief that your partner keeps his or her promises and tries to live up to your expectations. Trust serves as the foundation for a healthy relationship and allows partners to be vulnerable with each other and feel safe and secure in their relationship.


How is trust damaged?

Trust is broken when a partner put his or her own needs and desires ahead of what’s best for you or your relationship. Trust is also damaged when partners break their promises or violate important expectations.


How common are problems with trust in a relationship?

Many relationships deal with issues of broken trust from time to time. Because of the length and complexity of our relationships a partner is likely to betray one’s trust at some point in time. It’s very difficult for a partner to always live up to one’s expectations over the lifetime of a relationship. Unfortunately, it only takes a single incident to damage years or decades of built up trust.


Do certain individuals experience more problems with trust in their relationships?

Yes, some individuals have a much easier time trusting their partners than others.

People with a secure or confident style of attachment strongly believe that partners can and should be trusted (until a partner proves them wrong).

People with a concerned or anxious style of attachment desperately want to trust their partners, but doubt that their partners care about them enough to keep their promises and honor their commitments. Even before a partner has done something to betray their trust, individuals with a concern style of attachment are prone to suspicion and doubt.

People with a cool or dismissing style of attachment don’t believe that partners can be trusted. As such, they are cautious when it comes to intimacy and put minimal effort into their relationships. Because people with a cool style of attachment don’t trust their partners they like to keep them at a distance—doing so makes them feel safe. Individuals with a cool style of attachment aren’t comfortable letting their guard down or allowing their partners to get too close (listen to a podcast on attachment and betrayal).


Can a relationship survive without trust?

Relationships work best when people know that their partners are trying to help them achieve their dreams. When trust is damaged, and not quickly repaired, relationships often fall apart.

Couples who stay together where there’s little if any trust fail to receive the benefits of being in a relationship such as improved health, emotional well-being, and a sense of joy, safety, and comfort. Staying in a relationship where there is little trust often leaves people feeling isolated, uncertain, and full of doubt. When trust is damaged relationships are no longer a source of joy, safety, and love, but a source of frustration, anxiety, and despair.


Can trust be rebuilt?

The key to repairing broken trust is learning how to talk about the problem in a way that creates a mutual understanding of what happened­—where both sides can talk about the incident in a candid and frank manner. When partners are able to talk about the issue and put all of their concerns on the table, it allows couples to create a plan for repairing the damage done. With the right knowledge and skills, broken trust doesn’t have to lead to a downward spiral of hurt feelings, negativity, and more betrayals, but it presents couples with the opportunity to work through problems and make their relationship stronger in the process.

How people approach a partner when a betrayal comes to light makes all of the difference in the world. Confronting a partner in a hostile and accusatory manner usually leads to a defensive response where issues rarely get discussed or resolved.

It helps to approach one’s partner with a constructive, cooperative mindset when a betrayal comes to light. Adopting a cooperative approach makes it easier for couples to have genuine discussions and find solutions, if any exist. A cooperative, constructive approach involves talking about one’s feelings in a way that creates empathy rather than a defensive reaction (“I’m so hurt” versus “How could you do this to me?”).

Approaching the betrayal constructively is only the first of many steps that couples need to take to repair broken trust (listen to a podcast on rebuilding trust).


What do you do when you find out your partner has lied to you multiple times about the same issue?

If the two of you have tried to work through the problem using the advice, activities, and exercises in Broken Trust, and he or she still lies about the issue, then we recommend using the 5 Whys technique.

The 5 Whys is a simple method for identifying the root cause of a problem. The technique involves repeatedly asking “Why?” — until the underlying cause of a problem is identified.

We’ll work through some examples so you can see how the process works.

Imagine that your partner has promised to cut back on drinking during the week and he or she consistently breaks that promise. Apply the 5 Whys technique by repeatedly asking “Why?”

You don’t have to necessarily ask “why” five times, but you should keep asking until you get to the heart of the problem.

For instance…

“Why do you drink during the week?”

“Because I’m stressed.”

“Why are you stressed?”

“Because I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job.”

“Why are you afraid of losing your job?”

“Because they’re asking me to do more work than I can handle.”

By using this technique you can identify the issue that needs to be addressed — unrealistic demands at work need to be tackled in order to resolve your partner’s drinking problem.

Or imagine that your spouse consistently lies to you about contact with his or her ex. Again, apply the 5 Whys method.

“Why do you talk to your ex several times a day?”

“Because he or she calls me.”

“Why do you answer or return his or her calls?”

“Because I feel awful when I ignore him or her.”

“Why do you feel awful when you don’t respond to your ex?”

“Because I don’t want her or him to feel ignored.”

“Why don’t you want him or her to feel ignored?”

“Because I fear that people won’t be there for me when I need them.”

Repeatedly asking “Why?” helps identify the real issue that needs to be addressed — in this case; the fear of abandonment leads a partner to be available to his or her ex.

By identifying the root cause underlying problematic behavior you have a better chance of resolving the issue (or it helps you determine when the problem can’t be fixed).


Do you have a question about trust you’d like to ask?