How to Trust Your Partner—and Rebuild Trust After Betrayal

Updated: Jun. 06, 2024

Trust isn't a switch that can be flipped on overnight. Find out how to trust your partner, overcome your anxieties and have the relationship you truly want.

You’re in a great relationship, and it’s been smooth sailing so far. But you just can’t shake that nagging feeling that something is wrong or will go wrong. Did your boyfriend want to hook up with his ex at their college reunion? Will your wife become bored with you and get too close to someone at work? Or maybe your partner did stray, and while you decided to stay in the relationship, you’re having a tough time trusting them again. Whether it’s a real or imagined betrayal, it’s essential to learn how to trust your partner if you want to continue your relationship, because if you don’t, your worries and insecurities will ultimately destroy it.

Trust is one of the most important signs of a healthy relationship, but it isn’t something that appears overnight, and it isn’t easily rebuilt when a partner has hurt you. As a therapist who specializes in relationship challenges, I frequently help people with this issue. They key to getting a handle on it? Thinking about past experiences and present emotions to determine whether your partner is trustworthy—and learning how to mindfully navigate issues that arise in a relationship.

Below, I will walk you through the steps to move forward in your relationship. Sure, your partner’s behavior could be problematic—but your behavior might also benefit from a positive change or two. Here’s how to figure it out and rebuild your relationship in a way that is truly fulfilling for both of you.

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Why trust matters

For a relationship to function, you need to trust that your partner will behave in ways that are open, consistent and empathetic. It can be scary to feel vulnerable, but you need to give your partner the opportunity to show you who they are and how they operate without assuming the worst. As a therapist, I’ve watched people sabotage a relationship with a new partner because they had unresolved relationship trauma, such as a fear that they’d be cheated on again. A new partner wouldn’t text them back immediately, and their mind would jump to the worst conclusions.

Trust isn’t just important for your relationship, though. It’s also a key component in your physical and mental health. Strong connections are a significant predictor of a person’s health and longevity, and studies show that positive connections with a partner can help your mood, relieve stress and even reduce inflammation in your body. One study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science found that women who felt secure in their relationships tended to have better memories and fewer depressive symptoms. And another, published in 2019, found that people who reported not being happy in their marriages had equal or worse health outcomes (or a higher risk of death) than those who had never married, were divorced or were widowed.

How mistrust harms relationships

Having a breakfast in the morningFluxFactory/Getty Images

Trust is the foundation on which everything else is built, which means that if that’s shaky, so is the rest of your relationship. You can’t relax, and neither can your partner, which means you’re both often on edge and in a state of potential conflict. And when you do have a fight about trust-based issues, the situation isn’t easily rectified. In a study published in Social Cognition, researchers found that when even one partner was low in trust, couples struggled to feel connected again after they experienced a conflict. Plus, one person’s positive outlook on the relationship wasn’t enough to create a solid connection.

When you don’t know how to trust your partner, you may also find the relationship stuck in a cycle of secret-keeping. If one partner believes the other is hiding something, they are more likely to hide their own thoughts, behaviors and information, which subsequently triggers mistrust. That person then begins to keep secrets, and the cycle continues. This is one way a relationship can deteriorate, even when no one has done anything sketchy!

How do I trust my partner?

The good news is that you can start building trust in your relationship right away and reconnect with your partner so you can have the relationship you want. Of course, that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard! Often I tell clients that their anxiety will go up before it goes down when working on trust issues in a relationship, since operating differently requires vulnerability. Here’s what you can do to stabilize your relationship and trust your partner.

Learn to regulate difficult emotions

Let’s say you’ve had a stressful day at work, and your partner walks through the door in a similarly bad mood. Do you quickly assume they are upset with you? Or that they’re hiding something, despite a lack of evidence? Anxiety, anger and other difficult emotions can make it difficult to be objective about a relationship and make our mind jump to the worst-case scenario.

On a day when emotions are running high, people often expect their partner to calm them down and reassure them that everything is OK. But this can put a lot of pressure on a relationship. Instead, learning to regulate you own emotions can help you and give your partner a chance to do the same. In these tough moments, I often encourage my therapy clients to rate their emotional reactivity on a scale of 1 to 100. If you’re a 75, what would it take to get to 65? A couple of deep breaths? Relaxing your body, or reminding yourself to treat your partner with respect? Asking your partner questions rather than making accusations? You don’t have to get down to 1 to change a relationship for the better.

