A young couple at home, the husband is looking at his wife's phone over her shoulder

Distrust in Your Relationship

A relationship can lead to many wonders. Even with the adjustments to our personal lives, being able to find someone to share life with can be the start of an amazing chapter. Whether it’s the opportunity to have common interests or share personal details that we don’t feel comfortable sharing with others, there is a certain level of trust that comes with being with your partner.

Trust is fundamental in the sense that it begins to lay the groundwork for being able to communicate things like affection and safety. In many relationships, particularly romantic ones, people can trust that those such as partners will show their affection to them. This in turn allows the relationship to function effectively and create a stronger willingness to share intimacy with each other.

People can make it a certain point to have faith and believe that our partners would treat us right. So much so that trust is built from the indication that our partner has our backs and are willing to walk together with us, rather than in front of behind.

What happens then, if we notice in the relationship that our trust is pulling away?

Let’s say as an example that you start to notice a drift in your relationship. We’re not too sure where this drift comes from but there is an unsettling feeling. This feeling leads our minds to wander and wonder if something is hidden or not being disclosed. This is a general example of what distrust can look like: an absent state of trust that can stem from a betrayal or something else, that leads to the possibility of a diminished relationship.

John Gottman in his 2019 book, “Eight Dates”, states that trust is a crucial part of any relationship, particularly in a romantic one. The trust that comes from vulnerability and commitment are foundational aspects of the relationship that build on the sense of dependability and reliability. That we are able to depend and rely on our partners to hold space for us and to feel special when we are at a low point.

When distrust is seen in a relationship, however, being able to rebuild and regain trust can be difficult. If a relationship were to end because of broken trust, the deep connection we feel can also be hard to regain in future relationships. Because we as humans learn from our experiences; and to have the experience of having our trust be misplaced, it can lead to questions about whether other or new people can be trusted as well.

Like trust, distrust is learned. It is a result of something experienced in the relationship. With some, distrust can come from those who might be wary. Other times, there may not be evident reasons to be distrusting. Particularly for those who may have been past victims of betrayal or being in too trusting of an environment, building trust can be a laboring and difficult process.

Consider these following points when thinking about distrust in a relationship:

1. Secrets

Communicating with your partner about both the big and small things can create interest in personal thoughts and opinions. Vulnerability in a relationship can be built from being able to talk about uncomfortable topics and feelings. Bear in mind then that while some things like personal habits might sound irrelevant in a relationship, but are still valid topics to share and find space to be comfortable in.

Not being able to comfortably share about life and experiences can be a harsh sign of not being able to trust your partner with the vulnerable parts of yourself. Avoiding the conversation not only creates a level of uncertainty about the relationship, but it also pulls us away from each other, if it doesn’t push it away.

2. Behaviors

Feeling distrust can be a complex series of emotions and behaviors. Behaviors such as these might involve measures taken to insidiously learn about one’s partner. This may look like going through their belongings or other personal items such as messages. If someone, for example, were to have the perception that their partner is sharing less than expected or that it is a known tendency, there may be a higher risk of snooping in relation to a lower level of trust.

It can also be helpful here to look at this article regarding attachment styles. Particularly as certain attachment styles place a focus on an uncertainty of how close we are to friends and partners.

3. Relationship History

Many times, it is not uncommon to think about any past relationships or experiences when a new one starts. Thoughts or questions such as, “Will they hurt me too?” or “They’ll probably leave me too” are the cause of a shattered trust in the relationship. While these can all be valid points and concerns, it’s also important to recognize that the current relationship is not the same as the past in the same regard as this is a completely different person and not the same as the last. Reflecting on the patterns of the past can be insightful in recognizing what and what not to do.

Similarly, past relationships can also have a role in your partner’s relationship dynamics with you too. Depending on the situation and experience, similar thoughts or questions may arise from your partner. Not to say that all past relationships will have a role to play. It is, however, important to be mindful of its role in your current relationship.

4. Guarded

Referencing the experiences mentioned in the previous point, emotional pains such as betrayals and relationship histories can unconsciously build walls within ourselves. These walls can be viewed as a sort of defense for any personal thoughts and feelings that we don’t want to expose to others.

Imagine, for example, a relationship where one partner has had experiences in the past of relationship trauma. Imagine then that this same partner has concerns or even fears that their current relationship could wind up being the same. This can create a sense of distrust and a guard from their partner where one wants to know about the other and the other in turn is afraid of being emotionally vulnerable.

Transparency is important in the relationship. Guards can come down as more work and effort is put into reflecting on one’s experiences and placing trust in the current relationship. 

5. Missing Intimacy

In many if not all relationships, love affects trust and trust leads into love. Trust is almost always introduced prior to feeling emotions such as love and affection. Take into consideration the previous points about emotional hurt, walls being up, and past relationships. Intimacy is a part of the love that is formed within the relationship. To not have the intimacy as strong as it was whether it was because of a betrayal or because of past experiences, the distance created can lead to the distrust that we see.

As important previous points are, it’s also valid to recognize that these are common indicators. There may be more that relate to you on an individual level.

Closing Thoughts

Trust is an important part in any relationship. It creates the foundations for deeper intimacy and affection in a romance. However, past experiences such as betrayals or even personal feelings of worry about trusting others can lead to experiences of distrust.

Like a wildfire, distrust can start off small and can spread throughout many areas of a relationship. Proactive communication and establishing dialogue around these feelings can help to counter distrust, considering that trust is built from communication.

It’s important to acknowledge what sparks your emotions, particularly distrust, in your relationship. Creating dialogue around that can be a way to establish a baseline for where to begin working on your relationship concerns.