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What Does Trust Mean in a Relationship?

by Shannon Philpott

Trust is a two-way street in relationships. In order to truly build a partnership with your significant other or spouse, you must rely on trusting one another. Little white lies, betrayals and secrets can destroy a relationship and cause one or both of you to not only lose trust in each other, but also in yourselves. Trust develops, based on the way partners treat each other, according to Dr. Kevin D. Arnold, in his article, “Do I Trust You Anymore?” on Psychology Today. Arnold asserts that trust grows when partners take care of each other with a willingness to sacrifice their own needs.

Selfless Concern

The act of gaining and building trust in a relationship involves looking past yourself and caring for your partner’s needs. It's important for couples to validate each other’s struggles and feelings, but more important to express interest in wanting to listen or help each other, Arnold states. For example, when you express that you’ve had a difficult encounter at work, you may need for your partner to validate your feelings even though he or she may have had a difficult encounter as well. Trust is about selfless acts and concern for each other.

Positive Vulnerability

Relationships can cause individuals to be vulnerable. Although it is exciting to find someone you love and care for, you may feel vulnerable when giving your heart and trust to this person. If you are willing to be vulnerable, though, it is a sign of a lasting relationship, according to Jane Collingwood in her article, “Trust and Vulnerability in Relationships” on Psych Central. In order to be vulnerable, couples must have trust in each other and embrace what Collingwood coins “protective love,” the ability to put your partner first. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and willing to trust is often easier at the beginning of the relationship when you are careful not to hurt each other’s feelings or step on toes. The real test, according to Collingwood, occurs when couples progress in the relationship. Holding on to the positive aspects of vulnerability can make or break your ability to trust each other.

Putting Trust to the Test

As relationships develop, it is inevitable that the two of you will have a debate or disagreement. You will have to put your trust to the test when opening the doors of communication and discussing controversial or difficult topics and issues, as Arnold states in his article, “Tests of Trust: Important Moments in Relationships” on Psychology Today. How you react is key to building trust in the relationship. For example, if you get defensive when your partner asks about your whereabouts, your behavior can cause your spouse or significant other to have doubts about your truthfulness. However, if you turn the tables and respond in a calm, respectful manner, expressing concern for why your partner feels possessive or doubtful, then you are giving yourselves the opportunity to have a calm, respectful discussion that further establishes trust in the relationship.

Dangers of Mistrust

Although you both seek to maintain a truthful and trustworthy relationship, mistrust can still exist in relationships, according to Arnold in “Do I Trust You Anymore?” Mistrust occurs when partners act selfishly or dismiss the needs of another. Mistrust is the enemy of trust rather than the opposite of trust. When couples take advantage of each other, keep secrets, and refuse to support each other, mistrust occurs, launching relationship problems that can derail the partnership. It’s important to have open and honest communication about what you and your partner need or seek help from a marriage or relationship therapist if mistrust is tainting your relationship.

About the Author

Shannon Philpott has been a writer since 1999. She has experience as a newspaper reporter, magazine writer and online copywriter. Philpott has published articles in St. Louis metro newspapers, "Woman's World" magazine, "CollegeBound Teen" magazine and on e-commerce websites, and also teaches college journalism and English. She holds a Master of Arts in English from Southern Illinois University.

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