The Trust Required for Intimacy, and How to Build It

You expect to be able to trust your spouse. And that’s not an unreasonable expectation. But if your marriage is one of the many that suffer from an absence of trust, you know how horrible that feels. Before you can experience any real connection, you will have to do the hard work of building the trust required for intimacy.

Once honesty and safety have been established, building trust becomes possible. In short, trust means that you have confidence your spouse, in their words and actions, is for you and for the relationship.

Does your spouse sense you are truly for them and the relationship? Do you sense your spouse is truly for you and the relationship? If the answer is Yes, there is a considerable degree of trust between you.

If, on the other hand, you’re hiding certain things from your spouse, if you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, if part of you is expecting something hurtful from your spouse at any moment, there’s little trust present. The earlier stages in the journey to intimacy – honesty and safety – may be shaky or absent.

It’s a mistake to expect either of you to feel connected or experience intimacy until and unless trust has been established. Building trust for the first time takes effort. But trying to rebuild the trust required for intimacy after it’s been broken takes even a much larger amount of time and effort.

What Trust Means

You have an intuitive sense of whether you can trust your spouse or not, but here are a few specific ways in which trust works itself out:

  • You both say what you mean and mean what you say
  • You both follow through on what you say you will do
  • You both consistently seek the good of the relationship
  • You both have confidence the relationship is a priority to the other
  • You both refrain from doing things that harm the other or the relationship
  • You are both willing and able to engage in working through problems
  • You both invest what is required for the good of the relationship, putting more in than you expect to take out

No human being is without fault. Trust does not mean you never make mistakes; it means you care enough to admit it when you do, apologize, and do the hard work of changing. Trust does not mean you get all your needs met; it means you invest in meeting your spouse’s needs at least as much as in caring about your own.

This goes both ways in any relationship; you need to be able to trust your partner, and your partner needs to be able to trust you. You are for the relationship, and so is your spouse.

Easy to Break, Hard to Restore

Trust is somewhat fragile. There are many ways to break trust with your spouse, and once broken it’s difficult to rebuild. Certainly an emotional or physical affair is a betrayal of trust, but there’s much more. Using pornography, misusing or hiding money, allowing your bitterness or anger to regularly control your words and actions, withdrawing from engagement, treating your spouse as an object – those are just some of the ways that lead your spouse to believe you are NOT for them or the relationship.

If you feel you cannot trust your spouse, don’t ignore that feeling. Be honest with yourself about that, and then investigate further. If you’ve been deeply harmed in the past, choosing to trust may be difficult. A lack of trust isn’t automatically your spouse’s “fault;” sometimes you are reacting to ways other people hurt you that had nothing to do with your spouse.  But I’ve talked with many people who wish they had paid attention to the inner warning signs sooner. Own your intuition and check things out.

If your spouse doesn’t trust you, you’ve got a lot of work to do. I often have a spouse say to me, “I’ve apologized. Shouldn’t my spouse forgive me and move on?” No, an apology does not rebuild trust. Forgiveness deals with the past; trust deals with the future. Your spouse can forgive you and still not trust you.

Rebuilding Broken Trust

The way to rebuild the trust required for intimacy is to become a trustworthy person. That is likely to require radical transparency, and a willingness to listen and to do whatever seemingly unreasonable things are required for your spouse to see that you are different. If money was involved, rebuilding trust may require literally accounting for every penny coming and going. If sexual betrayal was a factor, this may mean your spouse has access to every device you have, access to your accountability partner(s), and your commitment to respond immediately to any text or call from them.

It takes time to demonstrate to your spouse that they need not fear being hurt in that way again. How long? It takes as long as it takes – often months to years. That’s something out of your control. Being out of control is hard! But if you want to be connected again, to be trusted again, that’s what it takes.

If you don’t feel you can trust your spouse, what might it take for you to begin to trust again? If your spouse can’t trust you, what will you do to demonstrate radical transparency? Just talking about those kinds of questions together can help demonstrate that you are both for each other and the relationship. And doing that waters the seeds of trust.

As Trust Grows

Trust doesn’t happen all at once; it grows usually slowly over time. Just putting intentional effort into building trust on top of a foundation of honesty and safety will develop and demonstrate trustworthiness. And as trust build, you will start to feel connected again.

If you’re trying to trust your spouse, know that it’s not “all or nothing.” Start in small ways. Extend a small measure of trust in an area where the stakes aren’t very high, and see how that turns out. If your spouse comes through, you may feel able to extend a little more next time.

And if you’re trying to get your spouse to trust you, just keep on becoming trustworthy. If you need some help to do this, get it! That might mean an accountability partner, a 12-step group, a Christian therapist. And you lose trust again any time you get defensive. Answer questions with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Say what you do and do what you say.

Growing trust again is possible. And the fruit of that trust is sweet. We’ll talk about that connection between you next time.

Your Turn: What is the trust level like between you and your spouse? How trustworthy are you? What are you going to do next to increase the trust level between you? Leave a comment below.

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  • Trust cannot happen without a foundation of honesty and safety. And trust is required before intimacy can develop in your marriage. Building trust is worth the effort. Tweet that.

Intimacy Not Good In Your Marriage?

When you said “I do” you were anticipating things would be good between you. But you may now be thinking, “This isn’t what I signed up for.”

It’s likely nobody ever taught you how to love well. Our online course Fully Alive Marriage shows you how to overcome the issues in your relationship, learn to love well, grow emotional and physical intimacy, and develop a healthy marriage that lasts.