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How to Build Trust in Relationships

Image of white and yellow flowers in a garden. Raleigh Psyotherapy, counseling, Katherine Broadway, trust

Twenty years ago, at the beginning of a week-long training on group therapy, we began with a team-building exercise. The purpose of the activity was to demonstrate the level of trust the participant had, and to build community.

How Much do You Trust?

The exercise went something like this: you stood with your back to several members of the group. Next, you were to fall backwards and allow the group members to catch you. The workshop leaders went first to demonstrate and to create confidence in the participants. As you might image, it did not go well for some. No one was dropped but

there was a lot of hesitation, laughter and fear.

This was a dramatic way to show just how difficult it is to trust other people. At times, in new relationships, we do the emotional equivalent of falling backwards into waiting hands. Unlike at the workshop, there are no leaders to demonstrate success, and only one person behind to catch us. It is best in relationships, new and old, to build and maintain that trust so that if there is a need to “fall” you know that you will be caught.

There are many ways to build trust. Here are a few ideas about how to strengthen your relationships and help them grow.

Principles that Build Trust:

1) Tell the Truth:

Sounds simple and obvious, yet it's worth a reminder. The truth is hard and can be unpleasant. It means we do not sacrifice ourselves, what we believe and what we want because we are afraid we will be rejected or hurt someone. When you tell the truth even when it is hard, it shows people that you can be trusted when it matters most. Do not withhold the truth.

2) Make your words and actions match:

The truth of who we are is in our actions. We all stumble and make mistakes. Life gets in the way of being able to do what we say all the time, but that needs to be the exception, not the rule. When you forget, don’t follow through, or cancel plans, it creates hairline fractures in your trustworthiness. It is important to be reliable.

3) Learn to say “No”:

The small things count, so keep your word. If you cannot do something, tell the truth and say, “no”.


In what you say and in what you do, show others that you can speak, make requests and disagree in a manner that conveys respect. It is not necessary to be unkind and rude when you disagree or have intense interactions.

5) Learn to listen:

When someone talks to you, actively listen to what they are saying. Don’t think of your answer while they are speaking. You will have time to respond when they are finished. If you need a break, ask them to let you make sure you are hearing them before they continue. You will have time to respond.

6) Moderate impulsive behavior:

Self-control is an essential skill for success in life. What we say and do effects others and the world, no matter how much you tell yourself it doesn’t. Consulting others and making mutual decisions creates the feeling of being valued and builds commitment in relationships.

7) Admit your mistakes and practice understanding:

It is true that making mistakes can hurt others and damage relationships. When handled truthfully and with care, they do not have to cause permanent damage, or destroy them. Coming clean, admitting your mistake, big or small, and taking responsibility goes a long way to finding a solution to the problem. Rather than causing the other person to wonder what else is hidden, it shifts the focus to finding the solution.

No one is perfect. We all fall short at times, make mistakes and get grumpy. Therefore, when someone acts that way, it does not mean that it is directed at you personally. Look at actions in the context of the relationship as a whole and let the little things go. Remember you are in relationships to grow, learn and improve your life. You're in it together to help and support one another.

You can have relationships without trust. They will be unstable, conflicted and stagnant; they will be filled with intensity not intimacy. Intimacy requires trust to exist and to grow. It is a basic human need to have intimate relationships. They can be difficult and require maintenance and work, but they bring life-long benefits.

Are you having problems with your relationships? I can help,call me at (919)881-2001.

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