Trust is the keystone of any relationship. Without it, couples can quickly find themselves facing arguments and misunderstandings.
However, establishing trust between romantic partners doesn’t just happen overnight; it takes time, effort, and practice.
According to experts, here are trust-building exercises to help couples develop trust and deeper connections with each other.
Relationship Coach | Creator, The Millionaire Marriage Club
The need for greater trust usually begins with a series of disappointments or a major betrayal causing fissures in the relationship.
With one couple I was working with recently, the wife said, “Whenever I want to talk about feelings, he walks away or shuts down.”
Like the water torture of a dripping faucet, this pattern of behavior over twenty years caused the wife to consider leaving him even though the balance of the relationship was great.
Instead, they came for help. As her husband began to see the value in “drilling down into feelings” (his words), he began to lose his fear of feelings and became an excellent listener who quickly healed the hole in this woman’s heart.
A bigger, more jolting betrayal of trust is infidelity. When both parties want to save the marriage and are willing to work at healing and rebuilding trust diligently, the relationship may be revived.
Related: How to Get over Infidelity Pain
For the couple in the first instance, it was simply a matter of learning and practicing some simple communication skills.
Listen and share your feelings
As they practiced, the husband experienced the pleasure he gave his wife by not only listening to her feelings but by sharing his own. It was fun to witness the transformation in them as he lost his fear of being hurt by feelings and began, instead, to embrace the process.
Related: Reasons Why Listening Is Important
Learn the cracks and repair it
In the case of infidelity, building or rebuilding trust requires courage of vulnerability. To say to your partner, “I want to earn back your trust,” is a courageous statement…an invitation to find out what the other needs to deepen their trust in you.
First, this means a total break with the other partner in infidelity. One recent client was developing a quasi-romantic emotional attachment to a family friend. When his wife discovered inappropriate texts, he was immediately remorseful and cut off all contact with the “other woman.”
Now they are learning about the cracks in their previous relationship that made him susceptible to this other woman’s attention and doing the repair work needed to heal those cracks.
Practice being more open and honest with each other
Part of the work is learning and practicing better, more open, and honest communication with each other.
They are rediscovering the joy of frequent, deep conversations with each other that had been missing during the years they devoted too much of their attention to rearing their children.
The cracks that make a relationship vulnerable may have many different labels, but the root cause is always a combination of inattention and poor communication or conflict management skills.
The solution is a combination of behaviors that:
- Demonstrate a willingness to be accountable for time and attention spent
- Plus, learning and practicing the communication and conflict management skills that allow love to be reborn and flourish.
Don’t give too much or too little trust
“Trust me,” have you ever heard that one?
Would you trust someone who actually had to tell you to trust them? That’s right, you probably wouldn’t, and I’d say that you were right not to. If you have to be told to trust, then that person hasn’t earned said trust.
Trust is a tricky thing. I often find that important things are the trickiest of things. After all, they wouldn’t be important if they weren’t challenging, now would they.
A common misconception regarding trust is its nature. We assume trust to be positive; truth be told, trust itself is neither positive nor negative. I believe that this leads to, and causes, a great deal of confusion.
What if I said, “I trust that you will harm me”? That is a valid sentiment, and you would understand what I meant by that.
I find that one of the best ways to understand a word is to substitute another similar word for it and see how they compare. In this context, we could easily use “believe” in place of trust. By using the word believe in place of trust, we can begin to appreciate the trust from a different perspective.
You see, trust is our belief, and our experiences shape our beliefs. Experiences, in turn, shape and mold our expectations.
If we have good experiences and our expectations are met, our belief strengthens positively. Conversely, if we have bad experiences and our expectations are not met, or worse, we are disappointed, our beliefs still strengthen just negatively.
We give future trust founded on our past trust involvements. This may cause us to give or withhold a disproportionate amount of future trust. Giving too much or not giving enough trust—both have their problems.
