Trust is a critical part of any relationship. Without trust—especially trust between two romantic partners—it is difficult to have a healthy, long-lasting relationship. People who have experienced some type of betrayal, such as unfaithfulness in a relationship, may develop trust issues that can interfere with future relationships.
Trust issues can manifest in a variety of ways. For example, a person who finds it difficult to trust may not believe what other people say. They may feel suspicious of what others want from them and may question other people’s intentions and motivations. It makes it incredibly difficult to develop an intimate, close connection with another person.
Why Trust Issues Are Harmful
Trust has a number of benefits that are important for the health of your relationships as well as your own emotional well-being. Trust allows you to:
- Be vulnerable
- Be yourself
- Feel safe and secure
- Focus on positivity
- Increase closeness and intimacy
- Minimize conflict
Trust is important in relationships because it allows you the opportunity to relax, be yourself, and depend on another person. It provides you with the safety and security you need to turn to another person for comfort, reassurance, assistance, and affection.
Signs of Trust Issues
Trust is the belief that another person is honest and reliable. It is a feeling that you can depend on that person because they offer safety and security. Trust has been described as a firm belief in the ability, strength, reliability, and truth of someone or something.
There are a number of different behaviors that might indicate that you or your partner have a problem with trusting others. Some of these include:
- Always assuming the worst: Your trust issues could lead you to assume the worst about people around you, even when they have proven themselves trustworthy in the past. For example, when someone offers to help you, you wonder if they are expecting something from you later on.
- Suspiciousness: Trust issues can make you feel suspicious about other people’s intentions, even if there is little to indicate that their actions are suspect. You might feel like others are trying to harm you or deceive you.
- Self-sabotage: Trust issues often lead to self-sabotage. For example, you might engage in behaviors that interfere with your relationship because you assume it’s better to end things now rather than be disappointed later.
- Unhealthy relationships: People with trust issues almost always struggle to build healthy, long-lasting relationships. It’s normal for trust to take a while to develop within romantic relationships, but people without trust may never experience this type of connection.
- Lack of forgiveness: When trust is an issue, it is difficult—if not impossible—to move on after a betrayal of trust has occurred. This inability to forgive and forget can affect your entire life; not just your interactions with others. It can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, bitterness, and regret.
- Distancing yourself: In many cases, a lack of trust can lead people to build a wall between themselves and other people. You avoid relationships altogether because you fear betrayal or disappointment.
- Focusing on the negative: No matter the situation, you always focus on what you expect will go wrong. You tend to notice other people’s flaws, weaknesses, or mistakes rather than focusing on their positive qualities.
When trust interferes with your ability to form healthy, stable relationships, it can also leave you feeling isolated, lonely, and misunderstood.
Types of Trust Issues
Trust problems don’t just affect your romantic relationships. They can create conflict and poor communication in any type of relationship, whether it is with your friends, co-workers, or other family members.
Some common types of relationships that can be affected by trust issues include:
- Romantic relationships: People with trust issues often struggle to rely on or believe in their romantic partners. This can lead to a range of problems in relationships, including trust-related infidelity, unwillingness to commit, and difficulty apologizing when trust has been broken.
- Friendships: Just as people have trust issues within romantic relationships, they might also struggle with trusting their friends. Difficulty trusting friends might stem from a fear of disappointment or betrayal. Being let down by people in the past can make it hard to open yourself up to trusting friends again in the future.
- Workplace relationships: There are many reasons why someone might not trust co-workers. They might be concerned that their co-workers are conspiring against them, for instance, or just assume that trusting co-workers is not that important.
Generalized trust refers to a belief in whether or not most other people can be trusted. It can affect a person’s ability to trust people, groups, organizations, and governments. Research suggests that this type of trust is influenced by a variety of forces, including culture, social interaction experiences throughout life, and media influences.
What Causes Trust Issues?
A 2017 study found that a tendency to trust is influenced by genetic factors. Distrust, on the other hand, is not linked to genetics and is primarily associated with socialization factors, including family dynamics and influences. People often have trust issues because they have been betrayed in the past. Early childhood experiences, in particular, play a major role in shaping your ability to trust the people around you.
