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How to Rebuild Trust in 7 Steps

Trust can be swiftly broken. Learn how to mend it.

Key points

  • People's attitudes about trust originate in their families of origin and are impacted by their adult relationships.
  • Children yearn to trust their parents, and their need can be projected on romantic partners.
  • Components involved in rebuilding trust include listening to the person's feelings, empathizing and showing responsibility for one's actions.
Y. Gurevich/Canva
Source: Y. Gurevich/Canva

Satisfying relationships are built on a foundation of safety and trust that you won’t be hurt physically or emotionally. Whether you trust too little or too much is influenced by your past, but once trust is broken, your sense of safety is in jeopardy. You feel insecure and may begin to question your partner’s honesty, motives, intentions, feelings, and actions.

Secrets and lies affect the entire relationship. Walls start to grow when you try to protect yourself. Take these steps to repair the relationship.

The Influence of Your Past

If you’ve been betrayed in a prior relationship or trust was a problem in your family growing up, then you’re apt to be on the lookout for signs of distrust. If you’re in denial or have unresolved anger or hurt from the past, you run the risk of either provoking problems in a new relationship where none exists; or on the other hand, unconsciously attracting untrustworthy partners. See my post "Do You Trust Too Much or Too Little" about how to evaluate trustworthiness.

If you've suffered trauma or abuse, you may be prone to distrust people or the reverse and trust too easily. Some people do both. The reason may lie in growing up in a dysfunctional family.


If there were addictions or family secrets, the family’s denial about it is a lie, so children learn to distrust their parents and their own perceptions of reality. Usually, parents are well-intentioned and try to minimize or deny the truth about what’s going on to protect their children. It’s confusing to children, who see through their parents’ statements.

Other times, parents make excuses and lie to look good or defend their position and hide their own guilt or shame. Parents also blame children to avoid their own responsibility and break or deny promises, further undermining trust. When parents don’t follow through with commitments, show up where they’re supposed to on time, or have inconsistent, arbitrary, or unfair punishments, they also break their children’s trust. The same goes for neglect, adultery, criminality, and physical or emotional abuse or abandonment.

Too Trusting

The following factors work together and can cause you to trust too easily:

  1. Wanting to trust
  2. Idealizing authority figures or partners in romantic relationships
  3. Dependency – needing the relationship

Distrust or Denial of Your Own Reality

Although untrustworthy parents can cause you to be distrustful, the unfulfilled childhood desire to trust is still present. This unconscious longing to trust leads you to project trustworthiness onto certain people, particularly in close relationships reminiscent of familial love. This wish coupled with dependency needs, including the need to be taken care of, cause you to deny, overlook, or rationalize data that would otherwise signal a lack of trustworthiness. When parents deny or contradict your reality, you also learn to discount your perceptions, feelings, and intuition. The combination of these forces influences you to trust people, especially those you love, whom others don’t.

Rebuilding Trust

Once trust has been broken, an apology may not be sufficient to rectify damage to the relationship. Explanations and excuses can make matters worse. Seven components are important to rebuild trust:

  1. Listen to the other person’s anger and hurt feelings.
  2. Empathize with them.
  3. Ask what is needed to prevent a recurrence.
  4. Be conscientious to do all the things listed that show trustworthiness.
  5. Take full responsibility for your actions. Don’t sidestep the issue or try to shift blame to the other person.
  6. Make a heartfelt apology expressing your regret.
  7. Continue to have open and honest communication.

Open and honest communication about what happened is essential. Ask the hurt partner what he or she needs from you and any suggestions about what’s needed to avoid repetition of the behavior. These questions show respect for the person’s feelings and needs and will be appreciated. They go much further than a simple apology. If it’s a serious betrayal, you can expand the conversation to include the relationship as a whole and discuss how you both can help the relationship.

If you’re unable to rebuild trust by talking to each other, if the problem reoccurs, or if the violation of trust involves infidelity, you may need the assistance of a professional therapist to help you communicate as a couple and also to uncover the causes that led to the problem. Usually, infidelity can be a sign of relationship problems as well as an individual issue.

When addiction is involved, the help of a 12-step program can be very beneficial. Seeking support outside the relationship isn’t a sign of weakness. It shows commitment to the relationship and reassures the injured person that his or her partner is taking the problem seriously and willing to make an effort to change.

The last step is very important because once trust has been broken, although it may seem as if all is forgiven and back to normal, doubts and hurt often continue to linger in the aggrieved person’s mind and heart. It may take months or even years for a serious wound to heal. Note that rebuilding trust may not be possible when the dishonesty is part of a larger pattern of abuse and possible personality disorder, such as gaslighting and narcissism, that is resistant to change.

©Darlene Lancer 2012

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