I know from myself that I have fallen victim to both of these. In other words, trust has to do with our past experiences. Because of this, some of us have difficulty trusting others based on what has transpired in the past and what others may have, or may not have, done.
“Trust; past performance influencing future expectations.”
– Jerry Brook
Let us not mistake the “lack” of trust with either trusting negatively or distrust. Lack of trust is akin to saying, “I don’t know what to believe.” Meaning that you can gain the knowledge necessary to make an informed judgment, whether positive or negative.
How can we know how much trust to give?
It can be challenging to decide on the correct amount of trust to give or withhold. However, we know that trust is earned and gained incrementally and not all at once.
Trust is like a plant; we begin by establishing its seed. From there, we must care for it, nurture it for it to sprout, grow and bear fruit.
At the same time, if the plant should cease to reciprocate and respond to our actions, we need to reassess if this is the best use of our time and energy.
The plant trusts you to water it, feed it, prune it, and in return, blossoms for you.
How can we measure trust?
To properly and fully establish trust, we must first be able to measure it. This is why I devised my simple yet effective three-step formula for gauging trust:
How important is this issue or situation?
The fact is that we affect others more often and in more ways than we realize. Was this issue important to:
- Both of you?
How often does something like this happen?
- Often is indicative of an ongoing problem.
- Rarely is just an uncomfortable side effect of human behavior.
How recently have you felt this way?
- Deal with issues as they arise, don’t expect them to solve themselves magically.
- We can’t fix what we don’t know is wrong.
- Most of us don’t like conflicts, but a little bit of discomfort at the beginning of the struggles may save a lot of heartache in the end.
Most, if not all of us, have heard the phrase, “actions speak louder than words.” And although that is true, the louder and loudest expressions are those in which “your actions match your words.”
When a pool player calls their shot and then proceeds to demonstrate their skill by carrying out their words, that is a powerful statement. There is a commitment in actually “saying what you mean and doing what you say.”
- Consistency and repeatability
- Trust builds confidence
- Trust strengthens connections, and relationships are based on those connections.
That said, the first person that we must have trust is ourselves. We don’t always trust, that is, believe in ourselves. This makes it difficult for others to trust, or believe in, us as well.
What can couples do to build their trust in one another?
Without knowing your specific situation, I can’t really tell you things like:
- How much trust to give
- How much trust to expect in return.
- What items to focus on
- What is important for you to have trust in
- What levels of trust you will require to feel comfortable
However, what I can tell you is how to go about building trust. You cannot trust those who you do not know, and you cannot trust greatly those who you do not know greatly.
Begin with sharing
And so, we begin with sharing. The more you can share, the more you show your trust, and the more you share, the more that you can be trusted.
Again, a word of caution, don’t overshare or share too soon. This is a back and forth of equal measure; you share a little, and the other person shares a little in return.
Everyone must be equally invested in the relationship.
I created an app precisely with this in mind. This is a game with a purpose, and that purpose is to help in the building and maintaining of healthy relationships. Gameplay consists of a randomly selected player performing a randomly chosen interaction for a randomly selected duration of 3, 5, or 7 minutes.
These interactions facilitate learning new and different things about the players. The more we know about each other, the more we trust each other. The interactions are customizable for your unique real-world relationship and situation. This encourages sharing, more than just hearing.
Healthy relationships are fortified with trust, and relationships happen gradually over a period of time through consistency. My philosophy is to keep it short and sweet, stay on point, and have fun in the process.
Christian Bumpous, MA, LPC, LMFT, CDWF
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Owner, Therapie
One thing we know from the research is that trust is built in the smallest of moments. I like to encourage my couples by not overthinking it when it comes to trust-building exercises and that a small conversation can go a long way.
Have brief daily check-in
One of the first trust-building exercises I assign my couples is a brief daily check-in. That shouldn’t take more than five minutes.
