Relationships can make life joyful or miserable. The wonderful highs of a strong relationship are thrilling, but the devastating lows of an unhealthy one can destabilize a life. One of the most important elements of a relationship, the one that can make or break it, is trust. 

Without trust, the partnership will never be healthy.

So what does it look like to actually trust your partner? Can you have boundaries and accountability without going overboard? And most importantly, are YOU worthy of your partner’s trust, and how does that impact your future together?

When to Start Trusting

When examining your relationship in terms of trust, it is important to note that levels of trust should be different as relationships grow and change. In the beginning, when you’re just talking, or maybe casually going on a few dates, understand that while you should be giving that person the benefit of the doubt, you don’t really know this person. If they lie, or you find out they’re dating multiple people when you were under the impression you were the only person they were interested in, it is early enough to re-evaluate if this person is worthy of your full trust. Remember, no one is perfect; everyone makes mistakes. Be open. 

As two people get closer, trust deepens. Unfortunately, as relationships grow, the greater the potential for deep hurts. It is when you start defining the relationship, expectations, and where you both feel it is going. If this is someone you want to make a long-term commitment to, up to and including marriage, trust is important. As you begin to feel out these feelings, it is essential to have a conversation about what matters to you both.

Steps to Take

Discussing boundaries, past experiences, and expectations is crucial to testing the long-term viability of a relationship. Sitting down and having an honest conversation about expectations and even past slip-ups should be a vital step before allowing a relationship to progress to the next level. 

As previously stated, this is not a discussion to have when you’re getting to know someone. There’s nothing fun or romantic leading with “I want to establish boundaries with my access to your cell phone.” If you’re just talking and haven’t even gone on a date, it isn’t even appropriate or fair. Whatever chemistry you may have will quickly fizzle out if you give someone the third degree. 

Make sure you incorporate your trust priorities into a conversation. Establish your expectations. If you both disagree on things that are important for you, it could be a red flag. Before you have this conversation, know what you want. Make sure you’re ready to be open and honest, as well as the person you’re dating. If neither of you are ready for it, don’t. However, if you’ve been dating for six months to a year, and the other refuses, that may be something to think about. 

Some trust boundaries to discuss include:

  1. What are your expectations for the long-term? Do you want to get married?
  2. How much of your life outside of our relationship do you want to share? Friends? Family? Hobbies?
  3. Do you want the password to my electronics? Do I get the same level of access? If yes, why do you want it?
  4. What level of accountability do you expect? Do I have to give you a play-by-play of everything I do if I go out with friends?
  5. What is your stance on having friends of both genders? Do you trust me with other men/women?
  6. Okay, honesty time. I have cheated/have never cheated. You? 
  7. I am sensitive about [parent’s divorce/past break-up/other relationship trauma]. Do you have anything similar? You don’t have to go into all the details yet, just let me know.
  8. Do you have a hard time trusting in general?
  9. Have I done anything to concern you or make you question if you can trust me?

Some of these questions are hard! That doesn’t mean they’re not important. If your relationship is going well, these may be things you’ve already talked about. Once you’ve had this discussion, you’ll be closer, as well as have established boundaries. When those are out in the open, it is easier to know when trust is being violated, rather than a vague feeling, or unstated standards. 

The Privacy Question

Privacy is important for many people. They don’t want the government knowing what they’re doing, their parents to know what’s on their browsing history, or their friends to know their true feelings – even if they aren’t breaking the law or the rules. Getting into a relationship can suddenly upend a carefully cultivated barrier of securities to keep habits, insecurities, and emotions private. 

So does your partner have a right to your phone or computer passwords? Or what you did the other night with your friends?

 Well, that depends.

Early in a relationship, the answer is probably no. You are entitled to privacy, especially if you’ve only been on a first date, or been “official” for a month or so. When someone demands access to all your passwords, or if you feel compelled to do the same, when you barely know each other, that is a sign of future conflict.

One misconception is that having one another’s passwords is so you can monitor one another. This isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes you need to borrow one another’s electronics to locate a lost phone, play a movie, or use it temporarily because you accidentally broke yours. However, if you find yourself reading their texts, scrolling through photos looking for evidence, it is an indicator that something is wrong.

What is most important with privacy is that you discuss what is acceptable and what is not. Again, knowing one another’s limits helps you maintain trust, and identify when it is at risk of being violated.

Tips for Establishing Trust

There are different approaches you can take to build a relationship built on mutual trust. Here are a few tips to make sure your partnership is built on a firm foundation.

  1. Trust is both given and earned. How often do you hear people say you have to earn their trust? While it is true the more opportunities someone has to prove themselves, the easier it is to put faith in them, if you never give them an initial token of trust, there is usually always an excuse to never trust them. Make sure you give, as well as let them earn it.
  2. You both have to be trustworthy. You cannot ask your partner to be completely honest, surrender their passwords, and be transparent if you aren’t. To be in a trusting relationship, you need to be forthright as well.
  3.  Gradually be more open and vulnerable. The more you get to know one another, the more you can evaluate how trustworthy someone is. Don’t reveal your deepest secrets early in the relationship, but rather over time. 
  4. Don’t ignore warning signs and red flags. While you don’t want to be paranoid, don’t ignore signs that someone is dishonest. If they are overly secretive, have been caught in a lie, or have revealed your private information publicly, it is probably time to speak with them and re-evaluate. 
  5.  Work through things together. Whether there was a misunderstanding, a hard event, or anything where one or both of you may be inclined to cope alone, try dealing with the situation together. Engaging with one another like this will reveal different aspects of your character and let you grow closer. Check-in with each other, too, if one of you is hurting. 

A relationship built of true love, commitment, and trust can help two people flourish. Making sure that trust is developed appropriately can be hard work and evaluation, but it will be worth it as you take new steps in the partnership with confidence.

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