How to build trust in a relationship

Trust in a relationship is vital, but how do you build it? And how do you rebuild it after someone cheats? We talked to a relationship counsellor about how to trust each other.

Illustration of a man holding up a woman just with his feet.

Don't you dare drop me...

What is trust?

Sounds like a weird question, but trust in a relationship means your boyfriend or girlfriend is the following:

  • Reliable – They do what they say they’re going to do.
  • Dependable – You know they have your back.
  • Consistent – How they treat you doesn’t fluctuate too much, unless it’s for a very good reason, e.g. grief or severe exam stress.
  • Durability – You feel the relationship won’t crumble under pressure.
  • Fidelity – The obvious one here. You trust them not to share bodily fluids (or whatever else counts as cheating in your eyes) with other people.

“Trust is never just one thing,” says Christine Northam from relationship experts Relate. “It’s a whole range of things and it’s utterly essential to have trust in a loving relationship.”

So, how do you build trust?

Building trust is as simple as doing what you say you’re going to do. Trust is assumed at the start of a relationship and, as long as you don’t do things that cause it to waver, you grow it from there.

And then there are the good old relationship essentials: honesty and open communication.

“Trust grows when a couple make the time to communicate clearly and really listen to each other’s feedback,” says Christine. “It shows you care about them enough to listen to what they’re saying.”

I don’t trust my boyfriend/girlfriend

If you don’t trust your partner but they’ve given you no reason not to you need to think very carefully about why. Were you cheated on in the past? Did anything happen in your childhood with your parents that taught you not to trust?

“If you feel hurt, sad, and betrayed these are very powerful feelings that need to be aired,” says Christine, who recommends counselling in this situation. “You need to try and heal the wound otherwise you’ll carry it with you all the time and it can get in the way of your relationships.” We have more advice about counselling and what it involves here.

If your current partner hasn’t done anything to warrant your distrust, ask yourself how fair it is to accuse them of being untrustworthy. Ultimately it’s up to you to fix you – not anybody else.

My boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t trust me and it’s driving me nuts – help!

Paying for the mistakes of your partner’s exes can feel pretty unfair – but it’s important to remember this is their issue, not yours. That said, you can work through this together as long as both of you are willing to. Have a conversation about where their trust issues have stemmed from, and how they’re manifesting in your current relationship. Just taking the time to listen and understand can help them feel more secure.

Perhaps start with the question – what does trust mean to you? And see what you agree and don’t agree on.

But they’re being controlling and unreasonable!

If their lack of trust means they’re making unreasonable demands – like insisting they check your phone, not letting you have friends of the opposite sex, and ensuring they know where you are at all times – you need to think carefully about whether this relationship has a future (especially if they refuse to get help for the issues causing this behaviour).

“Be honest and trust your own judgement,” says Christine.” If their trust issues are overwhelming all the good parts of the relationships, realistically will it last long term?”

How do you rebuild trust after cheating?

If you really feel the relationship is worth saving, rebuilding the trust means returning to the bullet points at the top of this article. Start by being reliable, dependable, consistent and durable every day, and see how things go week after week. You can also consider going to couples counselling to help you work through any leftover feelings.

“It takes a lot of hard work, but you can do it,” says Christine. “You have to really invest in a relationship in order to rebuild the trust, so you need to ask yourself if this particular relationship will be worth the hard work. Be honest with yourselves.”

I cheated on my partner and they won’t stop asking about it

This is a totally normal process, and they’re naturally going to have lots of questions. However, try setting a daily limit so it doesn’t dominate your relationship. Say something like ‘I will answer all your questions, but only for 30 minutes a day’, and do this every day until you no longer need to. And make sure you answer the questions honestly! It’s natural to want to spare their feelings, but if your lies don’t add up you’ll just be breaking the trust further.

Next Steps

  • Relate is an affordable relationship and sex counselling service. 0300 100 1234
  • Relate offers advice on the most common relationship problems here.
  • Read articles on a range of relationship topics on The Mix's Relationship Support Page in partnership with Click.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


cheating| trust


Updated on 29-Sep-2015

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