I encourage couples to set aside time, either first thing in the morning or before they go to bed, to check in about their day and for both partners to share one highlight and one low light that had happened in their relationship 24 hours before that meeting.
That meeting accomplishes two things:
- It highlights to the couple the good that happens in their relationship every day — the things that build trust.
- It gives the couple an opportunity to address any moments of disconnection quickly or misses that may have happened so they can be cleaned up instead of lingering.
Even though breakdowns between each other may not feel great, the ability to clean things up quickly between a couple can really increase trust than holding back and holding in negative emotions only for them to blow up days later.
That can lead to the breaking of trust over time.
Understand the components of trust together
Another tool that I like to share with my couples is the acronym BRAVING, which was developed by Dr. Brené Brown.
Trust can feel like an overwhelming and complex concept and process, and having an acronym that breaks down trust into seven components can help the couple make the topic feel more manageable.
BRAVING stands for:
I challenge my couples to take the processes apart, one issue at a time.
They can have conversations about each component sharing what’s going well and what needs attention. Or they can split it up into multiple weeks focusing on one element of trust each week to consciously act in trust-building ways.
Certified Relationship Coach
Commit to very clear communication of trust
While trusting your partner seems like a clear goal, you must understand what that means for both of you, meaning that you can’t just say, “I want to trust you more,” and hope that your partner understands exactly what you mean.
Talk about what trust means to you individually because to you, it may mean “I want you to be home for dinner on time,” and to your partner, it may mean “I want you to plan a perfect date night that will be up to par to my expectations.”
Whatever the trust issue you are having in your relationship, make sure that you clearly define it because we all fall into the trap of expecting the other person to “mind read” us and know our wants just because of the preconceived notion that they should know us that well.
As you start to communicate your expectations, goals, likes, and dislikes, you and your partner will begin to be more and more on the same page with one another and start moving in the right direction with your relationship.
This doesn’t just work for trust; You can define as many areas in your relationship as possible so you can gain more and more understanding of one another.
This, in turn, will establish more and more trust since you are getting to know one another as separate individuals that are part of the same relationship.
Know what’s keeping you or your partner from re-gaining or maintaining trust
If you’re working on trust with your partner, it depends on how deeply the problem has been rooted in you. While trust issues are the final outcome, trust issues are connected to negative experiences from your past.
Unfortunately, many of these issues have been created even before you got together with your partner.
For example, trust issues come from abandonment, abuse, low-self esteem, rejection, and anxiety. In order to fix the trust issues in your relationship, you have to figure out where this mistrust originates from, meaning back to decades ago and even childhood.
Figure out your mistrust triggers individually
If you know where it comes from, you can fix it moving forward by choosing to have a different reaction when that specific pain is triggered. I would suggest doing this exercise individually first, figuring out what triggers you to mistrust your partner or even one another.
Then ask yourself, “where does this come from?“ pinpoint experience/s where a parent or someone you trusted did something that made you feel untrusting.
If you get the same or very similar feeling from that event/s from the past compared to what happens with your partner when you start to feel untrust, you have figured it out.
Now, you have to realize that that experience no longer has any power to dictate how you show up in your relationship and gently change how you react to your partner when that specific emotion is triggered.
It would help if you also talked to your partner about it, told them what you have gleaned from your discovery, and ask for their support.
Having clear communication about your past hurts and current triggers establishes vulnerability with your partner and helps you both move forward healthily.
Share your raw selves with each other
There are three kinds of vulnerability that lead to intimacy: emotional vulnerability, physical vulnerability, and intellectual vulnerability.
Trust is built when partners share their raw selves with each other. When no one leaves, intimacy deepens, and trust solidifies.
Ask questions that encourage and reinforce vulnerability
Ask your partner questions that encourage and reinforce vulnerability, such as:
- “Is anything stressing you out at work these days?”
- “You’ve got a lot on your plate. What can I help you out with?”
- “Would you like a hug?”
