February 1, 2018 |Gideon Hanekom

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In this post, we’re looking at how to build trust in a marriage with 5 simple actions any couple can take.

Every couple in a truly happy and successful relationship I know of, all have one thing in coming: TRUST.

It is the key that unlocks everything else in a relationship.

With it, you’ll experience bliss.

Without it, however, you’ll feel fear, more than anything else.

You can ask any couple that’s been together for ten years or more and they’ll tell you how important trust is in a relationship.

When you trust your partner, love and affection seem to flow naturally.

Conversely, however, when trust is lacking, the relationship is filled with fear, doubt, uncertainty, secrets, in-fighting, and hurt.

Of all the things that make for a happy and fulfilling relationship, I would argue that trust is probably one of the most important ingredients.

Trust is like water is to a garden.

You can prep the soil and plant the seeds, but without water, NOTHING will grow.

How to Build Trust in a Marriage

During my time as pastor, counsellor, and relationship coach, here in New Zealand, I’ve seen many different couples and individuals looking to either fix their broken relationship OR keep it from falling apart completely.

Because let’s face it, few things hurt as much as losing someone we still love; even if that love is covered with layers of hurt and fear.

And almost every single time, at the heart of these couples’ troubles, was either broken or a complete lack of trust.

Which made it very difficult to reconnect with one another and thereby save their relationship or family.

The hard truth is, if you want to save your marriage, relationship, or family, you need to build a trusting relationship with your partner.

And this can be very difficult when you’ve been hurt or lied to over and over again in the past.

It’s a difficult thing to come back from.

Even after many years.

But, there is good news.

Building or re-building trust is not impossible.

It can be done.

It might take a heck of a lot of commitment, effort and patience on your part, but it can be done.

In fact, if you want to improve your relationship at all, you have to start with building trust again.

Because at the heart of most relationship troubles, broken or a lack of trust can be found.

So, if you’re reading this today and need to establish or re-establish trust in your relationship, there are proven techniques you can use to make it happen.

And I will show you how.

Firstly, let’s define trust quickly:

Trust, in its simplest definition, is creating a place where another person feels emotionally safe.

That’s it!

They know you are a safe place where they can be themselves 100%, no pretences, and no BS.

They know they can tell you their deepest secrets, doubts, and worries, without fear that you’ll judge them for it, think less of them, or share them with others.

They know they can be themselves with you and because they know that you’ll still love them, no matter what.

In short, they can vulnerable with you because you are trustworthy.

Break or hurt this trust however and it becomes very hard to build a healthy and happy relationship that lasts.

So, what can YOU do to how to build trust in a marriage?

Well, it depends.

There are different approaches for different seasons of a relationship.

If you’ve been together as a couple for a long time, you need to go about trust perhaps slightly different than a newer couple.

But, even in saying that, the essentials of trust-building remain the same. 

How to Build Trust in a Marriage Actions

Since you’ve been together for a while, different dynamics are most likely at play than with a newer relationship.

You also have some shared history which can play a role in terms of trust between you and your partner.

So as a couple in a long-term relationship, what can you do to build more trust as a couple?

Here are some suggestions which might actually surprise you.

Make improving your communication skills one of your top priorities.

If you want to improve your relationship, I’m going to give you a simple piece of advice that is worth its weight in gold.

In fact, the longer you are with someone in a relationship, the harder you need to work at this.

Learn how to be a good listener.

What do I mean by this exactly?

Well, for starters, it means you don’t interrupt your partner while they’re talking unless there’s an emergency.

It also means that when your partner is communicating with you, you give them your presence and attention.

Yes, that means no phone.

Trust me, you’ll get over it and you will survive to look up from your phone for a few seconds to give your partner the attention they deserve (and need).

Now, if you’re a guy reading this, learning to be an excellent listener applies to you even more.

Women deal with their emotions by talking.

That means, they need someone to listen.

And I don’t mean listening with the intention of fixing the problems, but rather listening with the intention of making them feel safe.

But guys don’t seem to get this.

I appreciate that we want to fix problems, which includes dissecting everything our partners say in order to come up with the best solution.

But here’s the problem …

Women don’t want our solutions.

They want our attention!

So, if you want to build trust with your partner, especially if you’ve been together for a long time, start working extra hard at ensuring you understand what your partner is saying.

That does not mean you are agreeing with everything they are saying.

That’s not the point here.

The point is, when our partners truly feel that we are listening to them and hearing them, they feel valued, important, and emotionally safe, which all lead to more trust in the long run. 

Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements.

Another way of building trust with your partner is learning how to express yourself better.

And you can do this by simply changing how you approach certain subjects and issues.

Especially of the recurring issues in your relationship.

I’ve worked with many couples now and poor communication is almost always at the heart of many of their issues.

Ironically most of these couples used to believe that they were actually communicating pretty well, but nothing was further from the truth.

One of the things couples tend to do when there is existing tension between them is shifting the focus from certain issues to each other.

In other words, they tend to become personal as their emotional state intensifies.

And angrier, pissed off, unhappy, or stressed out they become, the more personal their attacks on each other become.

But again, this can be changed fairly easily by simply changing your language.

Using a phrase like I feel…” rather than “You make me feel…” goes a long way in conveying your feelings without attacking your partner.

Conversely, “You” statements are nearly always taken as a personal attack.

This may not be your intent, but it’s almost always the result.

