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How to Build Trust in Marriage

How to Build Trust in Marriage

Without trust in your marriage, you are headed for an abusive relationship (or may be in one already).


Trust is probably the most important ingredient in building an intimate relationship between husband and wife. Trust is something that can be cultivated and nurtured if you will follow the guidelines below.

I can sum up the essence of building trust in one idea: Create a safe emotional space for your spouse. If you are not actively working to build a safe emotional space, than you are probably building an unsafe one.

If you're not working to build a safe emotional space, then you're probably building an unsafe one.

A colleague of mine who is known for his wisdom as an educator in Los Angeles defines an abusive relationship in the following way. He suggests that an abusive relationship is one in which one person is afraid to express his or her feelings and opinions.

Needless to say, an abusive relationship is one where there is no trust. The key to avoiding abuse and promoting trust is to consciously strive everyday to build a safe emotional space. And let me say at the outset that, if you feel you are in an abusive relationship based on the definition I just gave, seek help immediately. Never tolerate abuse!

Guidelines for Creating Safe Emotional Space


  • Constantly work to improve your communication skills.

Develop the skill of being a good listener, which is one of the hardest skills to develop.

Being a good listener means you don't interrupt your spouse. This requires great discipline and respect. Learn to ask, "Are you finished?" Always make sure you've fully understood what the other person has said.

A simple tool to use for this is the well known "mirroring technique." You reflect back what the other person has said. It may sound a bit contrived but, believe me, it really works. What you have to learn to do is say something like, "Let me make sure that I've understood what you just said. It sounded to me that you want me to..."

If you are an "advanced" listener, try not only to reflect back the content, but the emotional tone as well. For example, "It seems you are really annoyed with me and you want me to be more careful the next time I..."

A crucial component of good communication is the consistent use "I-statements" as opposed to "you-statements." I statements unite, while you-statements alienate and create distance. An I-statement begins with "I feel ... " A you-statement begins with "You make me feel..."

A you-statement is almost always experienced as an attack. When I own my feelings and opinions by using an I-statement, I am communicating that I am taking responsibility for the issue and not blaming my spouse.

  • Take responsibility to express your needs and express them clearly and assertively.

When a person feels he or she cannot express their needs to the other person, then this leads to a break down in trust.

We often don't express our needs for two reasons. Either we are afraid of rejection or we are afraid of feeling ashamed for having such needs.

When a couple can express and meet each other's needs consistently this is one of the most powerful ways to build trust in a relationship.

  • Be positive and give pleasure.

We naturally trust people who treat us nicely and who seem to like us. It's very hard to distrust someone who seems to constantly be going out of his way to please you!

A key tool to use here is the "5 to 1 rule." This means that before you say anything negative to your spouse, you must have expressed at least five positive things. Only then, are you allowed to say something negative or critical.

  • Don't allow issues to go unresolved.

This requires that a husband and wife develop good problem solving skills. I can't tell you how many couples I've worked with whose problems are rooted in a lack of problem solving skills.

When issues don't get resolved, then resentments develop and fester. And when resentments develop then trust is lost.

  • Learn to fight fair.

Just in case you didn't know, fighting is a part of any good marriage! I mention this because there are some people who live with the naïve notion that in "good marriages" couples never fight. The problem is not that couples fight, but how they fight.

If you fight unfairly, then you destroy trust. If you fight fairly, you build trust. Here are a few important pointers to make sure that when you fight, you fight fair:

  1. Never resort to name calling or putdowns.
  2. Keep to the issue at hand. Never bring up old stuff that may be unresolved. The present fight is not a license to dump all your old garbage.
  3. Never use phrases that are absolutes such as, "you never" or "you always."
  4. Never bring the other person's family into the issue to support your case or to attack your spouse's.
  5. Agree beforehand on a method how to take a time out if one of you feels that the fight is getting out of hand.
  6. Don't start a fight later in the night, when you're both tired and therefore more likely to have less control over your emotions.
  7. And again, do your best to use "I-statements" rather than "you-statements," which feel like attacks.

