Demonstrating our trustworthiness builds relational bridges that self-advertisement cannot.
If you sense that your friend, partner, child, client, etc. feels hesitant to trust you, let them hesitate. Stay present, validate the experiences that led them to be cautious about who they trust, take responsibility for any of those experiences that you played a role in, and have patience.
If you feel pressured to give someone trust before they have earned it, that is a red flag that the relationship might not be a safe one to trust. It’s ok to trust your intuition and set really cautious boundaries in a relationship where there is pressure to move to an emotional depth that you aren’t yet comfortable consenting to.
What Is Trustworthiness, in A Relationship?
When searching for a literal definition of trust, one can find words like “confidence,” “dependence,” “reliance,” and “care.” Trustworthiness in a relationship looks like these words in action: A relationship in which you can have confidence that care will be provided, that you can rely on that person and depend on them for care. Healthy relationships are built on feeling the presence of these things consistently enough to trust that they’ll be there- they aren’t built on claims by one partner that say they exist.
How to Build Trust:
When asking how to build trust, or how to strengthen a sense of trustworthiness in your relationship, there are many resources to which you can turn for answers.
One resource is Dr. John Gottman, whose research and writing specifically look at relationships (full disclosure: a lot of it applies to couples and parent-child relationships, but the research can be understood and applied to many types of relationships). He even has a whole book written about it, called The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples.
One topic that Gottman discusses in regards to relationship is attunement (emotional responsiveness). Attunement is key in all relationships (romantic, platonic, parent-child, and even working relationships), especially when building (or rebuilding) trust. Dr. Gottman has a related acronym that helps relay pieces of trust-buildling:
- Awareness of the other person’s emotion;
- Turning toward the emotion;
- Tolerance of two different viewpoints (yours + the other person’s)
- trying to Understand the other person;
- Non-defensive responses to the other person;
- and responding with Empathy.
Trust-building and trustworthiness look like consistently and reliably turning toward the other and their experiences, emotions, and needs – and seeking to patiently meet those with compassion and empathy. (The reverse should also be true: the other person offering this same space and reaction in return to you. It’s something both adults and children can learn!)
Note: this will take time and practice (and will be on-going throughout your relationship). Be kind to yourself and to the other person as this process of trust-building occurs.
An important concept to include here, that is related to attunement and attachment (but also applies to trustworthiness) is the idea of “rupture and repair.” In short: mistakes happen and you may not demonstrate trustworthiness as well as you should or in a moment where it’s needed (rupture), but owning up to those mistakes, apologizing, and seeking to reconnect (repair) will help the relationship recover and move forward.
Trustworthiness is not simply saying that you trust someone or can be trusted by someone – it is the consistent action of showing care, consistent dependability, and reliability. Show up in the relationship with compassion and empathy, and seek to be attuned. Trust-building takes time, so be patient with the process, be okay with making mistakes, and learn how to move forward from them.