3 Ways That Trust Issues Are Bred In Relationships

Trust is something that is earned, and it can be easily lost if not nurtured. Here's how to spot the origins of trust issues.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | February 21, 2024

Trust is the cornerstone of any meaningful and enduring relationship. It serves as the glue that helps your relationship withstand inevitable challenges and uncertainties, enriching it with safety, loyalty, intimacy and authenticity.

In contrast, research shows that a lack of trust can exacerbate relationship problems, creating emotional instability, conflict, the intention to break up or even harmful behaviors such as cell phone snooping. By cultivating self-awareness around the root causes of our distrust, we can embrace healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

Here are three reasons why we find it challenging to build trust in new relationships and how to start trusting again.

1. The Ghost Of Relationships Past

Unresolved issues, betrayal or trauma from past relationships can cast a shadow on our potential future bonds.

Trust is often eroded by a fear of vulnerability, which stems from a primal instinct for self-preservation. While new relationships offer intimacy and connection, they also leave us susceptible to the possibility of rejection or abandonment.

Our mind often relies on cognitive biases to make sense of these feelings. The negativity bias, for instance, predisposes us to overvalue negative experiences rather than positive ones to better prepare us to handle pain. However, prematurely assuming that we will be hurt in a budding romance can overshadow a multitude of positive possibilities.

Confirmation bias then sets in, reinforcing our fears of what would go wrong, making it challenging to see the relationship objectively. For instance, if you have experienced infidelity in the past, you may be prone to interpreting the likely innocent actions of a new partner, such as not answering a text message for a couple of hours, as a sign of disinterest or potential betrayal.

Building trust requires time, patience and conscious effort from both partners. Expressing fears and concerns openly can foster understanding and empathy in relationships. Moreover, setting realistic expectations and allowing oneself to experience romantic consistency and intimacy creates a sense of security, gradually dismantling the walls of distrust.

2. The Impact Of Childhood Experiences

A 2023 study found that besides breakup experiences, the following factors influence levels of trust in a new romantic partner:

  • Parental divorce. During one's formative years, parental relationships can serve as a powerful blueprint for a child's future relationships, shaping beliefs about commitment, stability and longevity of relationships. Children of divorce or separation may carry a heightened sensitivity to the fragility of romantic bonds. Witnessing the dissolution of their parents' marriage can instill a deep-seated fear of abandonment and impermanence, which often manifests as a reluctance to fully invest in new relationships and lower levels of trust in a partner.
  • Attachment styles. Attachment styles are developed early in life based on interactions with primary caregivers and influence how we bond with others later in life. A securely attached individual tends to have a positive view of themselves and their partner, feeling comfortable with intimacy and trust. However, research shows that an insecure attachment style creates lesser trust and lower relationship satisfaction. Insecurely attached individuals may crave intimacy and fear abandonment, feeling a heightened need for reassurance or becoming avoidant by prioritizing extreme independence and displaying an aversion to emotional closeness. Researchers suggest that experiencing a trustworthy, safe relationship can build positive beliefs about relationships and mitigate these attachment insecurities.

Therapeutic interventions, such as attachment-focused therapy or family systems therapy, can provide a supportive space for individuals to address the impact of parental divorce and attachment-related insecurities.

Engaging in self-reflective exercises such as journaling can help individuals identify and understand patterns of behavior influenced by their upbringing that they are bringing into new relationships. This self-awareness lays the foundation for intentional, positive changes.

3. The Inability To Trust Ourselves

When we lack trust in ourselves, we may doubt our own choice in a partner, leading to a perpetual cycle of skepticism and anxiety in new relationships. Further, the perception of our own lovability and worthiness becomes distorted, as the echoes of past insecurities reverberate into our present.

This self-doubt can also distort our belief in our ability to sustain long-lasting relationships, reflecting a fear that we may be undeserving of enduring love. We may also question our resilience or ability to cope with heartache and experience difficulty in accepting a partner's love. Cultivating self-trust is then not only an act of self-love but also a crucial investment in the success of our relationships.

Understanding trust issues involves a healthy dose of self-reflection and a willingness to explore insecurities, fears and past experiences. A trained psychologist can also help explore the root causes of trust issues, providing tools and strategies needed to rewrite the narrative of one's relationships.

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