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4 Factors for Building Trust in Relationships

How attachment, cooperation, fairness, and social pressures impact trust.

Key points

  • Trust can be complicated to build with a partner, but recent research has made the process easier.
  • To start, trust can be enhanced by working on your general trust levels and behaviors toward each other.
  • From there, by fine-tuning your relationship dynamics and social context, trust can bloom even more.
Geralt/ Pixabay
Source: Geralt/ Pixabay

Trust is an essential component of happy and healthy relationships. Nevertheless, trusting someone can be complicated—and requires us to consider many aspects of our own feelings, a partner's behavior, and the larger relationship context.

Thus, it is not always clear who we should trust, or how we should develop trust with them over time.

Fortunately, a review article by Weiss, Burgmer, and Hofmann (2022) has endeavored to simplify this complicated web of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors regarding our experience of trust in everyday life. Through that review, the authors noted four main factors that impact trust in relationships. Those four factors simplify the trust-building process—and provide a framework to organize some of the advice I have provided on the topic throughout the years too. So, let's look at each of those items in more detail.

1. General Trust Levels

Weiss, Burgmer, and Hofmann (2022) begin their assessment by looking at the general trust. Essentially, this is the degree to which someone trusts others on the whole, in their day-to-day interactions.

The authors note that most people want to trust others and general trust is often high. Nevertheless, sometimes people have negative childhood experiences, attachment issues, low self-esteem, or past relationship difficulties that lead them to chronically distrust others and protect themselves instead.

According to the review, general trust only accounts for 16 percent of the level of trust in a relationship. This means that other factors, like the right relationship with a good partner, can help us overcome a generally distrusting outlook.

Nevertheless, holding such a pessimistic outlook may lead individuals to sell themselves short, missing out on those good relationships too. Therefore, to identify the right partner and build a trusting relationship, it helps to identify any attachment issues and work through previous negative relationship experiences.

By doing so, we are better able to see the good in ourselves and the possibility of trusting relationships with others as well.

2. Partners' Behaviors

The next factor impacting trust, identified by Weiss, Burgmer, and Hofmann (2022), is the behavior of each partner. Specifically, according to the review, a trustworthy partner will behave in ways that are both competent and cooperative. They will also be warm and caring, making personal sacrifices for the good of the relationship when necessary.

As I have noted in other posts and my book Attraction Psychology, competency and cooperation (known as capacity and willingness) are essential components of love in general. Similarly, warmth and understanding help to create rapport and connection in romantic relationships as well.

In contrast, threatening or punishing behavior can lead to distrust and a ruined relationship instead. That is why picking a partner who behaves positively, and avoiding those who are selfish or threatening, is so essential for a trusting and healthy relationship. Also, remember to behave well toward them too.

3. Relationship Dynamics

A third factor noted by Weiss, Burgmer, and Hofmann (2022) impacting trust is the dynamics of the relationship itself. Particularly, the review notes that trust can be swayed by the amount of mutual dependence, balance (or imbalance) of power, and conflicts of interest between relationship partners.

Thus, beyond the internal feelings of general trust and external behaviors of each partner, the overall dynamics of the relationship can have an influence on the level of trust too.

As a result, when building trust with a partner, it is important to also consider the quality of your relationship together. Specifically, partners who are too independent of one another may have difficulties with commitment.

In contrast, too much dependence (or co-dependence) can limit self-determination in loving relationships instead. Beyond that, a conflict of interest, working at cross-purposes, or unequal power can reduce trust in relationships as well.

Thus, for trust to truly flourish, both partners need to be free to make their own choices, confident in depending on each other, and feel that the relationship is fair.

4. Social Context

The fourth factor discussed by Weiss, Burgmer, and Hofmann (2022), which has an impact on trust, is the larger social context. They highlight that the behavior of other individuals outside of the relationship, general unfairness in society, and social isolation can creep into a relationship and influence trust between partners too.

Thus, when building trust with a partner, it is also important to consider how your friends, families, and cultures might support or diminish trust in your relationship together.

In short, although we often overlook it in modern life, the larger social context can have a big impact on relationships. Specifically, things like gender role expectations and spiritual considerations can enhance or diminish compatibility.

Furthermore, something as simple as sharing a common practice of prayer can reduce infidelity and enhance trust.

Thus, even when modern social structures disturb and diminish our love lives, we can still identify cultural practices, social groups, and partners who support trusting and satisfying relationships. When combined with a trusting mindset, supportive behavior, and a fair relationship, these factors can help us more effectively build trust with one another.

In turn, that can give us the best chance to create the type of loving interactions that we all most desire.

© 2023 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.


Weiss, A., Burgmer, P., & Hofmann, W. (2022). The experience of trust in everyday life. Current Opinion in Psychology, 44, 245–251.

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