It could show up for you as feeling deeply uncomfortable with your girlfriend going away to a work conference, or your boyfriend having a night out with his friends.
It may cause you to hold on too tight to the relationship, smothering it with a constant need for reassurance – or breaking it apart with accusations.
You may know deep down that this isn’t what you want. But no matter how hard you try, that niggling anxiety just won’t budge.
You have a mental block that says, ‘I just can’t trust them.’
Whether you’re still influenced by a previous bad relationship where your trust was abused, or if something happened to you earlier in life, trust doesn’t always come easily…
…And that’s because trust doesn’t turn on and off like a light switch. It is something that has to be built.
Real trust can take time. So if you’re still learning how to trust your partner, sit tight and let’s look at nine ways you can learn to trust again.
Accept you’re in the unknown
One of the challenges with the early stages of dating can be handling the fact you’re in the unknown. If you’ve only been on a handful of dates with someone, you simply don’t know them well enough yet to make a judgement call about what they’re like.
Did they not message because they’re busy at work, or because they’re trying to hint they’re not interested in pursuing things further?
You’re left scratching your head for the answer because you don’t have enough “data points” yet to come to a clear conclusion!
Rather than overanalyse and react to your fears, this is a good moment to stay in the present and take a (very small!) leap of faith!
Try bringing yourself back to the here and now with affirmations like, ‘I like them so far, so let’s just see what happens…’ and remember that a little bit of positive belief could be just what you need to get this new relationship up and running.
Avoid creating a story around what someone’s actions mean
While you’re still in the getting-to-know-you phase, and you are still building trust between you, try to avoid “analysis paralysis” worrying what all your date’s actions and words mean.
It can feel exciting to ‘decode’ the message that your new man has sent you in a WhatsApp group with your friends, or drifting into obsessively checking your new girlfriend’s social media posts, but focusing too much on them makes it easy to read their signals incorrectly and interpret levels of meaning that may not exist.
If you find all your headspace is being taken up with trying to work out what the other person wants, try the circle exercise. It’s a simple way to unjunk your thoughts and regain your calm.
Simply take a piece of paper and draw two circles. In one circle write objective actions, ‘he hasn’t texted in two days…’ and on the other, what conclusions you’re drawing from that: ‘he’s met someone else, he’s not interested,’ etc.
This will help you stay grounded in the here and now, and separate out what is actually happening from the assumptions you might be making around someone’s actions.
Again, don’t panic just because you’re in the unknown! Time will reveal everything, and give you a chance to heal your insecurities.
Both in the early and latter stages of the relationship, something that can really help you learn to trust your partner is to hold positive expectations around their behaviour.
This can be very hard if you’re someone who struggles to trust. Your “go to” way of thinking may be to expect people to let you down.
Instead of thinking, ‘he’s off with his friends, so I’m sure that’s the last I’ll hear from him all weekend,’ encourage yourself to think, ‘I want him to have a great time with his friends, and I’m sure he’ll be in touch soon…’
Again – this comes back to being prepared to take a leap of faith and to build confidence in your own judgements. If deep down you feel they’re a good person, give yourself permission to trust them, and yourself!
Take a small leap of faith
If negative experiences in the past have affected your ability to trust now, remember it will be positive experiences which will help you heal and trust in the future.
So if you take a small leap of faith, and you find it’s positively rewarded, it could be a major link in the chain of rebuilding your trust.
Start small – whether that’s taking a deep breath if your partner goes on a night out without you, or going to hang out with an attractive friend.
If you can give them your trust, get to the other side of the experience and realise your relationship is still very much intact, this can create a small win where you are rewarded for giving trust.
Make these small leaps of faith enough times and you’ll gradually become more and more secure with your partner.
Take time to get to know one another
On the topic of starting small, another great way to build trust with someone is to take your time getting to know them. If your relationship accelerates at lightning speed, you may not have the time to build in those layers of trust.
Whether there was a rush to move in together before lockdown, or you moved quickly to physical intimacy, a quickly established relationship may not yet have all the foundations of trust in place.
If you can, slow it down. Give yourself as much time as you need to reach relationship milestones: you’ll find that people who are a good fit for you are going to be accommodating and willing to move at a pace which feels safe for you.
Accept how you feel
If you find yourself in a relationship where you’re struggling to trust, often the first step towards moving past this is to accept how you feel. If you feel guilty for not being more trusting, and thus add in a layer of self recriminations like ‘why can’t I trust my wife?!’, this may damage your relationship further.
Instead, start by practising some self-acceptance. If you slip into distrust, remind yourself, ‘I’m finding it hard to trust my partner now, but I know I’ve had some difficulties trusting people in the past and I am working through this.’
By witnessing, rather than fighting your feelings, you may actually find they become less potent.
Try to be vulnerable
Being vulnerable is hard.
When we try to be emotionally open with our partners, we always run the risk our vulnerabilities are going to be judged. However, by trying to be more open, we also give our partners the opportunity to accept us as we are. That feeling of acceptance can be incredibly soothing, and help us find it easier to trust.
Remember as well, that by asking for what you need from your partner you are creating a stronger relationship by sharing something you need to feel secure.
You may feel like by opening up about your fears that you’re going to put your partner off of you; but it’s often so much more attractive to be accountable to how you’re feeling, and show your willingness to work on your insecurities.
Avoid checking behaviours
If you are feeling insecure, it can be tempting to look for ways to reassure yourself: it could be reading through your partner’s WhatsApp chats or checking when they were last online.
In the moment, these checking behaviours may feel like you’re scratching an itch, a need to KNOW what’s really going on. But long run they will ramp up your anxiety.
When we check up on someone, we aren’t creating positive expectations for our partner, and we are relying on external information (has he followed any new women on Instagram?!) to dictate how trusting we feel.
Instead of looking for the answers outside the relationship, focus inwards. Ask yourself whether you can’t trust your partner because of something that’s happened between you, or because of feelings you had in the past which are resurfacing.
Practice openness and inclusivity
To help foster an environment where you can really experience trust in your relationship, make sure that you lead by example. That could be by being inclusive and inviting your partner along to meet your wider social circle, or avoiding being vague about where you’re going and what you’re doing.
Of course, partners should be able to spend time apart from one another without an itemised schedule of what they’re doing during that time. However, it may be easier for you to get to this space, if you start from day one by practising being open and inclusive with your partner.
If your partner can’t reciprocate this openness, and is aloof, vague and compartmentalises their commitments (you’ve never met the ‘friends’ they catch up with every weekend), this could be making it harder for you to trust them.
Chances are, they’re not doing anything worthy of distrust. But by being evasive, they could be showing you they’re not the person who is going to make you feel safe.
We all have our own values around how much autonomy, and privacy we like as people. The trick is to find someone who has a compatible view with you.
So if you do struggle to trust, remember to look out for partners who from the get go, give you the security you need to move past your distrust and build a strong and healthy relationship with them.