Why doesn’t my partner trust me?
If you’ve asked this question recently—or frequently—I’m going to assume you haven’t given your partner valid reasons for being suspicious of your motivations or behavior (currently or recently involved in an affair, regularly hiding things from them, habitual lying, etc.). If you do these things, then you probably already have an answer to this question!
So, you aren’t having an affair, you don’t lie to your partner or hide things from them, why do they have a hard time trusting you or don’t trust you?
Your Partner’s Life Experiences Might Make It Difficult for Them to Trust You…….and Everyone!
Our past experiences—in our families growing up and in our past relationships—can create a template of what to expect in our current relationships. If your partner grew up in an environment where the parent(s) or past romantic partners weren’t trustworthy, frequently didn’t follow through on their promises, or made your partner feel like they weren’t important, worthy, or valuable, then they have learned through life experiences that important people in their life aren’t reliable and may not be trustworthy.
These experiences set up an expectation that important people in their life are likely to hurt them or leave them—or both. When someone has a sense of unworthiness or not mattering, they also frequently wonder, “Why would you stay with me, want me, love me.”
These experiences can transform into fears, suspicions, and expectations even when you haven’t given your partner any reason to doubt your love, trustworthiness, or devotion.
You are also likely to notice that your partner is generally distrustful of most people’s motivations. Their expectations of others are that they’ll be let down and cast aside—but since you are the most important person in their life, their fears in this area will likely come out most strongly around you!
Your Attempts to Manage this Situation Aren’t Working or are Likely Making Things Worse
I get it; the frequent (or constant) questioning is tiresome. It’s unfair to be accused of things you haven’t done. It’s not fun to be in a relationship where you feel your integrity is constantly being challenged. It’s hard to feel close to and connected to someone who is frequently suspicious of you. It hurts, and it’s hurting your relationship.
You’re likely burned out (or close to it) by trying to manage this difficult aspect of your relationship. You might find yourself doing some of the following to try and manage mistrust.
It’s unlikely that all of these apply to you, but they are common responses to a partner’s mistrust that don’t work or that can make the situation worse:
1. You Offer Reassurances: You’ve tried reassuring your partner that their fears aren’t true, that you love them, and that you aren’t running around with someone behind their back. No amount of reassurance has made things better. They might decrease the heat for a time, but the fears, questions, and accusations always come back.
2. You Ignore: Ignoring the questions or refusing to answer sometimes shuts down a conversation, but it hasn’t solved the problem. The concerns and fears are still strong as ever. And sometimes, this tactic increases your partner’s fears because they interpret your refusal to engage as proof of your guilt!
3. You Get Angry: Angrily defending yourself also sometimes works by getting your partner to back off for a bit, but again, this only temporarily stops the conversations. The underlying fears and worries pop up again later, sometimes with more intensity, again because your partner may misinterpret your anger as a sign of guilt.
4. You Give In: Sometimes you are so at a loss for what to do that you just give in to your partner’s demands.
· They want to know where you are at all times of the day—so you check in before every move.
· They are convinced you have secret relationships by email, text, or via social media so you provide them with your passwords and access to your accounts.
· They don’t like your friends or are suspicious of what you do with them, so you spend less and less time with them.
· They are jealous of your time engaging in hobbies, so you reduce your involvement with them.
But none of these actions actually lead to a more trusting relationship, they just decrease your partner’s worry and anxiety, thus decreasing the heat on you…..for a time.
This bargain sometimes seems worth it in the short term, but over the long term, you begin to feel frustrated, bitter, and controlled.
5. You Begin to Selectively Manage What You Tell Your Partner: You’re not engaging in anything problematic, but you begin to leave out information about events because you know if you shared all the details, it would start a fight.
- Maybe you don’t tell your partner the names of every colleague that was at the work lunch.
- How much you spent on that concert or afternoon out?
- What do you really think about a topic you know you disagree on?
- Who you bumped into at the store?
- How do you really feel about the relationship?
Even if each encounter, activity, or thought is truly innocent and you’re just attempting to shield information from your partner because you know they will read things into it or misinterpret things, this process of selectively telling them the whole story, when it comes out, adds rocket fuel to their worries and fears and confirms to them that what they fear is true.
So, What Should I Do If My Partner Doesn’t Trust Me?
It’s important to understand that there isn’t any one thing that you can say or do that will change this dynamic in your relationship or that will ease all your partner’s fears and anxieties. Below are a few important steps you can take personally and together that will help you manage and address trust dynamics in your relationship.
1. Be Clear About Your Own Motivations: Are you acting in ways consistent with your own values? Are you being clear and honest in your words and actions with your partner? Are you hiding things? It’s human nature to rationalize our actions, so the first step is to be clear that yes, you aren’t acting in ways that could lead to mistrust in your relationship.
2. Try to Empathically Connect to Your Partner’s Past: Get to know your partner’s experience better. What’s their story? What happened? How have they been hurt, mistreated, or made to feel unimportant or unworthy? Knowing why they react the way they do can help you to be more empathic when they struggle to trust you and others.
3. Remind Yourself That It’s Not About You: Not taking things personally helps us not to get defensive, angry, and reactive. Reminding yourself that your partner’s reaction is more about their experiences from the past showing up in the present than about your own actions helps you to take a step back and not take your partner’s behavior so personally.
4. Tell the Truth: Don’t withhold or hide information to avoid arguments. Although it might seem like the best strategy now, long-term it just serves to inflame your partner’s worries and fears.
5. Look for Ways to Love Your Partner Well: Do you spend quality time together? Do you laugh together, and have fun together? Do you look for ways to express your gratitude for the things that your partner does? Do you let them know, in words and actions, that they are important to you? A strong relationship won’t magically relieve your partner of their fears and worries, but a struggling relationship will stoke their fears.
6. Set Boundaries: It’s okay to have friends, engage in hobbies, and be active on social media. It’s important for you and your partner to have an open and clear conversation about boundaries in your relationship—what’s appropriate and what’s not. If this kind of conversation is not possible or extremely difficult to have, it’s a strong sign that it might be time to seek help from a therapist.
7. Encourage Your Partner to Begin Therapy: Therapy can help your partner understand how their past has created and maintained their worries and anxiety in the present and can be an important first step in building greater self-worth and in quieting their current fears. Exercising self-compassion and beginning to see greater value in themselves will allow them to connect to themselves and to you in deeper and more authentic ways.
8. Attend Couples Therapy Together: Mistrust in a relationship can lead to additional hurts and complicated, ineffective relationship dynamics that often are best addressed in couples therapy. Finding a relationship expert to help you navigate difficult conversations, set boundaries, and gain the capacity and skills to connect in more meaningful ways can be an essential step in changing the dynamics in your relationship.
It can be tempting to try and resolve the issue of mistrust by attempting to eliminate or convince away any potential risks to the relationship – eliminating any and all opportunities to deceive, betray, or hurt (e.g. strict boundaries around who, what, when, and where you can spend your time, what you can think about, what you can desire). Unfortunately, in doing so, this often leaves partners feeling controlled or lacking independence and doesn’t get to the bottom of the fears in a way that truly builds trust. After all, if no risks exist, no trust is required. Unfortunately, all relationships come with built-in risks that require us to manage these fears in ways that don’t turn into blaming or avoidance. Talking through the pain and difficulties involved in vulnerably trusting someone with your heart can help you and your partner weather the storms of fear and suspicions in ways that deepen the connection.