It’s important to understand that I’m not suggesting you sidestep certain problems in your relationship.

That would be very poor advice.

Problems left unresolved tend to fester and grow over time.

We don’t want that.

No, what I’m suggesting is tackling your problems but in a different way by simply changing how you talk about them.

Let’s imagine for a moment that your partner’s spending habits are a huge issue in your relationship.

This can become a very sensitive subject to address, but a necessary one.

Now, the first step is to recognise that you and your partner are a team.

This means, you’re not in competition with one another but you’re actually wanting the same thing; which is to be happy and have a good life.

So, let’s use the suggested phrases here and see just how different they come across.

Sally (to Mike): “I feel really nervous every time I get to the checkout because I’m never sure whether there are enough funds in our account to pay for groceries. Can we please talk about our finances and find a way to manage our spending a bit better?”

compared to …

Sally (to Mike): “The way you spend all our money really annoys me and puts me in embarrassing situations allot.”

Can you feel the difference?

The word “You” is always perceived as a personal attack because it essentially communicates contempt; the perception that you are somehow superior to your partner and their shortcomings. 

Act and speak positively about your partner, especially in front of other people.

This is a big one, especially if you’ve been together for a long time.

The trap of being in a long-term relationship is getting used to one another.

We tend to take people for granted after a while.

And the trap and is that we tend to become more comfortable talking about our partner’s flaws or shortcomings the longer we are with them.

Whether with family or friends.

But let me give you a huge piece of advice: no matter how long somebody’s been with you, they will never appreciate you putting them down, especially in front of other people.

I used to date someone back in the day who loved doing this.

The sad thing was that she wasn’t even aware that she was doing it.

But all my friends and family picked up on it.

I eventually did too.

Or rather, I stopped making excuses for her.

And I ended the relationship.

Being with someone who puts you down, belittles you, criticises you, or makes you feel crap about yourself, is simply not worth it.

You also need to realise that if you are the person doing this to your partner, they will find it very hard to trust you.

They might still be with you, but I’m willing to bet that’s only a temporary arrangement.

You might find yourself very alone one day very soon.

It’s important to realise that it’s easier to trust someone who speaks well of you.

Conversely, if someone speaks to you in a nasty way, you’re likely to distrust them.

But, what if you do have something negative to say because it is true and is driving you insane.

Well, if you absolutely have to say something negative, try to say at least five positive statements prior to making the negative statement.

But always make sure that the positive outweighs the negative.

And also make sure that you use “I feel…” statements rather than “You make me feel …” 

If you’ve promised to do something, follow through with it.

This one follows on from the previous point.

The Ancient Scriptures talk about your “yes meaning yes” and “no meaning no.”

Rather than committing to something and then breaking your promise, rather say “no” or reschedule from the start.

But, once you’ve said “yes” then stick to it.

Of course, there may be circumstances that keep you from following through.

But, if that was to happen, be sure to call your partner so they’ll be aware of the change in plans.

And on this point, I’m slightly old school, because calling in talking to your new partner in this instance is much better than texting them.

It shows respect, and that you value them.

This goes a long way in building trust which will only help your relationship in the long run. 

Be transparent and non-secretive.

One of the worst things you can do for building trust in your relationship, especially early on, is to play all your cards close to your chest and be secretive.

All this will seem to your new partner is that you are not trustworthy enough for them to trust you.

Consequently, they will most likely reciprocate and be on their guard as well.

Now, if you’re a man, you need to understand that one way to earn the trust of a woman, is to express your feelings.

Women process thoughts and emotions by talking about them.

That does not mean they looking for a solution nor is it an invitation for you to fix them.

They simply have to talk about them.

This means, being open and transparent about your emotions and thoughts will always score you more points and is a much better choice than being a “rock.”

By doing this you will help establish and build your partner’s trust in you.

But, as a woman, it’s also important to understand that men process emotions differently than women.

They oftentimes withdraw first to process whatever it is they’re feeling and thinking, but will eventually open up to you and share what they’ve come up with.

Men typically try and process their thoughts and emotions internally in order to work through them. They want to solve the problems in their heads first.

You won’t change this, so stop trying.

But, they will let you in eventually if you earned their trust initially.

And the way you do that is by giving them space and support while they are working on stuff internally.

Should you, however, chase after them and hassle them to “talk to you” while they are withdrawn, you are only hurting their trust in you.

Consequently, they won’t talk to you at all.

It is very easy these days to keep a lot of secrets and have a completely different life from our partners.

You could be dating one person while “being” with someone else without ever having to leave your living room.

In fact, you could be sitting on the couch next to the person you’re dating and be engaged with someone else without them even knowing about it.

However, if you are serious about someone, you will have to earn their trust.

And the only way you do that is by working hard at earning it.

Trust is not something people simply give away.

It is hard to come by and easy to lose.

One of the best ways to show a person you are trustworthy is to be as transparent and non-secretive as you can possibly be.

And the more they honour that trust, the more likely you’ll be to open up even more.

And this obviously works the other way round also. 

Last thoughts

Of all the elements that contribute to healthier, happier and more intimate relationships, trust is most likely at the top of that list.

It really is the one thing where many relationships stand or fall.

No matter whether you’re in a long-term relationship or just starting out dating someone.

Without trust between two people, there is no relationship.

So use the ideas above to work at building trust between you and your partner.

And remember that it takes time to build and maintain a trusting relationship, but the benefits are more than worth it! 

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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