- Isabelle Morley, PsyD
How to Deal with Trust Issues in a New Relationship
Trust can be hard to establish with someone new, especially if you've been burned in the past. Let's look at how you can deal with trust issues in a relationship.
What is Trust?
Let's start with the basics. Trust in a person is a belief that they will act in predictable ways, they will not intentionally hurt or betray you, and that they will not take action to threaten your sense of security. Trusting means assuming the best in your partner and being surprised if they do something that would risk the relationship or make you upset.
Do You Have Trust Issues?
Let me ask you a few questions to get at the root of this question. And, for right now, let's assume that there is zero evidence that your partner has done something objectively untrustworthy (like being active on a dating app, telling your secrets to other people, sending inappropriate texts to an ex, etc.).
Do you always think they are hiding something from you?
Do you feel the impulse to check their phone without their knowing/consent without
good reason? Do you then secretly check their phone, looking for evidence of betrayal?
Do you want location sharing or, if you have it, do you randomly check where they are
every day (or more than once a day) to see if they're lying about their whereabouts?
Do you feel anxious when they go out without you?
Do you frequently request reassurance that they love you and are being faithful?
If you answered yes to some of these, you might have trust issues. Unfounded concerns about a partner's honesty are an indication that you have some trust issues to work through.
Unfounded concerns about a partner's honesty are an indication that you have some trust issues to work through.
Unfounded Mistrust Causes Damage
Constant reassurance seeking will only feed the insecurity and anxiety because the relief you feel from hearing that they love you and didn't do anything wrong (reassurance) will feel so great that the next time you feel suspicious you'll go to them for comfort again (more reassurance), and on and on it goes.
This merry-go-round of anxiety, suspicion, distrust, and reassurance seeking will damage your relationship. Your partner may be understanding at first, but eventually they will start to feel hurt by your continued lack of trust (without cause for said mistrust), which will create a new and even more problematic cycle in your relationship. They might stop giving you reassurance out of frustration, which you may incorrectly believe is a sign that they did do something wrong this time, which will make you even more suspicious and anxious, which will make them even more hurt and frustrated. You see how this cycle becomes difficult to break?
You'll Look for Evidence to Justify Mistrust (And Eventually, You'll Find It)
Eventually, inevitably, your partner will do something hurtful. They'll forget to call when they said they would, or they'll go out for drinks with a coworker you dislike and not tell you about it, or they'll say something unkind about you to their friend during a fight.
People are not perfect, and when your partner does make a mistake, you'll use this as evidence that they weren't trustworthy all along and you'll be even more suspicious in the future. Your trust issues will make it difficult to repair after fights or resolve issues, which will take a toll on your relationship.
It's Up to You to Fix It
Although you might want your partner to fix this, the truth is, they can't. It doesn't matter how many times they reassure you, their verbal commitment will not assuage your deep-seated fears that they will do something to hurt you. The cycle will continue until your partner becomes fed up with the unfounded mistrust, stops providing reassurance, and leaves you sitting with new levels of concern and distress.
Your partner can't fix this for you. You need to do the heavy lifting on addressing this issue (but yes, you can have your partner help you with it too).
The cycle will continue until your partner becomes fed up with the unfounded mistrust, stops providing reassurance, and leaves you sitting with new levels of concern and distress
Quick Tips for Fixing Trust Issues
Working on trust issues is no small thing. These tips won't magically fix things, but they'll start you on a path of self-reflection and empowerment that can help you reclaim your ability to trust.
1. Do some digging into why you have trust issues. Who has hurt you in the past? How did you find out? What happened to that relationship? Were you able to repair from it, or was it the end?
2. Consider how your attachment style impacts your trust and how you navigate issues in your relationships. If you don't know what you attachment style is, I recommend starting therapy so you can explore this with a trained professional.
3. Tell your partner what you've learned about yourself. Talk about why you have a hard time trusting them (or any partner!) and recruit them to help you break the pattern of reassurance seeking.
4. Next time you feel anxious or suspicious, work through it on your own. Talk to a trusted friend, a therapist, or journal. Identify evidence that supports your mistrust and, if there isn't much evidence, decide to let the situation go and trust your partner.
5. Another option for the next time you're feeling anxious or suspicious is that you can tell your partner about it, but don't ask for reassurance. Have your partner be an empathetic listener, let them give you a big hug, but don't ask them to give you evidence to assuage your fears.
6. If your partner does do something concerning, talk to them about it. Explain why this time is different and why you need them to be honest about what happened in order to maintain the trust you're building together.
Mistrust Doesn't Prevent Hurt
This might be hard to hear, but being suspicious and hypervigilant about your partner's actions or intentions will not prevent them from doing something that hurts you. We can't prevent people from doing hurtful things. A lot of the time people unintentionally, unknowingly, unpredictably do things that hurt our feelings, and that can be ok. Humans are flawed and we hurt each other in romantic relationships. It's only when this is done repeatedly, with malicious intent, or without attempts to change that it's a problem.
Keeping tabs on your partner or assuming the worst and making them prove their innocence won't eliminate the possibility that they do something to damage your trust. So instead of trying to control and prevent that, assume the best and give them a chance to prove you right. And if they do misstep, there's always couples therapy to help you both process what happened and repair.