If there's one quality strong relationships share, it's a foundation of trust. "It is the number one essential ingredient in any relationship," says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., relationship expert, a professor at Oakland University, and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great. In her long-term marriage study, Orbuch asked the happiest couples to name their most important relationship expectation. "A whopping 92% of the men and 96% of the women answered: You should feel that your spouse would never hurt or deceive you," she says.
Unfortunately, the old adage that trust must be earned rings true, and for many couples, it's something that must be slowly built (or rebuilt). "Trust issues are very common among couples because it is the number one rule or expectation," she explains. It is possible to overcome these issues, though. Ahead she charts how to build trust in a relationship and create a solid foundation with your S.O.
TAKE A RELATIONSHIP PULSE CHECK
Start by reflecting on your relationship: how you and your partner treat each other, how you both cope during stressful times, and what signs has he or she offered that suggest trustworthiness? According to Orbuch, there are three cues that indicate whether your S.O. has trustworthy traits.
Orbuch says that consistent behavior is tied to trustworthiness. Think about their behavior during a challenging or stressful time. "Do they behave in the same way each time they are stressed out, upset, or full of love?" she asks. This can be telling about their true character.
Would you describe your partner as truthful or does he/she keep secrets from you? "If a person regularly lies, fabricates information, or makes statements that contradict the truth, it will eat away at your relationship," she says.
"Does your partner think of you (and what might be best for you) when making decisions separately and as a couple?" asks Orbuch. "This includes what you do as a couple, where you go on dates, and how your support each other's friendships, careers, and life decisions."
ACKNOWLEDGE THE PAST
To build trust with your S.O., it's important to reflect on your past experiences and understand how they shape you. "Many people have been hurt or felt betrayed in the past," says Orbuch, which can make it difficult to trust again. "The most important thing is to identify the feelings then unpack them and consider what happened and why."
If you're carrying emotional baggage from a previous relationship, she recommends setting aside some time to speak honestly with your S.O. "Sit down with your partner and discuss how you're feeling and thinking about trust in the relationship," she says. "Talk about the past and why it might be affecting your ability to trust in the present. It's important that your partner knows the issues you're experiencing and why."
Finally, if you're struggling to work through these issues, be open with your partner and acknowledge that there is no instant solution to build trust overnight. "Tell your partner that you hope they will be patient with you and work through some situations with you," she says. "If you want to be able to be present in a new relationship, you have to let go of the past."
HAVE A "TRUST CHAT"
"One way to build trust in a relationship is for you and your partner to share personal information with each other," says Orbuch, which she dubs a "trust chat." "It is a discussion with your partner about trust, what it means to each of you, what your expectations are, and what commitment means to each of you." She says this is a crucial discussion for every couple to have, especially those who have been hurt in the past.
Unsure how to navigate the discussion with your S.O.? Here's how Orbuch facilitated the conversation with one of her clients. "I told her to write down seven personal questions on a piece of paper and put them in a large bowl." Then, she asked the couple to sit down together and pick up each paper out of the both, taking it in turns to answer the question honestly and be heard without judgment. "You can ask your partner questions about their early childhood [or] what he/she’s most proud of doing in the last year," she says.
It's a chance to invite your S.O. to open up about their experiences and build a bond that's built on honesty and trust. While it won't happen overnight, Orbuch says that conversations like this are the first step to forging a strong foundation. "When your partner answers these intimate questions and you listen with an open mind, trust builds between the two of you."