Live out your own definition of trustworthiness

holding handsMaskot/getty images

It takes both people to build trust in a relationship. If you are trying to live your own best definition of being a thoughtful and respectful partner, this can do a lot to lower anxiety in a relationship. Think about what being a trustworthy partner looks like to you, and look for opportunities to do exactly that. This might mean honoring your commitments to spend time together, being honest even when you disagree, telling them when they’ve done something that’s hurt you or introducing them to important people in your life. Often, your partner will feel encouraged to do the same. Even if they don’t, it will be easier for you to make decisions about the relationship, because you know you’ve been operating as your best self.

Focus on the facts of the relationship

One way you learn how to trust your partner is to focus on the facts of the relationship, not your fears. If you’re worried about infidelity, despite no evidence, consider the ways that your partner has demonstrated that they are committed to the relationship. For example, maybe they always treat you respectfully and are eager to introduce you to others. Or they’re always straightforward about where they’re going and the people they see. Consider what would be significant signs of cheating or another type of betrayal, like giving vague answers about where they’ve been or guarding their phone a little too closely.

Also, consider the many variables that can impact your perception of others, including your current emotional state, the history of relationships in your family and your own relationship history. Is your partner acting strangely, or are you taking your worst fear (i.e., that you’ll repeat your parents’ mistakes) and running with it? The facts help us stay grounded and in touch with what’s actually happening in the relationship.

How to rebuild trust in a relationship

Maybe your spouse cheated on you, or your partner lied to you about losing their job and racked up a mountain of credit card debt. When you’re hurting, it’s difficult to know whether you want to end the relationship or make it work, especially since rebuilding trust in a relationship doesn’t happen overnight. Here’s how to put yourself in the right mindset to make your best decision—whether it’s moving forward in the relationship or not.

Share your thinking with your partner

Couple chatting at the front of their homegeorgeclerk/Getty Images

If your partner has given you reason to mistrust them in the past, consider sharing your thinking with them about how to rebuild trust in a relationship. What would you see as evidence that they were operating in a trustworthy way? My clients often say things like, “My partner would be honest with me when I do something they don’t like.” Or: “They would honor the plans we make together.”

In my work with clients, I also ask this question to the partner who has broken the trust. Often, they will have answers their partner hadn’t considered. Seeing improvement as a slower, collaborative process, rather than a fast, anxious fix, can help lower mistrust and conflict.

Focus on being who you want to be

As your partner works to regain your trust, consider what kind of person you’d like to be in this challenging moment. Do you want to be someone who jumps to the worst-case scenario if they don’t text back right away? Someone who can’t let their partner go out with their friends or colleagues? Consider what it looks like for you to be an open and empathetic partner who respects the other person’s individuality and capacity to do better.

If a concern does arise, also consider who you want to be when addressing it. If you’re working on managing your own anxiety when talking about problems with your partner, they will be more likely to respond thoughtfully rather than reactively. One technique I use in the therapy room is to help people learn to make “I statements” about their thoughts and feelings. For example, rather than saying to your partner, “You never introduce me to your friends,” you could say, “I feel sad that I haven’t met your friends yet. I think I would feel more confident about the relationship if I was more connected with the people who are important to you. How can we do that?” Note the positive, problem-solving tone of the latter, which is less accusatory than a “you statement.”

Make time to enjoy each other

Happy couple of hikers holding hands while walking through the woods.Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

Rebuilding trust isn’t just about working on what went wrong in the relationship. It’s also about having fun, getting to know each other better and remembering why you enjoyed each other before. The couples I work with who make time for the hard stuff and the fun stuff seem to have the most success in rebuilding trust. They might fill a jar full of fun date-night ideas and draw one randomly each week, or buy a card deck of interesting questions to ask each other over dinner. Connecting in these ways can reduce the anxiety about the future and motivate people to keep working on the challenges in the relationship.

Ask for help if you need it

Don’t hesitate to seek professional help for rebuilding trust in a relationship. Individual therapy can help you build emotional strength, challenge irrational thoughts and set goals for your own functioning in the relationship. It is also important for the partner who has committed a betrayal to engage in individual therapy. Trust often gets rebuilt more thoroughly when that person actively seeks professional support to foster lasting change.

