Managing each other’s expectations in a relationship can be challenging, but here are five steps to building the trust required for a solid foundation from which you can grow together.

Today we had a meeting. Sigh… The dreaded meeting!

Being a couple and working together is complex. We’re both strong-willed and passionate about what we do, so it’s easy for us to slip into a mode where we single-mindedly pursue what we believe is the best course of action.

It triggers us both for different reasons and our defences go up. There’s nothing concrete about what was said or done during the meeting itself, but there was a tenseness to it, and even though it met its goals, it left us feeling unfulfilled.

We are two individuals, but being single-minded about our individual goals is totally counter to the higher purpose of being united as a couple. We need to be couple-minded rather than single-minded and like everyone else in that department, we are still a work in progress.

Thankfully, our guardedness with each other dissipates outside the context of these ‘work meetings’, but for many couples, the experience of unease is not episodic or context-dependent like this, but rather persists throughout their relationship. It makes for a very untrusting and ultimately toxic environment.

Being guarded or defended around each other is a sign that there is an absence of trust in each other; we don’t trust the other to be looking out for us, having our back, accepting us for who we are, or simply being interested in us. Trust is essential for genuine intimacy in any relationship, especially so in marriage.

A solid foundation of trust enables us to be vulnerable with each other, to be willing to share our inner life with the other. A trusting relationship also frees us to focus on self-improvement, instead of our energies being absorbed in defending ourselves and looking for fault in the other.

While women tend to complain more than men about not being able to trust their spouse, the truth is that trust is an issue for both. So how do we deepen, build and restore trust?

1: Deal with your anger

We once talked with a young mother who lived in fear of her husband’s temper. He had never physically threatened, let alone harmed her or their child. In fact, she could only point to one incident months previously where he had really lost his cool in an angry outburst and made her fear for her child’s safety, whom he was holding at the time.

Unregulated anger leaves persistent scars. It’s very hard to maintain a sense of trust with someone who is angry, even when that anger is directed at a third party.

Men are equally vulnerable to a woman’s anger as women are to male anger, although they often experience it differently. Women are more likely to feel physically unsafe, whereas men will more likely feel emotionally unsafe. Either way, if you have an anger issue, deal with it and get professional help if necessary.

2: Priority for truth

Withholding information out of shame or fear of making the other worry intensifies the sense of betrayal when the truth eventually comes out and is almost always counter-productive. If you want to be trusted, make a radical commitment to the truth.

Give full disclosure; no half-truths or deliberate misrepresentation. No secret habits or private spending. Volunteer information before it’s requested. You made a commitment to share your all with each other, so be an open book.

3: Keep your promises

It sounds simple, but the reality is that we don’t trust someone who breaks promises. Obviously, breaking our wedding vows is a major trust-buster, but even small things, like not arriving home at the time we promised or failing to meet a commitment to keep a confidence, all have an impact. These small missteps might seem trivial, but they have a cumulative effect so that the net impact ends up being very significant.

4: Do it promptly

If your spouse asks you to do something, and you can do it, and you intend to do it, say so… and then follow through promptly. Don’t put it off so that they have to remind you again and again to get any action. Everybody hates doing that. Don’t put each other in a situation where they’re compelled to be the nag.

This is especially so with parenting. If your spouse asks you to change the baby’s nappy, doing it tomorrow isn’t going to cut it. The kid’s sitting in poo — if you’re not up and on to it in under 10 seconds your spouse will do it themselves and you’ve proven that you can’t be trusted to follow through.

When your spouse asks you to do something, ask what the timeframe expectations are and then do it in the time expected as a minimum. Do it faster if you want extra points!

5: Apologise for stuff-ups

You will stuff up. When it happens, you can undo a lot of the damage by promptly and humbly apologising and doing what you can to rectify the situation. Nothing builds trust quite like accepting responsibility without making excuses or diverting blame.

Humility goes a long way in building trust, but you also need to demonstrate your sincerity with reparative action. So follow up your verbal apology with concrete action.

Trust is a precious commodity in a relationship. When absent, it sucks the positive energy out of a marriage as each spouse expends energy keeping their defences intact.

Conversely, when trust is strong, the relationship thrives and allows both spouses to be vulnerable with each other. It allows us to be more authentically ourselves, to grow and develop into the people we are created to be.


Originally published at SmartLoving. Photo by Trung Nguyen.

Published On: April 23rd, 20220 CommentsTags: , , , , , , ,

About the Author: Byron and Francine Pirola

Married for 25 years, with 5 children, Byron & Francine Pirola are the founders and co-authors of the SmartLoving Series – marriage enrichment and marriage preparation courses designed to help build successful and resilient marriages. International speakers and authors of numerous articles on marriage, more than 3000 couples have attended their programs, workshops and conferences in Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain Byron & Francine are Executive Directors of the Marriage Resource Centre from which they run SmartLoving programs and produce digital resources. Francine graduated from Fordham University with a Masters in Religion and Religious Education. Byron is a founding partner of the strategic consulting firm, Port Jackson Partners Limited, and a Director of both listed and unlisted companies. He holds a PhD from the Commonwealth Centre for Gene Technology, Adelaide University.

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