When you hear, “trust exercises,” do you think of trust falls, blindfolded walks or three-legged races? You’re not alone. But while those may be fun activities, when it comes to building deeper trust in your romantic relationships — or repairing broken trust — the work is often less physical and silly.
But it is important. “Healthy partnerships aren’t possible without trust,” licensed clinical social worker Dr. Alisha Powell tells SheKnows. A breakdown of trust can lead to disengagement, lack of emotional and physical intimacy and even betrayal.
Nobody wants that. Put aside your plans to fall backward into your beloved’s arms. Here are the real trust-building behaviors worth practicing in your relationship.
Try extended eye contact
When is the last time you really spent a few moments looking into your partner’s eyes? If you can’t remember, an extended eye contact session may be just what the therapist ordered according to Kate Balestrieri, a licensed clinical psychologist and executive director of Triune Therapy Group.
“Eye contact is a really important way to be present with our partners,” she says. “We can be more empathic, we are able to discern what our partners are bringing to the table more readily, and we stay more connected.” And all of that leads to deeper trust.
More: How to Tell if a Relationship Issue Is a Deal Breaker
Work on your follow-through
Depending on whom you ask, our generation is a group of plan-canceling hermits. And while it might make for a funny social media post, consistently failing to do what you said you were going to do — whether it’s date night or taking out the garbage or dropping the kids off at school — starts to train our partners not to believe us, Balestrieri says.
That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. “What I think is important is when you make a commitment to do something, you follow through to the best of your ability, and if you can’t, you’re accountable proactively,” she says. That means own up to how you messed up, apologize and explain how you’ll fix it or do better next time — and then actually do that.
More: 6 Signs You & Your Partner Have a Disconnect
Share your plans
Especially in couples who are dealing with a serious act of betrayal like fidelity, sharing your plans before your partner’s suspicions have the slightest chance of getting aroused is huge, Powell says. “If you’re going to be late or you’re going out to dinner with friends, that you give [them] a phone call to let [them] know,” she says. That also means having a conversation about what the boundaries are that make your partner feel safe so you know what expectations need to be met.
More: 10 Signs of a Healthy Relationship
Talk about previous betrayals
Even if there hasn’t been a betrayal in your relationship, old hurts can inform you or your partner’s behavior. Maybe they had a partner or a parent who was unfaithful in the past. Maybe their parents lacked consistency growing up. Whatever it is, getting to the bottom of it can help you know how to move forward. “Understanding the root of people’s triggers can help us be more sensitive in either avoiding them or anticipating them and collaboratively planning ahead,” Balestrieri says.
Share upcoming stressors
What tends to make us less consistent with each other? When we’re stressed or overwhelmed. Getting in the practice of sharing upcoming stressful events can be huge in keeping trust strong between partners, Powell says. “As they’re both disclosing really personal things about what’s going on in their lives and what’s stressing them out… they’re also building that emotional connection with each other.” And emotional connection breeds trust.
Practice active listening
All this talking doesn’t do much good if both partners aren’t practicing active listening. Listening without interruption and summarizing what the other person has said to be sure you’ve understood them are key parts of being an active listener. But Powell has another tip to help couples communicate honestly — after a partner has finished speaking (and the other partner listening), she has them ask an important question: Do you feel understood right now? “And they can answer yes or no,” she says. “And then the partner gets that feedback as well.”
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