How to Fix Trust Issues in a Relationship

Published on: 06 Jan 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Bisma Anwar, LMHC
couple sitting on pink couch speaking to therapist

Trust is an issue in our society. According to the Pew Research Center, close to 71% of Americans believe people have less interpersonal confidence in one another today than they did two decades ago. What does this mean for relationships? Unfortunately, trust can be an issue there, too.   

Knowing how to deal with trust issues in a relationship can be challenging. Whether you’re the one who has the issues with trust or you’re dealing with a partner who has them, you need to learn how to deal with it if a lack of trust is preventing progress in your relationship.

Not being able to trust your partner — or being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t trust you — can be exhausting, taxing, and overwhelming. It can cause tension, ruin good times, and create an overall sense of anxiety in the relationship. 

“Trust is the belief that someone can be relied on to do or say something that was agreed upon. Trust issues are the inability to believe that one can rely on another person (friend, romantic, family, etc). Without trust, no relationship is sustainable.”

Talkspace Therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Some trust issues can be easier to overcome than others, but regardless of what you’re dealing with, knowing the signs and causes can help you better understand how to fix trust issues in a relationship. Learn more about how you can overcome trust issues and if online relationship counseling may be the best option for you and your partner. 

What Are Common Trust Issues in a Relationship?

There are different types and levels of trust issues. Some are more common than others.

Jealousy: Jealousy can cause even bigger relationship problems. If one person is jealous, they may feel the need to know where their partner is at all times. Or, worse, they might not want to ever be without their partner. They may feel threatened by third parties, and have a tendency to be smothering, overbearing, controlling, possessive, and often can anger easily.

Pistanthrophobia: Pistanthrophobia is the fear of being able to trust others. It’s more common in romantic partnerships, and it can result in an excessive and typically irrational fear about one’s partner or about a specific situation or activity. It’s important to point out that pistanthrophobia doesn’t engage a rational thought process. Those who experience it have likely never truly encountered any of the dangers or threats they fear, but their perception is so real that they might cope through avoidance or distancing.

Broken “partner-picker”: The broken partner-picker results in someone who doesn’t trust themself. The lack of trust really doesn’t have anything to do with their partner at all. Still, it can still cause great harm to the relationship. If your partner is this type of person, you’ll have to deal with them never feeling satisfied in your relationship. They don’t trust their own choices, and they probably have a near-constant grass is always greener perception of the world. They’ll always wonder if something better is around the corner

More wrong than right: People who see things this way will focus on finding everything that’s “wrong” with their partner or relationship. They’re overly critical and continuously pick apart their partner or find reasons why the relationship isn’t a good fit and will never be successful. They don’t even need to have something specific wrong. They often just have a general sense of mistrust, which can be problematic for obvious reasons.

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11 Signs You Have Trust Issues

Wondering if you have trust issues in a relationship? First off, if you’re wondering about it, there’s a good chance you might have something worth working on. There are several behaviors that can indicate you might be dealing with a trust issue.

You assume your partner is trying to hurt you

If you have trust issues, you might be inclined to assume others — particularly romantic partners — are doing things on purpose to try and hurt you. You might feel like it’s hard to accept compliments, tender gestures, or even just love. It can be hard for you to believe that your partner does things out of genuine love for you rather than having some ulterior motive.

You tend to avoid commitment

People with trust issues in their relationships might have a hard time committing to a partner. Your intense fear of opening up to others can hold you back, especially in relationships. You fear the vulnerability of being open, and you may even truly believe that a trusting or deep relationship isn’t possible.

You isolate yourself from other people

Sometimes trust issues can transfer into such an intense phobia about commitment that you might have the urge to walk at even the smallest sense of discontent or trouble in a relationship. If you believe you can’t trust your partner, it can become harder to interact with them on a deeper level. Further, establishing and nurturing new relationships can become overwhelming and something you might begin to actively avoid.

You pick fights with your partner

Feeling like you can’t trust your partner might cause you to create intentional turmoil in your relationship. Sometimes you may even find that you’re starting fights or arguments over silly, petty things. Trust issues can lay below the surface until they manifest into much bigger, often unrelated, things that can have a negative impact on your relationship.

You are secretive

It’s not uncommon for people who have trust issues to be secretive themselves. The underlying rationale here is not wanting to open up and be vulnerable out of fear you won’t be accepted or loved if you show your true self. The fear of rejection can ultimately cause you to try and be perfect all the time in an effort to avoid being discarded by an unapproving partner.

You have an innate belief that your partner is trying to hurt or deceive you

Trust issues can lead to believing that someone in your life, yes even your partner, wants to hurt you. Depending on the root cause of your hesitancy to trust, you may convince yourself that you don’t deserve love, so you might believe that of course your partner would be willing to hurt or deceive you at some point.

You’re reluctant to open up to your partner

If you have trust issues, it might be hard for you to open up to others. This can be exasperated when you’re in a romantic relationship. Fear that you’ll be rejected or that your ideas and opinions won’t be valued can make you afraid to be open and honest with your partner. 

