Building Trust in a Relationship

by | Nov 12, 2016 | Building Trust in a Relationship

We talk a lot in about trust in relationships. We all know it’s important.

But it’s SO important that–as Dr. John Gottman’s research shows–we could accurately say that lack of trust is at the root of virtually all relationship problems.

The questions at stake are: Can I trust you to be there for me when I’m upset? Can I trust to you choose me over your friends? Can I trust you to stay sober? Can I trust you to not cheat on me? Can I trust you to pull your weight around the house? Can I trust you to keep your agreements?

Building Trust: What is it?

But what exactly is this ingredient called Trust? According to John Gottman, trust is the tendency to create “win-win” situation, ie “the specific state that exists when you are both willing to change your own behavior” for the other’s benefit. It is the primary antidote to betrayal, which is at the heart of every failing relationship.

The most common forms of betrayal are not typically about sex, and they’re not even about being extremely unhappy in the primary relationship. It usually starts with negatively comparing our partner with real or imagined others, and turning away from our partner. Over time, the distance created by not turning toward each other can lead to a loneliness that leaves the relationship more and more vulnerable.

Betrayal is not to be confused with distrust. Betrayal is not just turning away, or the failure to connect. Rather, it’s the negative thoughts that go with the problems, for example: “I can do better, I’m tired of this.” It is the act of reinforcing negative beliefs about the relationship, or as Gottman puts it: “trashing rather than cherishing, building resentment instead of gratitude, it’s lowering your investment and escalating conflicts.”

Partners build trust when they express concern for each other in the difficult times. This means acting in ways that assure our partner we are there for them. Gottman provided an acronym to help with this: ATTUNE. This stand for Awareness, Turning toward, Tolerance, Understanding, Non-defensive responding, and Empathy.

In an environment of attunement, partners feel securely attached and less vulnerable to the risk of betrayal.

It’s important to realize that trust is built in small moments. In any moment there is an opportunity to connect or turn away.  Each moment in and of itself is not a deal breaker, but together they add up.

Building Trust: 4 Quality Step to Having a Trusting Relationship


Turn towards your partner.
Take opportunities for connection in small ways each day. Did they have a bad day? How can you be present to their bids for connection even when you are busy? Emotional connection forms the basis of emotional safety in relationships. (For more info on emotional connection click here.)

Keep your agreements. Even with small issues, each agreement matters, ie “I will unload the dishwasher.” If we know we can count on our partners to keep their agreements, trust will flourish.

Be truthful.
Unless you’re planning a surprise party for your partner, never lie. Even small lies (like saying you’re working late when you’re shooting pool with your friends) are a bad idea. Instead, tell the truth about everything!

Set boundaries with others outside your marriage.
Jealousy tends to rear its ugly head when couples don’t set boundaries with those outside their marriage. If you know it bothers your spouse when you flirt with a co-worker, keep it professional. Don’t set up lunch dates with that ex who always calls. Make sure your spouse knows that he or she is your number one priority.

Remember, without trust, not much else will last. These tips may require some effort, but laying this foundation is so worth it!

Good luck with this and let me know how it goes!

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