You have heard that trust is important in a relationship but what’s often not explained is why.
In this article, you will learn the reasons why trust is important in any relationship. But before diving deeper, lets define “trust.”
What is trust in a relationship
There are many definitions of trust. When it comes to a relationship, trust is believing that in a variety of situations, you can rely on the other person to be there for you.
In a relationship, researcher John Gottman finds there are various trust tests.
Trust tests include determining if you can rely on your partner in different situations. Can you rely on them to help with chores? Will they be loyal sexually? And if needed will they pick you over everyone else in their life?
Types of trust in a relationship
To understand why trust is important in a relationship, it’s helpful to clarify how trust can manifest. As a couple’s therapist, I’ve found there are types of trust with others. The types of trust in a relationship are:
- Believing you can rely on your partner emotionally,
- Relying on their ability to contribute fairly to your household duties,
- Having your financial health respected by your partner,
- Sexual fidelity, and
- Knowing you are physically safe with the other person
Some of these types of trust exist only in a romantic relationship. Other types of trust are important in any relationship you have with others.
How much trust is important in a relationship
Gottman asserts trust exists on a spectrum.
In The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, Gottman asserts trust exists on a spectrum. Therefore, how much trust you need in a relationship will likely differ along this spectrum.
On the spectrum of trust, you may find you care about some of these types more than others. If you want to be polyamorous, for example, sexual monogamy won’t be important to you. However, emotional trust will likely be essential.
Of course, in any relationship, it’s imperative to trust you are physically safe.
Why it’s important to trust others
Knowing you can count on someone – trust – is necessary in any relationship.
Without trust, fundamentally, you cannot feel safe with someone. This is the primary reason trust is the most important aspect of any healthy relationship. Trust is even more important than love.
You can feel safe around someone you don’t love. That is, you can trust your coworker for example is reliable without loving them. Yet it’s agonizing to love someone you don’t trust.
Related: Is love supposed to hurt?
Without trust, you don’t feel safe
It may seem dramatic to say you can’t feel safe with someone if you don’t trust them. Yet, it’s true due to our biology as human beings.
Whenever your primal brain perceives something as dangerous, it triggers a trauma response. This is the fight-flight-freeze response.
If you are in fight, you will feel like attacking or criticizing the other person.
In flight, you will feel highly anxious. You may feel insecure, wondering what’s wrong with you since you don’t trust this person. This anxiety can even last days, weeks, months or years depending on how long you stay with someone you don’t trust.
Finally, if you find yourself in the freeze traumatic response, you will likely feel stuck or trapped in the relationship.
Reason #1 Trust Is Important: Trust protects your mental health
You don’t need to be in true danger for you to have a trauma response.
A car rushing towards you can trigger fight-flight-freeze. But so can feeling like your partner is lying when they say they are working late. Or not trusting your partner to not spend too much money when you’re trying to save.
Without trust, your mental health erodes. You will feel anxious, depressed, and potentially even traumatized.
Reason #2 Trust is Important: Trust protects your relationship
If you don’t trust your partner, your relationship will suffer. When your partner feels you snooping on them, or limiting their behaviors, due to a lack of trust, they will resent you.
And if your partner has lost your trust, without rebuilding it, you will resent them.
Without trust, the long-term outcome for a relationship involves constant fighting, bitterness, and resentment. Of course, this is a recipe for break-ups or divorce.
Related: My boyfriend and I keep fighting
Reason #3 Trust is Important: Your sex life improves with trust
Satisfying sex, long-term, requires vulnerability. To be truly open about your sexual desires, and fantasies, it’s necessary to trust your partner. You must trust that your intimate desires – and actions – will remain private (if that’s important to you). Finally, you must trust that your sexual health is safe. This can be done by agreeing to monogamy. Or, you and your partner can agree to using safer sex practices when with other people.
You must also trust that they can handle your fantasies and reciprocate.
Think of the trust game we play as kids, where we let ourselves fall back onto someone who catches us. So too in sex, you can let go only if you trust the other is sturdy and will be able to receive the force of your desire.Esther Perel, The State of Affairs
Related: Is casual sex healthy?
You must decide what matters to you
If you are in an established relationship, take time to ask yourself what expectations you have regarding trust. Go through each type of trust from financial to sexual. Then, take time to share these with your partner. Explore if they feel willing to meet these needs.
Then give your partner the chance to explore their trust needs with you.
