“Intimate relationships are contingent on honesty and openness. They are built and maintained through our faith that we can believe what we are being told.”
Trust and honesty are the glue that holds a relationship together.
Trust goes hand in hand with other elements of a healthy relationship, like respect, security, and openness. Without it, the foundation of a relationship becomes weak and unstable and can easily crumble under pressure and animosity.
There are a lot of different reasons why you may fail to trust a partner and vice versa:
- Infidelity in past or current relationships
- A family history of deception and betrayal
- Mixed messages
- Gender stereotypes and sexist attitudes
- Low self-esteem
- Attachment anxiety
And there are a lot of different ways that trust issues manifest in an intimate relationship:
- Unfounded accusations
- Unhealthy skepticism and cynicism
- Conditional love and trust
- Excessive monitoring, such as looking through phones and social media
- The inability to have external platonic relationships
- Emotional and physical abuse
- Barriers to open and honest communication
Regardless of origins and coping mechanisms, there are two different kinds of trust issues that should be approached and handled in very different ways:
Inherent Trust Issues
This kind of mistrust is deep-rooted and unaddressed baggage that is being carried into a new relationship. Think of this more like a personality trait. Inherent distrust is externally established but is made an internal and integral part of the new relationship’s dynamic.
A new partner may express their trust issues by explicitly telling you, or early signs of mistrust, like those I mentioned earlier, will start to show early on. Reasons for being an untrusting person may be valid and even healthy.
Maybe they’ve become skeptical of romantic relationships because they were cheated on by a past partner. Perhaps a pattern of infidelity plagues their family history. Maybe self-esteem issues arise from previous partners focusing on their flaws or abandoning the relationship for someone smarter or better looking or younger. Maybe self-esteem
After our trust has been breached, it’s healthy to be cautious in order to learn, protect ourselves, and heal. This mistrust becomes unhealthy when carried into a new relationship and unjustly projected on a new and non-deserving partner.
- Someone else’s behaviors are unfairly projected on your character.
- You become subject to carrying the burden of their painful memories by enduring their unhealthy mistrust of you.
- It becomes your responsibility to reconcile someone else’s past transgressions.
- You have to prove your trustworthiness to earn their trust. In this sense, rather than being innocent until proven guilty, you enter into a relationship unjustly guilty (untrustworthy) until proven innocent (trustworthy).
Whether or not these potential problems become an actual threat depends on how inherent mistrust manifests itself in the relationship.
If your partner acknowledges the trust issues, works through them, and does their best not to project them onto you, that is a yellow flag to proceed with caution.
If your partner is openly and unfoundedly suspicious, accusatory, controlling, or abusive in any way toward those feelings, that is a glaring red flag and a sign of an unhealthy and tumultuous relationship ahead.
Proceed with caution and decide for yourself if you feel your partner’s trust issues are damaging, disrespectful, unfair, or abusive to you.
The trouble that arises after a relationship is well established can be natural and overcome. But concerns at the beginning of a relationship are usually a sign of incompatibility and a foreshadowing of unhealthy and destructive dynamics.
If you find a partner untrustworthy from the beginning, that is likely an indication of who they are and not something that will get better or that can be easily fixed over time.
That being said, your partner doesn’t have to be villainized if their trust issues are handled in a healthy and respectful way.
We all have baggage, but the key is what is done with that baggage.
Is it being addressed and dealt with responsibly, or do you become your partner’s bellhop?
If you decide to proceed with the relationship, pay attention to how your partner treats you when it comes to trust and honesty. Clear and agreed-upon boundaries are critical here, as well as open and honest communication.
But remember, it isn’t your responsibility to fix or repair a partner.
The “fixer mentality” can actually be a form of self-sacrifice and codependence and a toxic and dysfunctional dynamic in a relationship, regardless of altruistic intentions.
Circumstantial Trust Issues
This kind of mistrust is very different because it arises or develops later on in a relationship due to a breach of trust.
In this situation, you are a trusting person and your partner is trustworthy, but something went awry for one reason or another.
One partner could cheat on the other, or behaviors could noticeably change, fostering feelings of jealousy or suspicions. A lie could be uncovered, or boundaries could be crossed.
There’s a famous quote: “Without trust, there is no reason to continue.” I’d like to challenge this belief. Yes, if there is no trust, a relationship cannot go on, at least not with any health or stability.
Choosing not to continue with a relationship once trust has been broken is valid. But, a breach of trust doesn’t have to mean inevitable doom.
At the end of the day, you have to decide if your partner’s breach of trust is forgivable. And if it is, you have to determine if you and your partner are willing to work on forgiving, making amends, and rebuilding trust.
- An uncontrollable cycle of low self-esteem and lying or betrayal to avoid future problems or boost self-esteem.
- A lack of effort or knowledge of how to repair and rebuild trust.
How you and your partner choose to resolve a breach in trust can make or break a relationship. There is no universal solution or easy solution. The appropriate route to take depends a lot on why and how trust was breached.
Were unmet needs being handled inappropriately?
Did changes in mental health and self-esteem cause one partner to become overly-analytical and suspicious of another’s behaviors?
Did a partner lie out of self-preservation or as a way to manipulate and control?
Were there unclear boundaries and expectations for appropriate behaviors in and out of the relationship?
Rebuilding requires action and communication.
Words are vital in developing understanding, openness, and honesty, but they have little meaning when actions tell another story.
PsychAlive lists four general principles for enhancing trust that are a useful framework for healing and growth: honesty and integrity, nondefensiveness, understanding, and direct communication.
Living with integrity and easing tension requires being open and vulnerable with your partner and learning more about yourselves and each other. Censoring ourselves, our thoughts, and our behaviors harbor distrust and distance, even if intentions felt benevolent or safe at the time.
Eliminate the gap between who you truly are and who you are in your relationship.
We don’t hide things that are innocent or right. If behaviors, thoughts, or even parts of ourselves are being hidden, consider why.
Are you ashamed of who you are, or something you’re doing, and what are the implications of those behaviors?
Even lies that may seem small or kind can ultimately have the opposite effect and create more harm than good.
Psychology Today suggests telling the truth about why you want to lie when you’re tempted. For example, say, “I’m afraid you will be upset, but…” or “I don’t want to hurt your feeling, but the truth is…”.
Honesty can indeed be cruel, but that just means rewording or reframing the truth rather than omitting it altogether.
Be willing to have difficult conversations, receive feedback, and learn to accept and appreciate the other. And leave no room for inconsistencies between words and actions.
Unhealthy communication can cause a relationship to crumble in the face of any obstacle. Before jumping to conclusions or making questionable decisions, talk.