Trust is the ability to believe in the good intentions and will of another toward us in a relationship. Learning to trust another is among our earliest life lessons. We learn how to connect and attach with others from our earliest days (https://www.simplypsychology.org/attachment.html).
Some of us had primary care-givers or nurturing figures who accurately reflected our emotions back to us and were responsive to our needs for attunement and attention. All of us have experienced a lack of attachment, relational trauma, and betrayals of trust of all kinds. All of these realities erode trust or create barriers which must be overcome in order to build or rebuild trust.
How to Build Trust in a Relationship
This article will address how to build trust in a relationship with particular reference to God’s heart for relationships expressed in the Scriptures. Trust creates and thrives in emotional safety. The following are ways trust is built and what contributes to emotional safety in relationships.
1. Telling the truth Jesus as the Word of God become flesh, embodied God’s nature, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). His disciples are called to follow Him and as such, put off falsehood and speak truthfully to their neighbor, as members of one another (Ephesians 4:25).
Speaking truth in love provides the foundation of trust and security in a relationship and results in emotional and spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:15). Love as God embodies it, is self-sacrifice for the good of others and rejoices in the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6). When spoken words are believed and confirmed by the actions of the speaker, emotional safety to trust results.
2. Being transparent
When I am open to being known and have nothing to hide in a relationship of mutuality, trust grows. Hiding belies fear, shame, and guilt (Genesis 3:10). My voluntary self-disclosure says “I want to be known by you.”
The apostle James commanded disciples of Christ to confess their sins to one another and ask for healing prayer (James 5:16). Being transparent about one’s needs and struggles gives others the opportunity to bear our burden, which is God’s way for us to live in not in isolation, but in a community of honest, humble, vulnerable interdependence (Galatians 6:2).
God knows everything about us and will make everything known one day (Luke 8:17), so to live as if we are already fully known, a life without secrets in our closest relationships, fosters trust that we are open to being known. Transparency engenders security and mutual transparency.
3. Keeping your word
When I follow-through and do what I say, I demonstrate that “I’m committed to and care about you and us.” Jesus calls his disciples to demonstrate integrity so that their word and intentions can be trusted. He says to, “let your yes be yes and your no, no” (Matthew 5:37). When we do as we say and follow through with our spoken intentions we engender trust with others.
4. Offering acceptanceRomans 15:7 enjoins Christ’s followers to accept one another as Christ has accepted them. The Greek word translated “accept” or “receive” in English means to take to oneself, to grant access to one’s heart.
Acceptance in a friendship says, “I receive you. You are enough for me. I do not require you to perform to earn my friendship.” Acceptance signals good will, commitment, refusal to reject, and lack of negative judgment.
Personal acceptance of others with different opinions and practices in disputable matters is a foundation for Biblical community (Romans 14:1). How does acceptance build trust? Acceptance is the reassurance necessary to promote vulnerability, truthfulness, transparency.
It is important to note that acceptance is different from tolerance of unhealthy, physically and emotionally dangerous or abusive words and behaviors. Verbal, emotional or physical abuse in a relationship, marital unfaithfulness, or active engagement in addictive behaviors all contribute to a lack of trust and security and to betrayals of trust. These things must be addressed and repentance demonstrated before trust can be rebuilt.
5. Demonstrating sorrow, repentance, and accountability
When trust has been breached in a relationship, repair is needed for the breach to be healed. Emotional repair includes sincere acknowledgement of the harm done, acceptance of responsibility for one’s own choices and the expression of sorrow for the one who was harmed and for one’s own choices. Mutual understanding promotes repair in the relationship.
Trust is also rebuilt as perceptions and behavior change signaling care of the other and commitment to the relationship. Sustainability comes from accountability. When we who are responsible for injury, enlist the help, support, and accountability of others for change, trust can be rebuilt.
Since actions speak louder than words (1 John 3:18; James 1:22), true repentance is seen in the change of mind, heart, and behavior (James 2:14-17; Hebrews 10:24-25). When we have wronged others, our steps of repentance tell them we are sincere in our desire to make amends and not to intentionally hurt them again. Trust is repaired via a demonstrated corrective change over time.
The aforementioned practices are just some of the elements needed for building trust in relationships. Christian counseling can also help to facilitate the communication skills, foster empathy and understanding, offer insight, and support for the values embodied in these practices.
Ultimately it is God who is the repairer of broken hearts and relationships. There is no substitute for depending upon and trusting Him and his ways and counseling can be an expression of such dependence, trust, and obedience to God.
He wants us to thrive in trusting relationships. If you need and want to build or rebuild trust in a significant relationship, I encourage you to reach out to me or one of my colleagues.
“Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Alvin Mahmudov, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “In the River”, Courtesy of Andrew Ly, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Couple on a Walk”, Courtesy of Pablo Heimplatz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Couple at Night”, Courtesy of Muhammad Ruqiyaddin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License