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How to build trust in a relationship

As a marriage and family therapist, I was initially shocked at the number of times I was dealing with betrayal as the main culprit to unhappiness in relationships. For a while, I thought of betrayal only in one way, as a sexual act with someone outside of your primary relationship. While that is OFTEN the form of betrayal, it can come in other forms. Popular relationship guru John Gottman says that betrayal can come in many forms:

1) it can be the husband who continues to choose his career over his wife,

2) it can be the wife who chooses the family over her husband, or

3) it can even come in smaller acts, like acting with selfishness or dismissive behavior.

How then, do we start building trust when it’s been broken, maybe more than one time? You might think of trustworthiness as a character trait, something either you have or don’t have. I’ve often thought of it that way, too. But really, trust is something that can grow, just like love can. It’s like strengthening a muscle that is WAY out of shape. Some people have learned how to be trustworthy from practice while growing up, or even from watching healthy relationships around them. Others, well, missed out on that and are playing catchup. Either way, it’s something we all can do!

We often enter into a relationship lacking in trust. As time goes on, we might look at a relationship as a way to get the other person to do more for us. We try to change them for our own benefit. What trust is, though, is changing without prompting for the benefit of your partner. It’s being willing to change, and following through because you care about the person you’re with. It calls for a lot of selflessness. So, here are some keys for building trust:

1) Make a commitment to look out for one another

2) Spend time in reflection asking yourself what trouble spots you can work to transform that will make YOUR PARTNER’S life easier

3) Watch yourself! Don’t say something like, “I will vacuum so Suzy is happy…and then I might get sex later.” Rather, your thinking can be more like, “I want to vacuum because I know Suzy likes that and I know she hates having to nag.”

4) When in a discussion, check your body language. Do you appear closed off (arms folded, slightly turned, non-expressive face) or are you open (lean in, eye contact, phone away). This signals to your partner that it is either safe (open) or unsafe (closed) to share with you.

These are just some ideas, but you get that trust is a constant thing you’re building. We can never say we’ve arrived. We are a work in progress, as are our relationships! Keep at it and work towards loving trust between you and your partner! If you're looking for more help with relationships, check out my course about helping you find "the one!"

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