Reassure your partner that you love their imperfections
- “Don’t worry about it; we all make mistakes.”
- “It’s all good. You can cry on my shoulder and get snot on me; I’m glad you know I’m here for you.”
- “You look cute no matter what!”
Share your own vulnerabilities
- “You’re so much better at this than I am. Can you help me out?”
- “I’m so embarrassed to admit this to you, but…”
- “I made a mistake.”
- I’m really sorry I said that to you. It was wrong of me.”
- “I’m falling in love with you.”
Once you share your vulnerabilities and your partner shares theirs, you co-create a safe place for two imperfect people to be themselves and trust that even when you mess up, you’ve got someone in your corner who is on your side.
Dr. Brenda Wade
Clinical Psychologist | Relationship Advisor, Online For Love
The most important thing to do when building trust is you must clearly communicate your needs and your feelings.
Below are some trust-building exercises you can incorporate into your life:
Talk about your fears
We need to be open and honest in our relationships, and talking about our fears is often difficult.
Having trust in your partner includes allowing them to have an emotional connection and understanding your fears and how they affect you, and what your partner can do to help you alleviate them.
Create a vision board together
This not only allows your partner to know you even better—your wants, wishes, and desires, but it allows you to open up your inner self and communicate what your dreams are.
This helps you align with your partner and show them what is important to you so you can create shared dreams and visions together.
Let your partner go through your phone
This is for couples that do not have an issue with privacy. Letting your partner go through your phone shows them that you trust them with your personal information and that they can trust you in the relationship.
Take turns planning date nights
In a busy world of work, children, family, and friends, it is sometimes difficult to find time for each other.
Planning date night keeps the “spark” alive and gets you away from the everyday routine to focus on each other. Taking turns not only show trust in your partner to make it happen but also shows their creative side in choosing activities you can do together.
Trust is the building block of love, and you have experienced it from birth to adulthood. Trust allows a relationship to flourish and creates a feeling of safety.
Engaging in activities that enhance trust will help you have a sustaining love built on a strong foundation that will carry you through not just the good times but also the difficult ones.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor | Co-founder, The Marriage Restoration Project
If you are looking for exercises you can do at home to help build up trust again, use the following tips that we use in our marriage counseling sessions below to jump-start your relationship restoration.
Do this daily:
Share daily appreciations
Spend five minutes every day where you share one thing you appreciate about your partner. Both should share one thing as well as why it is appreciated.
Make sure to sit face to face, making eye contact. Repeat what your partner says instead of dismissing it, and say thank you when you are done listening.
This simple exercise can make a huge difference in bringing more positive energy into your relationship.
When things are tense:
Schedule a conversation
Make an appointment if you want to talk about anything significant or concerned about something that might be a sensitive topic. Make sure to ask if it is a good time to talk.
If not, try scheduling a time within 24 hours to have the conversation. This will help you avoid most fights as you won’t be caught off guard and will react instinctively in a defensive posture.
Structure your conversations
Instead of being a free for all, learn how to have a real dialogue where one person shares and the other listens, only mirroring back without interpretation. This way, you will feel truly heard.
If you are listening, make sure you validate by letting your spouse know they make sense and empathizing by guessing what they are feeling.
This will be a much more productive conversation—an opportunity to:
- Learn more about each other
- Resolve conflict
If there’s been an affair, do consider getting outside help from a couples expert that has an affair recovery process and can help with closure on the affair and help the couple make amends.
Affairs can be tricky, and it is hard to repair without a process to help “seal the exits.”
Relationship Expert, Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers
Trust is the best foundation for any good long-term relationship. Without it, you cannot possibly expect to have a stable relationship. There are certain techniques through which you can work on it.
It may sound unnerving, but sometimes your partner and you can go through each other’s phones. Next, you can both plan date nights turn by turn or try new activities together.
Talk about your fears and reservations without censor
Both of you can sit and talk about any fears or reservations you might have without any censors. Try trusting each other with completing important tasks.
