Trust in relationships: New research reveals its unique importance

It may not be surprising to hear that trust is a key factor in successful partnerships. In fact, an entire branch of relationship psychology called “attachment theory” argues that trust is really the primary experience we seek in a relationship. A romantic relationship, like a mother-child relationship, is based on being able to place complete trust in another person. Trusting your spouse to follow through with their promises, to support you, to be faithful…on the whole, to not hurt or abandon you. We long for someone to trust.

New research has deepened our understanding of the ways that trust in relationships works. Trust is a two-fold concept. Firstly, trust can describe whether or not you can predict someone’s behavior based on what they say. Secondly, trust is a perspective. This latest study from Northwestern University and Redeemer University College in Ontario, Canada finds that while trusting people could be considered delusional (and may sometimes be hurt as a result of their trusting nature) this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, people who have trusting personalities enjoy better relationships. This is because people who are trusting have a mental perspective that is likely to be less burdened by past occurrences or future worries.

The study found that a strong degree of trust in relationships indicated reduced animosity regarding past problems since those memories were often recalled as less severe than initially perceived. “You can remember your partner as better or as worse than he/she really was, and those biased memories are important determinants of how you think about your partner and your relationship,” explained the study’s lead author Laura B. Luchies. Subjects with a personality inclined towards trust were observed to avoid lingering on specifics in their relationship history which allowed for increased acceptance and forgiveness of past offenses. A trusting perspective was found to allow for release of the resentment, even at a subtle level, and foster a collaborative sense of trust in relationships.

Trust in relationships
Those who show greater trust in relationships have better marriages.

A trusting personality also positively effected future outcomes of a variety of inter-personal challenges. For example, someone who is chronically nervous about his partner’s fidelity may drive away partners before being able to reach a point of honest discussion. A trusting mind is often less preoccupied and more able to focus more on the positive and current aspects of social interaction. This more relaxed and trusting attitude invites communication and honesty from the other partner and is likely to result in generally stronger marriages.

The best bet for a happy marriage?  Be trusting, be positive, and always assume the best in your spouse. You will be rewarded by your spouse with love, positivity and trust in return. Of course, this is easy to say and not so easy for everyone to do. A suspicious mind may be suspicious for a good reason, such as an emotionally devastating past trust betrayal or infidelity. At the same time, not displaying trust in a partner creates an atmosphere of distance and hostility and, ultimately, prevents the forming of a truly connected relationship. Seeking the counsel of a therapist both alone and with your spouse is an excellent idea for truly working through trust in relationships issues. This is absolutely necessary if the trust betrayal has occurred with your current partner. An online counseling tool such as Power of Two Marriage can help you to apply and update the lessons gleaned from a therapist.

What else can you do? Research on trust in relationships is often rooted in personality. You can’t change your personality, right? Wrong. Personality, like habits, is quite malleable within a range. There are options for increasing trust within a partnership. If you have a naturally more “on-guard” personality, try this trust experiment to open yourself up to your partner: Delegate small responsibilities such as the necessary tasks of picking up kids for the weekly carpool or tending houseplants. Eventually, knowing a partner can be relied on for tasks outside of the personal relationship can foster deepening trust within it.

Trust truly is an investment. Rather than exhibiting lack of trust in your partner until he or she proves you otherwise, first investing trust (and responsibility) in others often encourages them to “step up to the plate.” Reinforcing this behavior with displays of gratitude and loving appreciation will create a cycle of trust and positivity in your marriage.

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