11 Tips For Learning To Trust In A New Relationship

If you’re fresh out of a relationship that ended badly, it can feel like your whole dating philosophy needs to be re-vamped if you're going to try again. Learning how to trust is often the hardest part of deciding to get back in the dating scene, whether you’ve been cheated on or just feel blind-sided and betrayed by the breakup. But it is possible to trust again, it just takes work.

"Trusting is a decision you make, not a feeling that happens to you," says Kayla Knopp, a clinical graduate student who studies facets of commitment in relationships at the University of Denver Center for Marital and Family Studies. Often people feel like their past relationships are "baggage" that's weighing them down, or like they forever have "trust issues." But the reality is that you can use your experiences to inform your future ones in productive ways, Knopp says.

Ahead are tips and strategies from Knopp; Summer Brown, LMFT, a relationship therapist in Vancouver, Washington; Jeremy Ortman, LMHC, clinical director of Real Talk Therapy in New York City; and Galena Rhoades, PhD, associate clinical professor of psychology at the University of Denver.

Don't think of your experience as 'baggage.'

Try not to think about your past relationship experience as "baggage," Knopp says. We all have past relationships that influence us. "Use your past experiences to identify values and expectations that are important to you in a relationship, and communicate clearly with your new partner about those values and expectations," she says. You also have to be realistic, because you don’t want to let pain from your past drive you toward having unreasonable jealousy or needing too much reassurance in a new relationship. "Being honest with yourself and open with your partner is a good way to start," she says.

Create a split screen in your mind.

Some people have a tendency to "ask a current partner to pay for the misdeeds of your ex," Ortman says. "I ask my clients to create a split screen in their minds between their former and current partners to compare and contrast evidence of trustworthiness," he says. "This exercise helps identify red flags that might signal repeated patterns, and also helps to distinguish that a new relationship is to be considered on its own merits," he says.

Recognize patterns.

Our brains are geared to seek out what's familiar, even when we don't realize it, Ortman says. "If you find yourself repeatedly falling for partners who mistreat you, consider looking back to what you learned about love and trust from your parents and previous romantic relationships," he says. "If there is an unresolved story in your past, you may return to the scene of the crime with the hope for a happy ending this time." Clearly understanding your past can help you avoid harmful patterns, Ortman says.

Figure out if they're worth trusting.

Before you jump into a relationship, figure out whether or not your new partner is actually worthy of your trust — because some people may not be, Knopp says. "Talking with friends and family can be a good way to check your instincts about someone," she says. If you still aren't sure, allow the relationship to develop slowly, and take your time to really get to know your new partner and notice how they handle difficulties in life, she says.

Look at your partner objectively.

This may sound odd, but "building trust requires data," Dr. Rhoades says. So, think about your new partner objectively: What are their friends like? What is their family like? How do they perform at work? What are they like in these different contexts? What do your friends and family see as their best qualities? Any red flags? Are they trustworthy in other kinds of relationships?

And look at yourself, too: Are there biases that you carry with you from past experiences that you need to examine, so you can be sure you're giving them a fair shake? You might not have all the answers right now, but these prompts may help you step aside and think logically about your new relationship.

Communicate in respectful ways.

Figuring out how to talk to your partner about your past can be one of the most difficult aspects of a new relationship, Brown says. You might be wondering how to open up about what's going on with you, while also listening to what the other person is telling you. Prioritize kind and respectful communication, she says. "Make space for each other to share and actually listen and reflect what you're hearing — be genuine, authentic, and honest," she says. This takes time, but can really make a difference in the long run.

Learn to trust yourself.

Often after we've been betrayed, we have a hard time trusting the person who betrayed us, but "mostly we've learned that we can't trust ourselves," Brown says. You might be beating yourself up for missing the warning signs that something was going on, or you might be questioning whether or not you were enough for your partner.

But going forward, if you have these doubts, it might be helpful to figure out how your new partner can make you feel safe, Brown says. That might require some difficult conversations with your new partner, to make sure that you're both "willing to explore those things and reciprocate safety for each other," she says.

Expect bad feelings.

Occasionally you're going to feel worried or jealous, and that's to be expected after someone has betrayed your trust, Knopp says. When you sense those feelings creeping in, take ownership of them, she says. "Avoid blaming your partner for your feelings, and make sure your actions and decisions are being guided by your values, not your fears," she says.

Talk about your expectations.

While it can be intimidating, it’s helpful to talk to your new partner about what your expectations are for monogamy, and what your past experiences have been with cheating, Dr. Rhoades says. Find out whether or not they’ve ever experienced infidelity before, and get on the same page about how you’ll deal if either of you develop feelings for someone else, she says. Clearing this up ahead of time will prepare you to manage any uncomfortable situations when they arise.

Go to therapy.

If you're having trouble dealing with negative emotions related to your past experiences, it's a great idea to talk to a therapist, Knopp says. They can help you develop strategies for handling difficult situations or feelings that may come up, and teach you about healthy relationships.

Understand the risks.

When your trust is broken, it’s natural to feel protective of your heart before letting someone new in, Ortman says. "You may wonder, is it really worth risking being hurt again knowing I can't control my partner? How would I handle it if I was cheated on again?" he says. There is a reckoning that occurs with yourself about whether pursuing the love you want is worth the accompanying risk, he says. And most of the time, it is.