6 Of Our Best Tips For Rebuilding Trust In A Relationship

No relationship isn't without its fair share of ups and downs. When things are up, you can feel like you're walking on clouds, but when the downs hit, it can really shake the people in that relationship to the core. This is especially the case when it comes to broken trust.

Trust in a relationship isn't just important, but a requirement for a healthy and happy partnership. Couples simply can't thrive without trust, so when it's broken — no matter the reason — it takes a lot of work to build it back up again. "Trust is a building block for all the challenges that arise in relationships, for the growth that you would hope [happens] in a relationship, for taking risks together, for becoming better versions of yourselves, [and] for sharing a life together," couples and family therapist Tracy Ross, LCSW told Well + Good. "If you don't have trust, then you're constantly paying attention to that. But when you have solid trust, it's the strongest foundation you can have in a relationship."

Rebuilding trust isn't easy. It's a process that takes time, commitment, empathy, and understanding from both partners. It's not a one-and-done type of situation, but something that can take months, if not longer. Luckily, if both partners are willing to put in the work, trust can be rebuilt. But it's essential to realize that it will bring with it many challenges that will need to be navigated in an effective and open way to get to where you want to be in your relationship again.

Take responsibility for the broken trust

You've probably heard since you were a kid that actions have consequences, and this is very true. Whether it was you or your partner who broke the trust, it's essential that the behavior be acknowledged and responsibility be taken. No one can skate through life doing whatever they want and not eventually have to pay the piper for what was done. When someone is caught doing something that is hurtful or wrong, they need to concede no matter how much it may be difficult to do so.

According to psychotherapist and relationship expert Esther Perel, when you own your wrongdoings it's an act of humility, meaning pride has been subtracted from the equation and you're admitting that your actions weren't right. When a partner does this, the apology is taken to the next level. It's not just about saying "I'm sorry," but recognizing that one's partner has every right to be feeling whatever they're feeling as a result of the actions that broke the trust.

In some cases, both partners may have broken the trust in their own way. As Perel points out, when one partner is able to take accountability, it can lead to a place where the other partner acknowledges the facts as well, opening up a dialogue where vulnerability and unadulterated honesty can be at the forefront. Something bad was done and now it's time to own up to it for the sake of the relationship, and the mental and emotional health of both parties involved. 

Communicate your feelings

What's a relationship without communication? Nothing. In fact, it ceases to be a relationship of any kind. Communication is the foundation on which everything else stands, making it just as important as trust, or maybe even more so. When trust has been broken, a deep dive into communicating everything entangled in it has to follow. It's here that your communication skills are really put to the test.

"It's going to be a process of communication and a discussion of how certain behaviors make the other person feel," relationship therapist and certified sex educator Deb Laino, DHS told Prevention. "If there's an issue with trust, it's not one person's issue. It becomes a relationship issue. So both of them now have to be invested into it."

When having a conversation that's centered on rebuilding trust, it should involve two components: "I" statements and active listening. Instead of focusing on blame, "I" statements make sure the discourse is about how the partners feel as a result of what was done. When people approach communication by pointing the finger and saying, "You did this" or "You did that" it can create tension and lead to defensiveness, per Good Therapy. When someone feels like they're backed into a corner trying to defend their actions, they may turn toward stonewalling as a means to protect themselves. When this happens, productive communication goes out the window. Active listening, too, is essential because it involves staying focused on what is being said without interruption. It means you're actually listening and understanding, as opposed to just hearing and nodding your head.

Redefine boundaries

In any relationship, boundaries must be set and sometimes down the road, something may come up where they need to be redefined. When trust is broken, this is definitely a time to re-evaluate the original boundaries you had and see if they need to be tweaked, or maybe even given a complete overhaul to accommodate for future issues.

"Boundaries give a sense of agency over one's physical space, body, and feelings," licensed marriage and family therapist Jenn Kennedy told Healthline. "We all have limits, and boundaries communicate that line ... We each make different meanings of situations. And we may change our own boundaries over the years as we mature and our perspective shifts. One standard cannot hold for all. Rather, each person needs to find that level of comfort within themselves."

When partners can sit down and basically say, "This or that is now a boundary for me based on what happened," then the parameters of what behavior is okay can be re-established. Ideally, this will prevent either partner from breaking trust in the future because everyone will be on the same page; a page that's free of grey areas. 

Engage in trust-building activities

Trust is something that's learned. When babies are born, they come into the world not knowing how to trust but learn it through repetitive behavior. If their caretaker nurtures them in every way possible and never wavers, then they learn to trust that person and feel safe in knowing they'll always be there, per Sanford Health. So, naturally, when someone breaks the trust we have for them, whether as a baby or an adult, it needs to be learned again and activities can help.

"Rebuilding trust exercises for couples can be as simple as holding each other close and being in touch with how that makes you feel," counseling psychologist Kavita Panyam told Bonobology. "Try five-minute or 10-minute cuddle sessions, where you embrace each other and stay in that position for the specified time. See how being in such proximity to one another pans out because it will give you a chance to feel each other's energies and vibes." If you give yourselves the opportunity to lean into these activities and have fun with them, you're more likely to get something out of them.

Discuss how to move forward

As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his essay "The Crack Up," "Forgotten is forgiven," and there's a lot of truth in those three words. When we're able to leave the past in the past, perhaps putting it on a shelf and forgetting about it, we're more capable of forgiveness. We're not letting the incident linger as a means to use later as ammunition in an argument or a justification for our own bad behavior. "I have seen people work through really difficult things, and can say that the key to rebuilding trust in a relationship is both people being willing to move forward without a fixation on blame or a tally of wrongdoings," licensed clinical social worker Meredith Waller told Newsweek.

Letting go, like building trust, takes work and it may take longer for some than for others based on what the offense was and how much it impacted the relationship and both partners. But it's something that needs to be done if you want to repair the relationship, get the trust back, and move on to the next chapter together.

Be open to getting professional help

We really need to start normalizing couples therapy, because it's always a good idea. Even before something happens, like trust being broken, couples therapy can be an ongoing asset because it teaches both partners how to effectively communicate and equips them with the tools for when certain situations arise. But if you're not already in therapy and you realize that you're struggling to rebuild trust, then being open to seeking out a professional is an important component. 

"Couples therapy is where a professional assists in resolving problems, independent of how big or how small," said Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC. "Couples can develop habits that change over time and no longer work for them. Resolving the problems on their own feels insurmountable ... In couples therapy, people can learn to communicate effectively, take ownership, reflect on what they bring to the relationship, and get closer for higher levels of intimacy."

There's more than one level of broken trust. There are the white lies we tell and the big stuff like infidelity. While one may be more damaging than the other, both still break trust in a relationship. That's why, no matter where the behavior falls on the betrayal spectrum, it needs to be addressed. Broken trust can't simply be dismissed or remedied with a blowout that doesn't have a resolution. It needs to be nurtured if the relationship is going to survive.