Building Trust in Relationships

As a woman who grew up in a divorced home, I know how the breakup of my parents' marriage forever changed my life. But I wasn't prepared for how mistrust would rear its ugly head in surprising ways in my adult relationships.
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couple holding hands
couple holding hands

When most people think of broken trust, cheating comes to mind. Most articles on this topic focus on whether or not the cheater can be trusted again and helping the partner who is betrayed decide whether the relationship can be rebuilt. Not as much is written about the other forms mistrust can take.

As a woman who grew up in a divorced home, I know how the breakup of my parents' marriage forever changed my life. But I wasn't prepared for how mistrust would rear its ugly head in surprising ways in my adult relationships.

I was blessed with an exceptionally trustworthy father. Always truthful, always reliable, and always able to follow through on his promises, my father was there for me, even though my parents' marriage crumbled. It's commonly thought that many women have trust issues because they grew up in fractured homes and didn't have good role models. But as a woman who grew up with a dad who provided a great example, it has been challenging throughout my life to figure out when my trust issues started.

When a child is born, she is inherently trusting. When she is let down and exposed to pain, she can start to doubt herself and become wary of being hurt. Although my parents' marriage didn't dissolve due to infidelity, I watched them stop loving each other. I watched them walk away from one another and the family they had built. So it's no wonder that, as an adult, these experiences have left an imprint on my heart and influenced what I've come to expect out of relationships.

Trust is about so much more than catching your partner in a truth or lie. It is about believing that he or she truly has your best interests at heart. Mistrust is a lingering feeling in the back of your mind that your partner does not truly love you, or may abandon you. So much about trust is walking the talk. Your partner may tell you he loves you, but do his actions support that? All too often, I find myself operating from a viewpoint that the only person I can rely on is myself -- even though I know it's not true.

What I've come to realize is that trust is an act of courage. You may enter a relationship with fractured trust for a variety of reasons. Divorce is not always the root cause. But as you become more aware of your tendency to mistrust your partner, you can stop yourself and ask: "Is my mistrust coming from something that is actually happening in the present, or is it a fragment of my past?"

As a woman in my 20s, I've watched myself and my friends endure different violations of trust. Addiction has been the biggest betrayer, as you worry about your partner coming home drunk or high, always waiting for disaster to strike. Sometimes money is the culprit. Many women go through a breakup because they loaned out money they never got back, or watched as the bank account dwindled as their partner spent their money needlessly or carelessly. For me, the hardest thing about broken trust in a relationship is being able to trust my own judgment. Am I making a wise decision about who I give my heart to?

You can turn the hurts from past betrayals into lessons. Trust is more of an acquired ability than a feeling. When you sustain the loss of a relationship due to broken trust, it makes you smarter and more keenly able to extend trust to those who are deserving of it. You can learn to trust your instincts and your judgment when you honestly deal with your fears. If you are able to come to a place of self-awareness and understand the decisions that were made that led up to trust being severed, you can start to approach others with faith and optimism.

Trust is a skill that can be nurtured and learned. The notion that trust is a skill is not something commonly talked about in our culture. People talk about proving trust, restoring trust, repairing trust -- but not enough about learning to trust. So often the trouble is with the person who operates from a place of suspicion and wariness. Many relationships are sabotaged by self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe your partner will hurt you, you can unconsciously encourage hurts to emerge in your relationship. But day by day, if you learn to operate from a viewpoint that your partner loves you and wants the best for you, you can enjoy trust in your life.

Here are some smart ways to create trusting relationships:

• Gain confidence in your own perceptions by paying attention to your doubts and instincts.
• Ask yourself -- does your partner keep important promises or agreements?
• If your partner lets you down, don't always assume that a failure in competence is intentional -- sometimes people simply make a mistake.
• Listen to your partner's side of the story. Make sure your words and tone of voice are consistent with your goal of rebuilding trust.
• Keep in mind that learning to trust is a slow process. You were born with a propensity to trust others but through your life experience you may have become less trusting as a way of protecting yourself.

Learning to trust is really about having the courage to heal a broken heart. You can face your trust issues with optimism when you extend trust to those who deserve it.

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