Ask any relationship expert what they believe the foundation to a lasting relationship is and chances are that “trust” will appear near the top of the list.
Second to that, the most popular article on this website by some margin is one I wrote last year titled, ‘Dealing with your girlfriend getting hit on’. The comments section of that article currently features over 100 in-depth questions and answers and the recurring topic throughout is that of ‘trust in a relationship’.
This article aims to condense some of the advice given in response to those real-life relationship concerns, as well as give some further insights as to why trust can become such a big issue in a relationship and how you can learn to be at peace with it at all times…
Where trust issues arise from:
As with many beliefs and insecurities, trust issues form as a result of cultural learning and past experiences. The past experiences can either be personal experiences, in this case being betrayed in a past relationship, or they can develop by observing external examples of mistrust in society.
There is also a correlation between how much we trust our romantic partners and how much we trust ourselves! A lot of people find it hard to trust their other half because they know how EASY it is to be unfaithful, whether in reality or simply in theory.
A third cause is related to our own self-esteem. Unless we believe one hundred percent that we embody the ‘perfect partner’ and that our relationship is as happy and fulfilling as it can be, there is by definition a fear that there is someone out there more suited to our other half.
Related emotions – jealousy and fear:
Although there are varying evolutionary and psychological theories surrounding jealousy and fear, in simple terms they are both products of our own self-esteem. Jealousy and any related insecurities stem from protection, neediness and scarcity: the thought that if someone steals my loved one away from me, I will be left with nothing!
The only way to fully trust your girlfriend or boyfriend is to rid yourself of any fear of losing them. The feelings may not always be rational because trust issues have a habit of burying themselves deep in our subconscious. I have even had married men (men who are with women that have supposedly committed their entire LIFE to them) who still have this fear of losing their partner and show signs of mistrust every time their wife is away from them for any length of time. This sounds absurd on the face of it but confirms the fact that subconscious feelings of mistrust can often be greater than any logical or justified feelings.
Setting the boundaries of your relationship:
Aside from negative experiences from previous relationships, trust issues arise in a new relationship because people make assumptions for their romantic interests without fully knowing their true beliefs. This pertains to the earliest stages of a romantic relationship developing, where people often assume the people we meet share the same values and beliefs as us regarding monogamy and relationships by default.
There is a vast spectrum of what may be acceptable or unacceptable between a couple and there is also usually a large grey area in the middle. The only way you are going to have a satisfactory level of practical trust with your partner is if you have a clear and mutual understanding of what is and what is not acceptable in your relationship (a common example is how ‘flirty’ to be with other people of the opposite sex).
Having said that, whilst the above compromise may work for many couples out there, it is still suppressing the root cause of any trust issues. In theory, as long as two people are clear and honest about wanting to be in a monogamous relationship, there should be no need for any ‘boundaries’, as any misaligned scenarios will be wholly innocent.
Wanting to know everything your partner gets up to:
This statement is not to be confused with having a genuine interest and excitement to know what your partner gets up to in your absence. This is concerning the people who want to know intricate and nugatory details from their girlfriend or boyfriend (if they’ve been on a night out for example) and then become aggrieved if they later find out they haven’t been told everything.
If you expect your partner to tell you EVERYTHING (especially if they tell you that they will) then trivial details that accidently get forgotten suddenly set off insecure detective mode! It is almost as if we only believe someone is being honest with us if we can build a fully formed picture of their description in our mind. This is of course in the hope that those extra details will ensure that the major ones never get neglected.
A common situation that men in relationships come to me about is in trusting their girlfriend when she is out socialising with other guys, or perhaps if she is still in touch with an ex-boyfriend.
If your girlfriend or boyfriend knows that you will overreact or judge them if they do one of the above two things (even innocently) then chances are they simply won’t tell you about them! This may not be in a malicious or sinister way, but simply to prevent any unnecessary relationship aggro. Of course, if you do then discover what they have been up to, it suddenly becomes a lot less innocent, regardless of their intentions!
The only way to encourage your partner to be completely open with you is to ensure they know that you will never overreact, or more importantly JUDGE them if they tell you potentially undesirable facts.
Fully trusting your girlfriend or boyfriend:
If you know that you experience frequent feelings of jealousy or distrust, it is not something you are likely to be able to rid yourself of in an instant. You can however slowly work on overcoming or desensitising yourself to those negative feelings through repetitive cognition. This is achieved through a combination of being reassured by your partner’s trustworthy actions over time and by not fuelling any anxieties with trust illusions or hypothetical scenarios.
I’ve said time and time again that the most important aspect of a relationship is actively making it as fulfilling as it can be at all times. Doing this and believing it wholeheartedly to be true will conquer all conceivable issues a couple could have. Doing this correctly, mistrust can only manifest if you self-sabotage your own image, much like the causes that lead to being cheated on!
I personally don’t fear anyone whisking Heidi away from me because I don’t believe there is anyone who could! Consequently, I trust her unreservedly and never feel the need to accuse, question or interrogate any of her behaviour. This may sound mildly arrogant but is a direct result of working hard on both myself and our relationship so it is the best it can possibly be at all times. As soon as I start to lose that desire to continually enrich our relationship, is the first sign that the relationship might be subsiding.
Whilst I’m aware that it takes a considerable amount of time to get to a level of complete ease and trust in a relationship, there are a few things you can do to aid the process.
The best temporary measure is to simply suppress any insecurities you may have as soon as they arise. Prevent yourself from displaying unwarranted signs of mistrust towards your partner and the people outside the relationship you fear. This won’t condition a perfect relationship as described above but it will condition a healthy one in the meantime. It will let your partner know that you trust them, which in turn will emotionally pull them closer to you rather than push them away.
“I trust my partner but I don’t trust the people around them”:
A final factor that can affect one’s trust in a relationship is social intelligence. Someone can ostensibly trust their partner on an emotional level, but still fear them getting taken advantage of due to their vulnerability, naivety or lack of social maturity.
If your partner is attractive, they WILL get attention from other members of the opposite sex. All you can do is ensure that they are equipped with the basic social tools so that they can be trusted in any social situation and not risk being taken advantage of. These social tools include things such as being decisive, assertive and never alluding to relationship status.
Going back to an earlier point about allowing your partner to be completely open and honest with you, remember that trust is not circumstantial and you want your girlfriend or boyfriend to be able to tell you anything because they WANT to, not because they feel that they HAVE to!
Trusting your partner’s emotional fidelity is just as important as trusting their physical fidelity… so remember that even if your partner has previous reasons for you not to trust them, what becomes of that is wholly dependent on your input and approach to the relationship!