Of course, people will make mistakes but explore together your deal breakers. Maybe it’s ok, for example, if your partner is unreliable with cleaning but it’s a deal breaker if they go into debt secretly. Or maybe for your partner they can’t accept if you are aggressive towards them. On the other hand, they may be understanding about your desire to flirt with others.
Trust needs vary for each person. Taking the time to really understand your trust needs together enhances a relationship.
How to build trust in a new relationship
One of the most painful mistakes people commonly make is to give trust away too quickly. The reality is that in the beginning, it’s just too soon to tell if someone is trustworthy.
If you find yourself in a new relationship, trust is something which builds over time. In the beginning, dating is an assessment process. You want to try to stay open-minded and neutral as you collect information.
Taking your time allows you to discover how reliable your partner truly is in any given type of trust. It allows you to collect facts and see reality clearly rather than giving into your fantasy of someone.
Related: Hate dating but want a relationship?
When you are discovering if someone is trustworthy, it’s important to stay true to yourself.
Even if someone says the right things, if you feel something is “off” around someone, this matters. All too often, as a therapist, I’ve worked with women who found themselves “stuck” in relationships that hurt because they didn’t listen to themselves early on.
You can avoid a lot of pain if you learn to trust yourself. Even if you can’t explain logically to anyone else why someone doesn’t feel right to you. The truth is sometimes we just know someone doesn’t have our best interest in mind. Or, other times, we just know they aren’t our person.
Learning to listen to our intuition is a game changer in life. Seriously, sometimes, it seems this is the primary goal of most of the therapy I provide to clients.
However, if you find yourself consistently thinking you can’t trust others, this may be problematic.
Some people are trustworthy
Of course, it’s important to listen to yourself if you don’t think someone is trustworthy. However, sadly, for some of us, trusting others feels impossible.
You may think it’s your inner voice telling you to run from a new partner. Yet, in someone cases, it’s past trauma clouding your vision.
If you have experienced trauma growing up, a part of you may think you can’t rely on others. Period. (This is the flight part of fight-flight-freeze.)
In these cases, it’s important to honor that trust comes from a place of neutrality. We don’t want to treat others as if they are guilty until proven innocent.
If this is hard for you, please know you have my empathy. Also, please know you can heal. Trauma therapy, namely EMDR, is life-changing and profoundly healing.
Some people aren’t trustworthy
Other times, with complex trauma, a person will stop protecting themselves. They will not have healthy boundaries. And when others are clearly untrustworthy, they will keep giving them chances.
Over time the body adjusts to chronic trauma. One of the consequences of numbing is that teachers, friends, and others are not likely to notices that a girl is upset; she may not even register it herself. By numbing out she no longer reacts to distress the way she should, for example, by taking protective measures.Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps Score
If you find yourself giving endless chances to people who hurt you, it’s important to care for your own mental health and safety. Some people, no matter way they say or how much you try to deny it, don’t truly care for you. This isn’t your fault.
Learning to walk away is sometimes the first step to true healing.
If someone isn’t honest, it’s not your fault
When someone isn’t trustworthy, there can be the tendency to take this personally.
If you have been with someone, and they cheat on you, you may ask yourself “What’s wrong with me?” Or if you started dating someone new, and then they ghost you, you may be convinced you said or did something wrong.
Related: I got ghosted and it hurts
While it may be hard to believe, especially if you have complex trauma, a person’s untrustworthiness is not your fault.
Each person has their core issues, hang-ups, and insecurities. In these issues, people are sometimes untrustworthy and hurtful. If you find yourself having your trust violated, it’s not because of you. Rather it’s because of this person and their issues. Your only responsibility here is that you crossed their path.
Honoring the importance of trust in a relationship
Trust is essential for any relationships as it establishes safety.
Without this sense of safety, your mental health will suffer. You will likely be anxious, insecure, feel trapped and even traumatized.
Relationships also cannot stand the weight of a lack of trust and thrive. Even if partners stay together, they will find themselves fighting, avoiding each other, and lacking the fun they once had together.
Taking your time, in a new relationship, will help you assess trustworthiness. In a committed relationship, talk to your partner about your trust needs to feel closer.
Finally, learning how to trust yourself no matter what while healing any trauma which blocks this, is life changing.
About The Author, Krystal
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend will be released late 2022. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”
Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM her @confidentlyauthentic.com or you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your question.