Couples therapy can also provide a calm, open space for both of you to do your best thinking about unhelpful relationship patterns and set goals for the relationship. In my practice, I’ve found that the couples who do the best are the ones where each partner is honest about their own anxious habits in a relationship. When each person can see their part, rather than labeling one person as the “problem,” the relationship is more likely to get back on the right track.

FAQs

Why is it so hard for me to trust my partner?

A person’s family history, relationship history and own emotional state can all impact their ability to trust their partner. If your parents struggled with infidelity or secrets, you might be more likely to assume the worst when it comes to your partner. If a past partner has cheated or lied to you, you also may be more likely to jump to conclusions. And if your current partner has given you reason not to trust them in the past, it’s important to remember that trust isn’t built quickly. It’s built slowly, when both partners can demonstrate openness and maturity in the relationship.

How can I get over my trust issues?

Young couple discussing problems with therapistbernardbodo/Getty Images

Sometimes it’s all too easy to assume the worst, even without much evidence. Individual talk therapy is one way that a person can learn to evaluate and challenge negative thinking that doesn’t reflect the reality in a relationship. Individuals can also learn anxiety-management skills that help lower the distress that can cloud good judgment. Additionally, partners may find that that couples therapy can help them recognize unhealthy relationship patterns, build communication skills that help lower the level of conflict and mistrust in the relationship, and learn how to be happier overall.

How do you know if you can trust your partner?

Relationships benefit when people have a clear definition of what being “trustworthy” means. What would be the evidence that your partner is being reliable and honorable in their behavior? What might be the evidence that they aren’t?

If you haven’t done this type of thinking, you are much more susceptible to having anxiety influence how you perceive your partner. For example, if you’ve had a stressful day at work, you might be more likely to take your partner’s silence at dinner as a sign that they’ve done something wrong.

Can lack of trust ruin a relationship?

Yes, a lack of trust can 100% ruin a relationship, even when there hasn’t been an actual betrayal. When you assume your partner will hurt you, you can lose the chance to connect with your partner in way that is deeply rewarding. You are also more likely to begin to conceal things yourself, which may lead to your partner’s distrust of you. And the cycle will continue, even when you don’t say hurtful things to your partner (which is obviously also a problem).

Trust isn’t a switch that can be flipped on overnight. It is built when you strive to see your partner for who they are and when you work hard to manage the emotions that come with being human. You learn how to trust your partner when you can see the reality of a relationship and who your partner really is. That kind of connection is worth all the effort.

Why trust us

For over 100 years, Reader’s Digest has explored the nuances of relationships, working with such luminaries as Dr. Ruth Westheimer, John Gottman, PhD, and Leo Buscaglia (“Dr. Love”). We ran a decade-long relationships column and have published a compendium of features, Love and Marriage: The Reader’s Digest Guide to Intimate Relationships. For this piece on how to trust your partner, Kathleen Smith, PhD, author of Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down, tapped her experience as a therapist and relationships writer. Then, clinical psychologist and life-fulfillment expert Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of The Joy of Imperfect Love: The Art of Creating Healthy, Securely Attached Relationships, gave it a rigorous review to ensure that all information is accurate and offers the best possible advice to readers. We support this information with credentialed experts and primary sources such as government and professional organizations, peer-reviewed journals and our writers’ personal experience where it enhances the topic. We verify all facts and data and revisit them over time to ensure they remain accurate and up to date. Read more about our team, our contributors and our editorial policies.

Sources:

  • Clinical Psychological Science: “Security of attachment to spouses in late life: Concurrent and prospective links with cognitive and emotional wellbeing”
  • Social Cognition: “Ruining It for Both of Us: The Disruptive Role of Low-Trust Partners on Conflict Resolution in Romantic Relationships”
  • Personal Relationships: “A healthy dose of trust: The relationship between interpersonal trust and health”
  • Harvard Study of Adult Development:
  • The Atlantic: “What the longest study on human happiness found is the key to a good life” 
  • European Journal of Social Psychology: “The reciprocal cycle of self-concealment and trust in romantic relationships”