You feel overprotective 

It can be common for people with trust issues to feel the need to be overprotective. This can be a need to protect yourself or those you’re closest to. A tendency to imagine the worst possible outcome, or to be defensive about people you care about, can be a byproduct of your inability to trust. Catastrophic thinking can be a big contributor to feeling overprotective.

You have issues with intimacy

It makes sense that trust can affect how intimate you are with your partner. A lack of trust and fear of intimacy can lead to feeling like you can’t connect with the people in your life. If your level of intimacy is being affected by trust issues in a relationship, it can cause problems in other areas of the relationship as well.

You have dramatic relationships

When there’s a lack of trust in a relationship, it can cause very volatile interactions between two people. If you tend to have very dramatic, rocky relationships and you fight with your partner a lot, it might be due to your issues with trust.  

You feel terror during intimate moments with your partner

Being intimate, by definition, means that you experience intense closeness with someone else in a personal relationship. If you’re unable to trust that person, having intimate interactions can lead to feelings of vulnerability that can cause you extreme duress. If it’s to the point where you feel terrified when you’re intimate, it may be time to look at why you’re feeling so insecure with your partner.

Common Causes of Trust Issues

Trust issues can be caused by many different experiences or things in life. Part of knowing how to deal with trust issues in a relationship is understanding why you have the issues in the first place.

Childhood experiences and trauma

Traumatic experiences in childhood can lead to trust issues throughout your life. If you were abused, neglected, or generally mistreated as a child, you might find that you have problems trusting people even once you’re an adult.

Social rejection

People who experience social isolation or rejection might begin to build up a wall as a means of self-preservation. Particularly if bullying is involved, you might have learned at some point not to trust others out of fear of being harmed. Over any length of time, this rejection and pain can lead to issues of self-esteem, which plays a big role in how you’re able to trust people.

Trauma

Assault, abuse, or any traumatic life event can affect how you interact with and trust others. Traumatic events like the following can have a significant impact on your ability to trust:

  • Serious illness
  • Severe accident
  • Grief over loss of a family member or friend
  • Damage or theft of personal property
  • Infidelity
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Combat

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

People who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have experienced a traumatic event in their life and are more likely to fear perceived danger in the future. The outcome of this might include a fear of trusting others or allowing them to get too close to you. 

If you have PTSD, it’s not uncommon for you to relive the trauma you experienced over and over in your brain. This can induce anxiety, which can lead to an urge to isolate and not interact with others. All these things together can play a role in your hesitancy to trust.

Mental health conditions

Some mental health conditions or symptoms can sometimes lead to trust issues in a relationship. A few that are common include: 

How to Work Through Trust Issues in a Relationship

Though trust issues can make things difficult, there is a little bit of good news. If you’re looking for tips on how to deal with trust issues in a relationship, know that you can get help. The following ideas are ways you can navigate your trust issues and begin to heal, so you can develop healthy, happy, and honest relationships where you can trust your partner. 

1. Start to focus on self-discovery

Self-discovery is beneficial any time you’re trying to heal or grow. Understanding the source or root of why you have trust issues is step 1 of the process. It’s only by knowing why you behave the way you do that you can begin to change your reactions to situations and start living in a healthier and more productive way.

2. Process your pain

Once you understand the root of your issues, you can begin to process the pain that resulted from them. Whether your inability to trust stems from hurt, betrayal, abuse, or something else in your past, acknowledging the experience is key to being able to move on from it.

3. Learn to be OK with risks

When we’re afraid to trust, we might be hesitant to take risks. Risk aversion is healthy in some cases, but when it’s hindering your ability to grow in a relationship, it can become problematic. If you’re looking for concrete ideas on how to fix trust issues in a relationship, focusing on being able to take a risk can be a big part of the process. 

Any time you trust somebody, there’s the risk of being hurt. To have a healthy relationship, you need to understand and be comfortable with that idea. The two go hand-in-hand, so if you’re focusing on being OK with taking a risk, you might be able to trust your partner more and more every day.

4. Work on communication with your partner

Communication is essential in any relationship. When trust issues come into play, being able to establish healthy communication skills with your partner is one way you can work on building trust. If your partner knows and understands what your boundaries are (because you’ve been able to adequately express them), they’re able to respect them. This can help you learn to trust more.

“Clear communication and setting tangible boundaries will be important to rebuild trust and work through the bumps that will, inevitably, happen along the way of working together though the trust issues.” 

Talkspace Therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

5. Know when you need help

Sometimes despite our best efforts, our work to improve trust issues in a relationship may come to a standstill. If you’ve hit a roadblock and you need help, don’t be afraid to get it. If you’re able to find and work with a qualified, good therapist or mental health professional, you can start making strides towards improving your trust issues.

Sources:

1. Americans’ trust in other Americans. Pew Research Center – U.S. Politics & Policy. https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2019/07/22/the-state-of-personal-trust/. Published 2019. Accessed December 9, 2021.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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