Trust and Lasting Relationships

trust /trʌst/

–noun

  1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.

If you ask Dictionary.com for the definition of trust, it gives you many results.  This is not surprising given that trust is a complex concept that underlies, perhaps, every relationship between two or more people. Trust is important in law, politics, business, friendships and, of course, lasting and healthy relationships.

When I think of trust in relationships two somewhat competing thoughts come to mind.  First, because it is such an integral part of a relationship, it is no wonder that violations of trust can have such serious consequences. Second, if it is such an integral part of a relationship, why do so many people seem willing to break it?

Certainly trust underlies many aspects of a lasting relationship.  We trust our partners not to blow our life savings on a yacht (oh, if only my life savings could buy a yacht); we trust them to deal with our children as we agreed to; and we trust them not to have secret relationships with others.  But what happens if our partner violates our trust? Is that the end of the relationship?  One strike and you’re out? In most instances, one violation of trust is unlikely to be the end of a relationship.  But if the relationship is going to continue there must be some process where trust is recovered.

In a recent article in the journal Psychological Science, Michael Haselhuhn and his colleagues identify one variable that plays a role in decisions to re-establish trust in a relationship–whether or not we believe that people can change.  They found that those who believe that character can change over time were more likely to re-establish trust following a violation than those who believe that character is fixed and unchangeable.

So, what do you believe? Other research has shown that this belief—that people can or cannot change their personal attributes and corresponding behavior—plays a large role in relationships.  And the issue isn’t really whether we can actually change—most psychologists agree that change is possible.  The issue really is our perception of the possibility of change.  Spend some time thinking about what you believe. Talk with your partner about their beliefs. Doing so can have at least two benefits. One is that discussing your beliefs will help you when you need to rely on them in a particular situation.  A second benefit is that just having substantive conversations like this can improve relationship satisfaction (see our post on this topic).

In case you are interested …..

Haselhuhn, M. P., Schweitzer, M. E., & Wood, A. M.(2010). How implicit beliefs influence trust recovery. Psychological Science, 21, 645-648.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.