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The Truth About Trust

Jun 29, 2012 10:14AM ● By Style

Are you someone who struggles with “trust issues?”

Well, you’re not alone – almost every couple I’ve ever worked with brings up trust at some point. You might be surprised to learn what many psychologists think about trust.

1. Trust is another word for expectation and means different things to each person.  

When we say we trust someone, what we mean is that we expect him/her to behave in certain ways that are desirable to us. We each have our own unique, non-negotiable areas when it comes to trust. Some folks insist they must trust/expect that their partner will never lie to them. Others demand they have to be able to trust/expect that their partner will always “have their back.” Others equate trust with always being treated kindly.

2. It’s important to remember that “trust” is not all or nothing.  

You can trust some people for some things, but not others. When trust in one area is broken, it may continue to survive in others. But we tend to forget this when we are hurting and say, “I can’t trust you!” as a global indictment. This is rarely completely accurate and is a statement that usually causes a long-term wound to the relationship.


3. Sometimes not trusting is a sign of healthy adaptation.                         

The fact is there are many people who grew up in families where it made perfect sense to not trust those close to them. Learning to keep your distance and expect others to disappoint you is logical and smart…when that’s the reality of your life. The problem is that if you learned this as a child, you may never have unlearned it as an adult. If you never worked through your family “stuff” – perhaps got angry, indignant, sad and finally realistic – how can you expect to not carry it into your current relationship?

4. No relationships, however strong and healthy, are exempt from “trust crises.”      

People hurt each other. Intimate relationships are high risk, high reward. The more we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, the more we come to rely on another; and the longer we depend on our partner, the more we hurt when there is a breach in our attachment. It’s part of the deal – humans make mistakes, including big ones. Believe it or not, most of the time it’s not about you. When someone acts in a way you didn’t expect (i.e., you “trusted” they would never act this way!), it has more to do with how they feel about themselves than how they feel about you. They likely would have done the same thing no matter who they were in a relationship with.  

5. The most important person in the relationship to trust is YOU.       

You can’t realistically demand trust of another person. What you can realistically insist on is that you will always trust yourself. Insisting, “I need to be able to trust you” is really not the point. Of course you want your partner to live up to your shared values and commitments, but if they don’t (and remember, it’s quite possible that at some point in a long-term relationship they won’t), the question becomes whether you can trust yourself to either work toward healing the breach, or ending the relationship if that is not possible. You must know in your heart that you are capable of trusting yourself and your own reactions in the situation.

Dr. Debra Moore is a psychologist and director of Fall Creek Counseling Associates. She can be reached at 916-344-0900 or