7 Ways To Build Trust In Relationships

Trust is a key element of any social relationship, whether romantic, professional, friendship or with your family members. When you trust someone, you place confidence in that person other than yourself. Trust enables the binding for the deepest love, the strongest friendships, and the world’s communities. Trust may take a long time to develop, but it can be shattered in the matter of a second. 

An August 2015 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience stated that human brains are hardwired to trust others. The study revealed that when someone trusted a close associate to play a game fairly, the brain regions linked to positive emotions and decision-making lit up, demonstrating that feelings of trust activate social rewards centers in the brain (Fareri, 2015). 

Now Psych2goers, let’s take a look on some of the ways that you can implement to build trust in your relationships: 

  1. Practice emotional honesty

“Look, honey, I’ve bought a new Lego set to add to my collection!” 

Your spouse scowls at you and asks you, “Okay, how much did you spend for that this time? Didn’t you buy 3 Lego sets last month, and you did not even build those three yet…”

You notice that slightly irritated voice tone of your spouse and mentally subtract $50 from the real price. You have decided to tell a “small white lie” while putting on your sweetest smile ever, “It’s only $100…?” 

Psych2goers, have you ever got yourself entangled in a web of lies that you told to your significant other, family members, friends, or other important people in your life?  Perhaps your parents ask you during one of your monthly visits how you are doing, then you tell them, “I’m fine,” when in actuality your work contract has been terminated? Or maybe one of your closest friends is asking for your opinion regarding the matters of the heart, but you decide to give advice or suggestion based on what your friend wants to hear, not what is actually needed? 

According to a licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, in a relationship, all of us, in some way or another, tell “white lies”, however the bigger (and badder) lies do not happen frequently. Trust is an important element in an intimate relationship, as it creates a sense of safety and the absence of it makes a relationship stunted and unable to grow in a healthy manner. 

It’s really important to have emotional honesty in an intimate relationship as it enables your significant other to know who you are as a person. What constitutes a deception? This includes stating things ambiguously rather than clearly, you tell half-truths, you exaggerate and minimize information in order to manipulate and you withhold feelings or crucial information to someone who has the right to know. This deception will eventually cause a detriment to the relationship and block the other person from freedom of choice and informed action (Lancer, 2018). 

2. Let your guard down (gradually)

Imagine this! You are an intern in one of the biggest companies in your country. You have only been working there for 3 months, but you have already developed a tight bond with another intern, since you rely on each other during difficult situations (ie when you need to reply to a 10pm email from your supervisor when at that time you are having some internet connection problems, and you rush to your friend’s house to use her WiFi), and you have been venting out and be vulnerable to each other regarding the issues that both of you experience when dealing with the difficult supervisor. 

To build a strong relationship, you need to be vulnerable and let your guard down gradually. Trust can be built when the other person is given the chance to hurt us but that person does not do that. Opening yourself up emotionally puts you in a fragile condition and you are at risk of being hurt. Therefore, once you are able to be in a vulnerable position with the other person, you are able to form a trust in that particular relationship (Bonior, 2018). 

3. Having mutual respect with each other

“You know what, I don’t want to be seen anywhere with you. You look so unappealing, like a homeless person. Why don’t you try to wear more dashingly each time we go out?” your wife drops the bomb. 

“You have always been so critical to me. I want to dress for comfort, not to please you or the other people. You know what, I’ve lost my respect towards you,” you reply to her.  

“Well, you’ve lost my respect too.” 

Psych2goers, having mutual respect with each other is a fundamental element in any relationship. What is respect? It is a feeling of admiration towards a person, in which you admire their qualities and you cherish their achievements. 

How do you know when you respect someone? Respect causes you to behave in ways that honour them. When you are in the proximity of this person, naturally you are inclined to give them acts of kindness, courtesy, and consideration. 

On the other hand, how do you know you are respected by someone? It is when you feel safe, you feel accepted as you are, valued, and you are motivated to be the best version of yourself (Jaehnig & Chupein, 2020).     

4. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt 

You have made a plan with your best friend to have a conversation via a video call on a weekend night. You video call her, but there is no answer. So, you resort to aimlessly scrolling your social media. You open your Instagram, and you see your friend’s Instagram story, she has posted multiple photos literally 2 minutes ago. 

Psych2goers, what do you think of the above situation? Why do you think the friend did not answer the video call? 

A. Maybe the friend did not want to have the video call but did not bother to cancel 

B. Perhaps she had a busy week and totally forgot to make a reminder of the video call 

C. Other reasons? 

When you are facing this kind of situation, your mind will automatically concoct different explanations and reasons for the friend’s behaviour. These explanations can be the kinder and more positive ones, to ones that put the blame on the friend. According to psychologists, this is known as attributional style or explanatory style which is defined as the ways in which people explain the cause of events within their lives (Leighton & Terrell, 2020). 

A recent study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, 707 respondents from the United States, Poland, and Japan were instructed to read scenarios (ie being ignored by a colleague or being stood up at a cafe) and they were asked to rate the situations based on three factors; how much they thought the other person acted intentionally, how much blame they assigned to them, and how angry they were, as a measure of hostile attributional style. Based on their answers, they were categorized into three groups: those who have hostile attributional style (in every scenario, they thought people were being spiteful), a benign attributional style (in every scenario, they gave people the benefit of the doubt), or an ambiguous attributional style (they thought people were being hostile sometimes but not always). The result revealed those who possess a benign attributional style were happier, compared to people who have hostile attributional style. Apart from that, people who have ambiguous attributional style were also happier, provided that they attribute ample value on relationships and belonging in their lives (Jasielska et al., 2021). 

5. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings and talk them out

“You make me feel unattractive. Nowadays after I’ve given birth to our baby, you never once compliment me,” your wife said to you one day. 

“Well, that’s because you make me feel like a terrible father! You always nag me to take care of the baby, and you accuse me of not loving our baby enough,” you replied to her, indignantly. 

Psych2goers, what do you think of the above statements of feelings? Is it entirely wrong for the wife and the husband to express what they are feeling, or should they avoid talking about it altogether? One of the ways to build trust in relationships is by expressing your feelings earnestly without holding back, even when it is tough to do so. However, the way of sharing your feelings should be done effectively, without making your statement sounds like an attack and accusation to your loved ones. Do notice that in the above conversation between the husband and wife, both of them are using the phrase “you make me feel”. Doesn’t that sound accusatory? 

According to a clinical psychologist, Dr. Susan Heitler, the effective way in expressing your feeling is by changing the “you make me feel” statement into “I feel”. So now, let’s see the changes in the conversation: 

“I feel unattractive after I have given birth to our baby. You don’t compliment me anymore, so I think I must be unattractive to you too.” 

“I am so sorry you feel that way. Actually it’s all the more sad because I just about always like how you look. I realize I am quite preoccupied with work that I may overlook or forget to appreciate how much I appreciate your clothes or your hair. By the way, I also feel that you are becoming quite hostile towards me lately when you said I am a terrible father. I am sorry if you feel that way, I will try to come home from work as soon as possible to take care of our kid.” 

“Yes, I do notice I lash out quite a lot to you lately. I am sorry I know you are doing your best, juggling your job while being a father. I am really glad we talked about this. I feel so much better already, just understanding more about what’s going on with you.” 

Expressing your feelings really makes a huge difference in building trust and emotional intimacy in your relationship (Heitler, 2013). 

6. Get involved in some calculated risk together

“Let’s go to Nepal and climb Mount Everest together!” 

“Em, I don’t know about that, that will be too risky, don’t you think so?”

“Come on, it’s going to be awesome!” 

A couples therapist and relationship expert, Tracy K. Ross, LCSW, stated that one of the ways to strengthen your relationship with your significant other is by taking some calculated risks together. This will strengthen your bond and sprinkle some zest into your relationship. Perhaps you can plan for a physical or fitness challenge together such as climbing Mount Everest, or maybe you can take part in a joint lifestyle change toward healthier habits, or perhaps you can enrich your minds together with thought-provoking ideas gained from books or movies (Bonior, 2018). 

7. Be the giver and the taker  

Have you ever felt that you are in a relationship where you are always the taker and never the giver? Or perhaps you feel it is the other way round? This is definitely not a sign of a healthy relationship. 

According to research entitled “The role of reciprocity and directionality of friendship ties in promoting behavioural change” by Almaatouq et al. (2016), reciprocity is a crucial component in building a solid relationship. This does not mean that each person should be giving exactly as much as they are receiving, but rather both individuals should be comfortable with the levels, and they feel relatively equal. It is also understandable that this balance sometimes may shift, one person may lean more on the other person when it is most necessary to do so. When there is trust in your relationship, you understand and believe that you would not end up giving, giving, giving without the other person ever coming through for you in return. 

Final thoughts 

Genuine trust must be earned. Life is always full of uncertainties and when a person has been hurt or betrayed by another person in any realm of relationship in one’s life, one may find it hard to trust again. There are also certain areas in our lives that we need to give our trust to complete strangers, such as to doctors, taxi drivers or perhaps first-time babysitters. So now an important question arises, can most people be trusted? Different people have different motivations and responses when facing different situations. However, when you have “generalized trust” in which you believe that most people are generally trustworthy, you are actually demonstrating higher intelligence, improved health, and overall life satisfaction (Psychology Today, n.d.). 


Almaatouq, A., Radaelli, L., Pentland, A., &; Shmueli, E. (2016). The role of reciprocity and directionality of friendship ties in promoting behavioral change. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://web.media.mit.edu/~amaatouq/reciprocity_role_sbp.pdf.

Bonior , A. (2018, December 12). 7 ways to build trust in a relationship. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 10, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/friendship-20/201812/7-ways-build-trust-in-relationship.

Fareri, D. S., Chang, L. J., &; Delgado, M. R. (2015, May 27). Computational substrates of social value in interpersonal collaboration. Journal of Neuroscience. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.jneurosci.org/content/35/21/8170.

Heitler, S. (2013, May 23). How to express feelings… and how not to. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201305/how-express-feelings-and-how-not.

Jaehnig, J., &; Chupein, S. (2018, June 20). How to develop a relationship based on love and respect. BetterHelp. Retrieved October 10, 2021, from https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/general/how-to-develop-a-relationship-based-on-love-and-respect/.

Jasielska , D., Rogoza, R., Russa, M. B., &; Park , J. (2021, January). Happiness and hostile attributions in a cross-cultural … Research Gate. Retrieved October 10, 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338830718_Happiness_and_Hostile_Attributions_in_a_Cross-Cultural_Context_The_Importance_of_Interdependence/fulltext/5e2d822292851c3aaddb2bf1/Happiness-and-Hostile-Attributions-in-a-Cross-Cultural-Context-The-Importance-of-Interdependence.pdf.

Lancer, D. (2018, January 31). How secrets and lies destroy relationships. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 10, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/201801/how-secrets-and-lies-destroy-relationships.

Leighton K.N., Terrell H.K. (2020) Attributional Styles. In: Zeigler-Hill V., Shackelford T.K. (eds) Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-24612-3_1779

Psychology Today. (n.d.). Trust. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/trust.

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