How to Build Trust and Honesty in a Relationship

couple smiling and taking a selfie

By Gabrielle Smith 

Trust and honesty are fixtures in any healthy relationship because they allow you to feel safe and secure with a partner. That feeling of safety also leads to fostering true intimacy and closeness. All of that has to be earned, though—which can take some work. So we spoke to the experts about how to cultivate trust and honesty in a relationship. Take notes!

Know honesty is more than just telling the truth

It’s important to understand that honesty in relationships is more than not telling lies; it means that your intentions, actions, and words are void of deception or withholding. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you’re concealing something you should admit, ask yourself: if my partner knew about it would they be upset? Would they think I crossed a line? 

Commit to building a solid foundation

“You can foster trust in a relationship by communicating your needs,” says sexologist Marla Renee Stewart. She adds that it’s a smart idea to define your boundaries and expectations with each other early in the relationship. That way, you’re both less likely to unknowingly cross boundaries which can cause ruptures and erode trust. 

Trust will also grow in a relationship when you routinely make good on your promises, which can include small things like arriving to dates on time, or bigger things like ensuring your partner feels confident in you. This means being realistic about your ability or capacity to show up for them. When you’re honest about what you can deliver and consistently follow through, your partner will be able to trust that you do what you say, which can lead to trust in other parts of your relationship as well. 

Don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations

Being honest with them means that you may have some tough conversations, but that’s a good thing! Having open communication makes us feel safe and encourages trust. To make sure that your partner feels comfortable being honest and vulnerable with you, start by being open with them first. Things that seem difficult to bring up—like insecurities about other people in their life, or behaviors that may trigger you—are important to communicate and may be a good place to start. 

In order to help a partner feel safe in a vulnerable conversation, sexologist and psychotherapist Dr. Kristie Overstreet suggests asking something like “What action, words, or behaviors would help you feel more secure and more trusting?” And when sharing something that may hurt your partner’s feelings, it’s often a worthwhile practice to preempt these hard conversations with an affirmation that you care for them and are committed to the relationship. 

Create an atmosphere that encourages vulnerability

Another way to foster honesty in a relationship is by creating an atmosphere that feels safe. “Avoid being judgmental of your partner,” says psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz. “This doesn’t mean you can’t note difficulties or mistakes, but avoid being condemning, overly critical, or condescending because it will prevent them from being honest with you.”

Disagreements should be conversations, not arguments. If you hear something you don’t like, try not to react immediately. Give your partner the space to be open with you and finish their thoughts. When you do respond, choose your words carefully. Even if you don’t agree, most of the time it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Trust broken? Own up to it before your partner finds out on their own

If you do something to break trust in your relationship, the best thing to do is to tell your partner before they find out. The longer you go without telling them, the longer they’re likely to doubt your trustworthiness in the future. 

“Your ability to say you’re sorry and be vulnerable shows your partner that you value them and are willing to do your part in the relationship,” says Dr. Overstreet. When you come to them with your mistake, it will be easier for them to believe that you are truly remorseful.

Knowing that your partner can and will be honest with you is the first step in creating that solid foundation we all need. Remember, relationships require continuous upkeep! So make sure to keep checking in, keep telling the truth, and keep showing up for your partner every day. These can be the keys to maintaining a meaningful and loving relationship.