Broken Trust in Relationships and How to Fix It

Trust is the foundation of any healthy, successful relationship, romantic or otherwise.

Trust in your partner is one of the deepest aspects of intimacy. After our early experiences of love and relationships, we learn pretty quickly that trusting too easily or fast leads to disappointment and chaos. But never trusting at all means never risking real love or giving a person a chance.

Read: 3 Ways to Build Intimacy in Poly Relationships

People who can’t trust are constantly suspicious of every motive and move. Striking the balance of reasonable trust is key. We learn that trust is earned—it’s not something you can magically conjure with just a few words.

Trust heals and broken trust kills.

Every individual has different needs and priorities, and different boundaries that can spell broken trust. But there are some generalities that mean breaking trust for most lovers.

What Creates Broken Trust in a Relationship?

The following are nine behaviors that can break trust in relationships.

1. Dishonesty

Dishonesty can take many tactics and approaches, from outright fabrications to defensive embellishments. Most of us lie to steer clear of trouble, save our asses, or, ironically, to protect a loved one from difficult or hurtful information.

Some people are compulsive liars. Nothing that comes out of their mouth is true. Others lie constantly because they have an unstable sense of self and deep insecurities. They may be the type who seem to “believe their own lies.” These people are toxic or broken and not really capable of a real relationship.

Read: 4 Signs Your Poly Relationship Is Toxic

If you are older or wiser you may avoid getting involved with these character types now, but broken trust can be even more shattering when the dishonesty comes from someone who usually tells you the truth. This is a sure sign they are hiding something from you or doing things behind your back that aren’t right.

Unhappy couple with backs to each other.

2. Lies of Omission and “White Lies”

Everyone has a right to privacy and to their secrets, and there is no obligation that we have to report everything to our partner. The past does not always need dragging up and can be irrelevant. So it may not be fair to feel violated when a partner didn’t tell you something from twenty years before you got together.

But trust can be broken by lies of omission when something important and relevant means something in a current context.

Read: Honesty Is the Best Poly: Stories from Women Who Practice Polyamory

3. Gaslighting

Gaslighting breaks trust because it is a deliberate effort to turn the tables and make a partner doubt themselves, sometimes questioning their own sanity.

When one partner blames the other for everything they have done themselves, or attributes their own negative qualities to their partner, that is called gaslighting.

Some people gaslight others to protect their hide, but others do it for sheer enjoyment—they love manipulating others and treating them like a psychological play thing.

Read: 3 Must-Haves for Healthy Polyamory Relationships

4. Talking Behind Your Back

Another surefire way to break trust in a relationship is to gossip, tell secrets, or badmouth a partner behind their back.

Sometimes we share difficult information about our relationship with a trusted friend to help us sort through things. Other times, we dump the worst of what’s in our hearts to anyone who will listen in order to demean our partner.

Read: 4 Signs of Communication Breakdown

5. Not Following Through on Promises

Not keeping our word is one way to destroy the bonds of trust in a relationship. If you say you’ll do something, follow through on your promises.

6. Cheating

Cheating on your partner if you are in a monogamous committed relationship is the ultimate betrayal of trust.

Read: What Cheating Means in Polyamory

Unhappy Couple Sitting in Bed

7. Breaking an Agreement or Relationship Rule

Polyamorous people usually have agreements of some kind or boundaries when it comes to how they can date outside the relationship. Those agreements have been made for specific and important reasons, and breaking those relationship rules breaks trust. This is the equivalent of infidelity or cheating, for poly lovers.

Read: A Guide to Open Relationship Rules

8. Prioritizing Others Ahead of Partner

When your bestie, your boss, your parents, kids, pets, cousins, coworkers, neighbors, and everyone else is more important than your partner, trust can be broken. Don’t prioritize everyone else’s needs above your partner.

9. Unrealistic Self-Importance or Extreme Selfishness

On the other hand, a partner who is unwilling to accommodate others in your life can break trust, too.

Callous disregard for your other relationships breaks the trust that you believed in. For example, if one partner is caring for a sick child but the other insists on being number one and has no empathy for the emergency, that is a huge red flag.

Read: How to Put Your Needs First in Your Polycule

Two Women Arguing

How to Fix a Relationship when Your Trust is Broken

Fixing a relationship where trust has been broken is very difficult and requires doubling down on the commitment. The person who has broken the trust needs to earn it again. But everyone makes mistakes and if the relationship was wonderful, don’t throw it away. Work on repairing broken trust.

Take Time to Process and Heal from Broken Trust

Sometimes time is all you need. It can take time to nurse wounds from broken trust or to feel safe again.

Read: Time and Space in Polyamory Relationships

Decide if You Can Give Them another Chance

You have to decide whether forgiveness is healthy or possible in the situation you’re in. Think it through carefully, and don’t make emotional decisions one way or another. Come to terms with what has happened and think logically.

If you decide yes, give them that chance. Don’t turn the tables and constantly rub their face in the mess or manipulate them with the broken trust. You don’t want to break the trust they have in you just because they broke yours.

Couple Walking and Talking

Keep Talking

Open, honest, vulnerable communication is essential to recovering from broken trust.

Read: Tips for Maintaining Communication in Poly Relationships

Uncover What Led to Trust Being Broken

One purpose of the communication is to discover what led to the events that broke your trust. Were they feeling neglected or jealous? Are there deep psychological issues or was it truly an impulsive, poor decision? Try to figure out what was happening in your lives.

Read: 4 Jealousy Triggers & How to Deal

Recommit to Your Relationship Together

Both of you have to be all in. Commit to the relationship, to forgiveness, to change, and to giving yourselves to the relationship anew. Start fresh and build over if you had a good thing going.

Read: Commitment vs. Containment: An Important Distinction

Intimate polyamorous Couple in Bed

Know that Rebuilding Trust Takes Time

Once you’ve decided to move forward, don’t expect everything to be fine right away. You will naturally be uncertain about trusting your partner in various situations, from your experience. Be patient, and let them prove themselves to you over time.

Have you experienced broken trust in a relationship? Were able to move forward?

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