Trust is the cornerstone of every good relationship. It is the foundation of a strong bond. To trust another person is to feel a sense of security that someone has your back, the confidence that they’ll be there for you when you need them, and the comfort of knowing that whatever you face in life, you’re not alone. Trust is a bedrock of emotional support, a catalyst for open and honest communication, and one of the most important aspects of an open relationship.
How Do You Build Trust In Open Relationships?
Act With Integrity
In monogamous relationships, trust and integrity are bound to emotional and physical monogamy with a partner. To break this monogamy would severely compromise the trust in the relationship. The prerequisite of monogamy doesn’t hold in open relationships, however conducting yourself with integrity is even more important in building trust, simply because negative feelings like jealousy, fear of abandonment, and not measuring up are far more likely to crop up in non-traditional relationships.
Many of the negative emotions we experience in our relationships manifest because of our fear of the unknown. Uncertainty surfaces when we can’t predict with reasonable accuracy how our partners will act in a given situation. This uncertainty breeds fear and distress as our minds automatically jump to the worst case scenario. This is especially true when trust is low, communication is poor, or the relationship is new and you’re still getting to know one another. Over time, we construct mental schemas of our partners based on experience. Assuming that the relationship is a healthy one, uncertainty diminishes as we get to know our partners more intimately and refine our predictions accordingly. Until that stage however, our predictions are cobbled together from our previous relationship experiences, social and cultural norms, and projection of our own values and fears onto our partners. Whenever our partners conform to our positive predictions, trust grows. When they fall short, our trust and confidence in them and in the relationship is shaken. When our expectations are seriously violated, trust is shattered.
One way to reduce uncertainty and dissolve emotional negativity is to act with integrity. By acting in a way that is consistent with the boundaries of your particular relationship and your partner’s emotional wellbeing, you build a track record of trust. With a strong bond of trust, your partner can be confident in the knowledge that you will act in their best interests and not hurt them.
Although you may consistently operate within your relationship boundaries, there will always be times in a relationship – especially an open relationship – where uncertainty is unavoidable. It’s impossible to define every single relationship boundary upfront, but situations with no pre-established boundaries are no excuse for breaking your partner’s trust. If an explicit boundary does not exist, common sense should prevail. Whenever you find yourself in uncharted relationship territory, consider the following questions:
- Would I say or do this if my partner were here, sitting right next to me?
- How would I feel if my partner did to me what I’m considering?
If the answers are “no” and “hurt”, then it’s immediately apparent where the ethical choice and the right choice for maintaining a healthy, trusting relationship lies.
Communicate Your Intentions Clearly
In Western society, the typical relationship prototype is a heterosexual monogamous relationship with a view to life partnership, marriage, and having children. Whether or not you personally identify or agree with this particular relationship style is irrelevant; this is the default assumption that will be bestowed upon you by partners unless you explicitly declare otherwise. If your ideal relationship falls outside of these parameters and you cannot or choose not to conform to the default, then make sure that you are damn clear about that upfront. There’s no faster way to destroy trust than to violate someone’s deeply held expectations of their relationship with you.
Your choice to deviate from a vanilla relationship style will sometimes mean that the people who you want to connect with will choose not to connect with you. Not everyone wants the same things out of their relationships, and other people have the absolute right to connect or disconnect from you based on whether your desires match their own. Be prepared for this, and do not fall into the trap of sugar-coating your intentions based on your hormones. Never lie to people just to get what you want. Pay them the respect of being honest with them about your desires and expectations. Your personal integrity and another person’s emotional wellbeing are worth far more than an inauthentic connection.
Be Your Authentic Self
When you’re just starting out in a relationship, it’s standard practise to be on your best behaviour. Putting your best foot forward is just good marketing. Taking an interest in things which you haven’t previously been exposed to is open-minded and pro-growth. These things are a far cry from pretending to be someone you’re not. Lying about yourself, your past, circumstances, intentions, desires, interests or anything else with a view to coerce or manipulate another person for your own gain is underhanded, deceitful, and the height of disrespect to your partner.
If you need to lie about or hide anything from your partner for fear that they’ll leave you if they knew, then they don’t love YOU. They may love the mask that you’re showing them, but you know deep down that it’s just a mask. You’ll never have that security or peace of mind that comes from someone knowing and loving the REAL you.
Wouldn’t you rather be with someone who loves and accepts the real you, as opposed to someone whose feelings for you are built upon a foundation of lies?
Listen to Understand
It’s a fact of life that you and your partner will have the occasional misunderstanding. They’ll take something you say or do the wrong way. They’ll have an unwavering point of view on a subject that is bewilderingly uninformed. They’ll react to a benign situation with jealousy, anger, or distress. They’ll be upset because you’ve neglected to do something that is of negligible importance to you, but vitally important to them. At some stage during your relationship, you’ll experience all of the above and more. Regardless of how off-base or irrational you deem your partner’s feelings to be, to your partner those feelings are both real and intense. Hear them out and work through them together if you want to keep the lines of honest communication open, your trust strong, and your relationship healthy. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with your partner’s opinion. Agreement is not a prerequisite to attentive listening, compassion, and desire to understand a point of view that differs from your own. When we feel threatened emotionally or physically, we default to a flight-or-fight mentality which is counter-productive to healthy communication. Instead of running or attacking, try to realise that your partner just wants to be heard and understood. Sweeping misunderstandings under the carpet doesn’t make them go away. Nor does angrily backing your partner into the “you’re-wrong-and-an-asshole” corner and giving it to them both barrels loaded. So give your partner a safe forum to discuss their concerns without judgment or anger and to have their feelings validated and respected. Treat them with the same love and respect as what you would want them to show you if the roles were reversed.
Go for Win-Win
Relationships are not competitive. When you fall prey to the I’m right/you’re wrong dichotomy, you’re left with a corrosive power imbalance that will eat away at the relationship. Generally, the most stubborn, aggressive, or dominant personality will get their way in a relationship, while the easygoing, passive or submissive personality will concede in order to keep the peace. If you are the stronger personality in the relationship, these interactions may feel like a temporary win. You get “one-up” and “your way”, but there are hidden costs to these win-lose interactions that slink by unnoticed. A consistent win-lose approach will drive cracks of resentment deep into your relationship’s foundation and chip away at your bond of trust. Power dynamics within a relationship are difficult to shift once established, and without due care that both parties are equally represented in conflict resolution, the relationship is in for one hell of a rude shock once the under-represented party blows their stack. Instead of trying to be top-dog and win arguments to your partner’s detriment, try guiding your disagreements towards a more constructive win-win approach. With win-win thinking, both partners feel heard and respected rather than resentful and downtrodden. Often, it is possible to reach a compromise in which both parties come away happy and have their needs met.
Trust takes persistence and cumulative, sustained effort to build, but only an instant to break. Don’t let the hard work you put into building a great relationship be ripped apart at the seams by a moment of thoughtlessness.
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