Trust is non-negotiable. It's one of the major tenants of any healthy relationship. But, having a partner with trust issues doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy relationship. It just makes things more complicated.
“When one partner doesn’t have trust in the other, or anyone for that matter, this can be a very challenging aspect to a relationship,” licensed clinical social worker, Kara Hicks, tells Bustle. “However, you are not alone in this experience. This frequently happens in relationships.”
Trust issues can stem from a number of places. For instance, negative childhood experiences can be the root of someone’s inability to trust. If your partner grew up in a home where a parent made promises and then failed to show up, this can affect their ability to take people for their word. Past relationships can also shape someone’s approach to love. For instance, if your partner was cheated on, they may be a lot more cautious about opening their heart to you.
Although it’s common to want to help your partner work through their issues, there are a few things you need to keep in mind before you jump onto the trust-fixer express. You need to know going in that the work of overcoming trust issues is your partner's job, not yours. So the following suggestions are meant for you. Plus, keep in mind that this is a long (potentially life-long) process that will have its ups and downs.
Be A Supporter, Not A Fixer
Leave the fixing to your partner and a good therapist and focus your time on being part of a solid support system for them instead. Therapy will give your partner techniques to trust in an appropriate way and to differentiate bad things that happened in the past from good things happening now. It will also provide tools and coping strategies for when fears and doubts pop up in your relationship.
As Cat Blake, psychotherapist and divorce coach, tells Bustle, “If I was coaching a person with truest issues, I would work with them around effective ways to verbalize their prior unmet needs to their partner so that this time around, the relationship is the platform of healing versus re-traumatization. In this way, the partner with trust issues can learn what it means to trust again and the relationship is healing.”
If your partner doesn’t want to talk about therapy with you, be OK with that. But do your best to be a good support system.
Trust is earned, and hard-earned in this case. Since you can't fix your partner, this is something you can actively work on that will improve your relationship. Be dependable, be reliable, honest, and kind. Little things like being on time and calling when you say you'll call may seem small to you, but they may be huge to your partner. Trust isn't just built on big issues, like staying faithful. It's also all the little things you do each day to show you care.
Be as transparent as possible, Blake says. If you’re checking your phone in a secretive manner or disappearing for hours and not sharing your location, this will raise some red flags, even if you’re not doing anything at all. The same goes for being affectionate one week and then being distant the next.
“Some people tend to do these behaviors and sometimes enjoy the rise it gets out of their partner,” Blake says. “If you are behaving like this, then you cannot be surprised when your partner becomes untrusting. Whatever you put into a relationship, you get back.”
Whatever bad things happened to your partner aren't going away overnight. And you certainly can't just say "you can trust me" and expect a complete turn-around. Odds are, if you're trying, so is your partner.
“In order to have a successful and lasting relationship with somebody who has trust issues, one must possess an ability to be patient, determined and willing to provide consistent feedback to their partner that they are ‘in’ the relationship,” Blake says.
It’s also important to note that setbacks will happen and may hurt your partner just as much as it hurts you. If you can take it slow and steady, you can build something solid.
In order for your partner to open up, it’s important to open up yourself. As Valon Alford, licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle, it’s critical to encourage vulnerability and cultivate intimacy. “Trust is built over time and reinforced by our words and actions,” Alford says. “Some folks need more reassurance in order to establish trust for various reasons, most often being that their trust has been betrayed in the past.” One thing you can do for your partner is to show them that it can be OK to open up. Talking about your past, sharing your feelings, or asking them to help you work through any issues you’re having can be great ways to show your vulnerability.
Provide Loving, Positive Reassurance
Kindness and caring, loving support will demonstrate that you aren't just all talk. It's likely they’ve been mistreated in the past, maybe multiple times. Some sincere love and support will be hard to accept at first, and even harder to get used to as it occurs on a regular basis. Keep doing it.
Showing love and support means validating their concerns. “What this looks like is listening and asking for permission to make suggestions on how to address the concern your partner is having,” Hicks says.
If you can show your partner that you can be there through the ups and downs, they will let you in with time.
Don't Tolerate Abuse
There are trust issues and then there's straight-up abuse. It's one thing for your partner to be worried that you'll leave and break their heart. It's quite another to monitor your phone calls, tell you who you can't hang out with and constantly accuse you of cheating. According to Blake, abuse is any kind of controlling behavior where the person is not allowing you to be your authentic self. You don’t want to find yourself stuck in a situation with someone who’s emotionally manipulative.
“Are you tip-toeing around your partner and keeping your internal dialogue silent? That is not OK,” she says. “Are you tolerating bad behavior because you want to assure your partner that you love them? Again, not acceptable.”
If your partner's trust issues lead to them trying to have power and control over you, you have a much larger issue on your hands — one that's often best resolved by leaving. You should never put your own overall happiness and safety at risk as you help someone through a difficult period in their lives, no matter how much you love them. Your goal is to get to a place of equal footing, not set yourself up as an emotional babysitter or a doormat.
Seek Support For Yourself
When you’re dealing with a partner who has trust issues, it can be frustrating at times. It can also be emotional taxing. Because of this, Hicks suggests having a good support system yourself. This could mean friends, family, or a therapist. It’s important to have people you can turn to for advice or a shoulder to lean on.
Kara Hicks, licensed clinical social worker
Cat Blake, psychotherapist and divorce coach
Valon Alford, licensed clinical social worker
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