- Trust is feeling confident that your needs will be met in a relationship.
- We need to trust that our partners plan to stay and invest in the relationship.
- We must learn what trust feels like when it is intact and consistent.
Before you lose confidence in everything you know about relationships, yes, communication is important. How we talk to each other matters, and it’s worth investing time in learning communication skills.
However, having studied romantic relationships for more than 15 years, I argue that trust is more important than communication. Let me explain why.
What is Trust?
Social scientists suggest that trust involves:
- Confidence that our needs will be met.
- Investing part of ourselves and/or resources in another person.
- The risk that someone might disregard our needs or misuse our investments.
The need for trust might sound painfully obvious, but from what I have observed, we tend to focus mainly on the last point about broken trust. We simplify trust to the question: Do I trust my partner not to have sex with or fall in love with someone else?
Are You Going to Look Out for Me?
From the time we are babies, we start gathering information about whether our caregivers are trustworthy and whether the world is a good place. We assess whether the people around us will meet our needs when we’re sad, hungry, or lonely. Researchers refer to this process as building attachment, which serves as the foundation of trust for the rest of our lives.
Later, when we enter romantic relationships, we build trust by allowing our partners to really see us and know us. Physical intimacy requires us to trust our partners with our bodies and our feelings. When we fall in love, we trust our partners not to hurt us on purpose.
In a good relationship, you feel deeply secure in the knowledge that your partner will make choices and take actions with your mutual best interests in mind. They won’t act only for themselves; they will pay attention to what you need and try to provide it.
Are We in This Together?
Early in a relationship, one of the first challenges we face is figuring out how interested each person is and what they want out of the relationship. Is this a fling? Are we compatible? Do you like me as much as I like you?
In this early stage, we get a lot of insight into whether we can trust our partners to be honest about their intentions and feelings. We assess whether they follow through on doing what they say they will do. We observe how they interact with other people in their lives. Are they trustworthy with them?
Serious relationships also involve investments of time, money, and—to some extent—a little part of ourselves. To feel secure, we need to trust that our partners plan to stay in the relationship and that they will also invest in it. Good relationships don’t hang in the balance of every disagreement or challenge. When trust is solid, you can weather difficult times, conversations, and emotions because it is clear that you’re both “in it.”
Sometimes, it is easier to see and understand trust when it is broken or faltering, but we also need to learn what trust looks and feels like when it is intact and consistent. Trusting our partners to look out for us and to invest in a shared future is necessary for a relationship to be healthy and strong.
When you don’t trust your partner, investigate why. When you do, follow that instinct and look for behaviors that back it up. Nothing is more important. Trust me.
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