Psychologist Erik Erikson developed a theory of development that suggested that the earliest years of life are all about learning whether the people around you could be trusted with your care and safety. Whether you learn this trust or mistrust, he suggested, plays a foundational role in future development. This means that trust issues could stem from any number of sources, including:
- Betrayal in a relationship: Infidelity is incredibly hurtful and can lead to trust issues in future relationships.
- Parental conflicts: If children witness trust problems within their family, they may fear that the same thing will happen to them in future romantic relationships in adulthood.
- Social rejection: Being rejected by peers during childhood or adolescence may also make it difficult to trust other people. This type of trust issue can be exacerbated when the person being rejected is unable to determine why they are being excluded. Repeated rejections can make trust issues that much more difficult to overcome.
- Negative life experiences: People who have experienced trauma—especially while growing up—are likely to develop trust issues in adulthood. These trust issues could manifest in many different ways, including difficulty trusting friends or romantic partners, fear of trust-related betrayal, or difficulty forgiving people for breaking their trust.
- Attachment styles: Experts also suggest that your attachment style, or your characteristic pattern of behavior in a relationship, also plays a role in how you respond to trust in relationships. People with a secure attachment style may be more likely to trust others and forgive mistakes. Those with insecure attachment styles, on the other hand, struggle more with trust and are more likely to experience jealousy and anxiety in relationships.
Having one or more of these types of trust problems does not necessarily mean that you have a problem with trust. But it may indicate that you need to address these issues if they are causing you pain or preventing you from forming or maintaining interpersonal relationships.
How to Overcome Trust Issues
While it can be a challenging emotional undertaking, it is possible to overcome problems with trust. Here are a few trust-building strategies you can use:
Build Trust Slowly
It is important to trust people enough to allow them into your life and, in some cases, to forgive them for their mistakes. Taking your time with it can sometimes help. If you find yourself trying to trust too quickly (and perhaps, too intensely), it may be time to pull back and work up to that level of trust again.
Talk About Your Trust Issues
While you don’t need to provide every detail about what happened to you in the past, being open about why you struggle with trust can help others understand you better. By communicating with your partner, they can be more aware of how their actions might be interpreted.
Distinguish Between Trust and Control
People with trust issues often feel a need for control. This can sometimes manifest as mistrusting behavior. You might feel like you are being betrayed or taken advantage of if you don’t have complete control over every situation. However, this will only hurt your relationships in the long run. Learning how much control you should yield in a given situation is key to building trust with other people.
Make Trust a Priority
Trusting others can be difficult, but trust-building is an essential part of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. Make trust a priority in your life—even if it’s challenging to do.
If you try to build trust with someone else, you have to be willing to trust them first. This means being open about your feelings, opinions, thoughts, and limits. It also means being understanding when the person breaks that trust because everyone makes mistakes. Learning how to balance these two ideas will help establish healthy interpersonal relationships that are based on trust.
Therapy can also be helpful for overcoming trust issues. The therapeutic alliance that you form with your therapist can be a powerful tool for learning how to trust other people. By working with an experienced mental health professional, you can learn more about why you struggle with trust and learn new coping skills that will help you start to rebuild trust in your relationships.
Learn to Trust Yourself
One of the best ways to practice trust is to trust yourself. This doesn’t mean you should never question yourself or your choices. It just means that you should build a stronger self-awareness that can help guide your judgments and interactions with others. Practicing mindfulness is one strategy that can be helpful. When you utilize mindfulness, you are able to become more aware of how you are feeling in the present moment without worrying about the past and future.
Having trust issues can be difficult, but trust-building is an essential part of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. Make trust a priority in your life—even if it’s challenging to do. If you try to build trust with someone else, you have to trust yourself first. This means being open about your feelings, opinions, thoughts, and limits. It also means being understanding when the other person makes mistakes. Learning how to balance these two ideas will help establish healthy interpersonal relationships that are based on trust, respect, and care.