Trust is one thing that takes a long time to build and a very short time to destroy. Be careful how you treat each other. Many people wrongly believe that in a good marriage, you can "relax" and not have to monitor everything you say and do. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In a good marriage, you must always be monitoring your behavior. This is the key to building a strong relationship and trust.

Published: April 1, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 154

(116) Anonymous, September 17, 2013 2:29 AM

I'm always reading and learning and enjoying these emails.
I'm learning so much. I appreciate these wise words. I'm more positive than ever.I'm open to change and know it will take me a life time to become the person Hashem wants me to be.So what's missing??? A spouse who is learning and reading and changing and being more positive. It takes 2 to make it better. We'll see what happens. I'm doing my part.

(115) Anonymous, September 11, 2013 6:31 PM

trust once lost can i ever get it back

I lied to my wife we got into a fight and said bad things about her to someone else and now it seems i can never undo my childish mistakes

(114) Carmem, August 7, 2013 7:21 PM

I need some advice what to do about my marriage. We recently got married a couple months after his divorce which now makes us married 1 year. This makes his 3rd marriage and my 1st marriage, we have 1 child together and I have 2 from a previous relationship. My previous kids father and I had built a close friendship for the kids nothing else. My husband is very jealous he want me to have hatred towards him he doesn't want me to talk to him about th kidsneeds. He constantly accusing me of cheating with him or wanting to bewith him. Now mind you we live 4 hours away from each other. every time my husband get mad he bring his name up and say I can be with him. I'm getting fed up with his accusations I don't do anything but work and take care of the family I have no friends or family were I am so its just him, kids and I here. I'm trying to do my best to keep this marriage together but enough is enough I'm tired of hurting and crying for things I'm not doing. I try to hide my pain from my kids cause I don't want them to see my pain cause they are relaying on me. No person wants to be accused when its not correct. I don't know if its trust issues came from previous marriages or is it just him. I advised counseling he don't want to go say hes not paying no money for someone to tell him what to do. He swear he knows everything can't tell him nothing he is 12 years older than but like I always tell age isn't nothing but a number its always room to learn what I don't know you may know and what you don't know I may but don't assume your age you wiser than me. I pray he changes or this might be a divorce I got married because I loved him and he doing all the right thing as I want as a husband the minute I said I do it was like I sign a contract to control me. I'm a strong woman and if getting divorce is what I have to do then I will I don't care others have to say I have to what's right for myself and kids.

Anonymous, September 17, 2013 9:13 PM

Always follow your heart, Carmen

Dear Carmen, You are a very loving person. Your current husband isn't even close to feeling love. Love means trust. He doesn't trust life and he doesn't trust you. You must trust your own heart, which is telling you that you are unloved and unwanted, even unknown by this man. Please do what's right for your children and yourself. Divorce this man immediately, and Live with Dignity and Peace. Be with people who make you feel warm, trusted, liked and loved. And don't carry on with married men, even if they say they want a divorce. Live with dignity and peace. Love yourself and your children. I wish you shalom.

(113) Amanda Bond, June 6, 2013 11:00 PM

Trust, Put Downs, Jealously

My husband and I have been married for over 2 yrs. We got married just a yr after his divorce was final. I have never been married. I love him to death, but we have some issues that need to work out and he refuses to go to a marriage counselor to work out this issues. We just had a baby in Nov of '12 and I have a 5 yr old from previous relationship, so there are children involved and its really important to me to work this out instead of dragging my kids thru a divorce. I just went thru his facebook cause i do not trust him, and i do not have any reason not too. He has never cheated, but I noticed that on his fb it is all women. I looked at his messages and it was all innocent, but i feel outraged. This is not normal behavior. I feel a great deal of anger towards him for the way he talks to me. During fights he will tell me to shut the 'f' up, go play in traffic and die, that i am stupid and he threatens divorce every other fight. Its so draining and emotionally hard that I have thought about walking away but I am determined. He has also told me that he has gone thru my phone when i am asleep, even tho there is nothing on there! I am at a lost as what to do cause he is so hard headed and stubborn that nothing i say or do is right. He doesnt want me working cause he wants me to stay home and clean, which i do. he doesnt help. I do it all...
Can he change?????

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