The first step to starting any exercise between your partner and you is to communicate and connect. Once you have agreed on why you’re doing it, move on to the next step.
Start by sharing secrets. If either of you has any questions, both should be open to answering them with clarity. If there is something you do not like, don’t resort to yelling and being rude.
Remember that at the end of the day, you both love each other and are doing it to make your relationship stronger. These exercises can help you build a stronger level of trust with each other.
Head Editor and Author, onBabyWorld
Travel together — it helps couples see each other from different perspectives
Traveling is not only meant to break from routine life and enjoy time off, but it also allows relationships to heal and strengthen. It is one of the best trust-building exercises for couples. It helps couples see each other from different perspectives.
Couples should take vacations when they feel their relationship is drying up or when they are starting to have problems. The reason is so that they can explore life together.
Don’t invite anyone else, and don’t venture off on your own or with anyone else. It’s great therapy when you travel with your partner and see the world for what it is. It also shows the support you both have for each other.
They can see the beauty beyond life and what love is really about.
Trust comes with proper understanding. People open up their true selves while traveling, and it’s the appropriate time when a couple can understand each other, make compromises, and lay their trust in one another.
Traveling, and taking vacations allow people to communicate, have a lovely time, try new activities and see each other from different lenses.
Related: 15 Best Travel Inspiration Books
Couples should seek free time together and allow each other to open up. This is when they can provide room for each other and yet be closer. You can’t trust someone who hides and keeps stuff to themselves.
Allow yourselves to explore mutual interests
Allow yourself to plan the trip a few weeks prior and explore mutual interests. You don’t want to go to a beach when your partner hates beaches.
Find what you both wanted to do for so long and couldn’t experience it. This way, the trip will be balanced to fulfill each one’s interests equally, and there’ll be a sense of care, love, and mutual respect.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can trust-building exercises also be used in professional settings?
Trust-building exercises can also be used in the professional environment. These exercises can help build trust and improve communication between team members, which can lead to increased productivity and efficiency.
For example, the “Two Truths and a Lie” exercise can be used in a team-building activity where team members take turns sharing personal information with each other. This exercise can help team members get to know each other better and develop a sense of camaraderie, which can help improve teamwork and collaboration.
Another exercise that can be used in a professional setting is the “gratitude game” This exercise can be used to express appreciation to team members for their work, boosting morale and creating a positive work environment.
Trust-building exercises can be used in both personal and professional settings to build trust, improve communication, and strengthen relationships.
Can trust-building exercises be done remotely?
Trust-building exercises can be conducted remotely via virtual communication tools such as video conferencing or phone calls. Many trust-building exercises can even be adapted for virtual settings.
For example, the game “Two Truths and a Lie” can be played virtually by having each person share their statements via video call and having the other person guess which statement is the lie.
The “gratitude game” can also be played virtually by having participants share their gratitude statements via email or messaging apps.
The “Personal History” exercise can be adapted for virtual settings by sharing personal stories or experiences via a video call or recorded message.
Are there any potential drawbacks to trust-building exercises?
Although trust-building exercises can be a powerful tool for building and strengthening relationships, there are some potential drawbacks to consider. It’s important to be aware of these potential drawbacks and to approach trust-building exercises with a grain of salt.
One potential drawback is that trust-building exercises can sometimes feel forced or artificial. If participants don’t fully engage in the exercise, they may not be effective in building trust.
It’s important to approach these exercises with a positive and open mindset and to communicate openly and honestly with each other.
Another potential drawback is that trust-building exercises can sometimes be too intense or uncomfortable for some individuals. It’s important to respect each other’s boundaries and not pressure anyone to participate in exercises they aren’t comfortable with.
Lastly, trust-building exercises may only be appropriate or effective for some relationships. While these exercises can help build trust in many situations, some relationships may require a different approach to building trust.
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