How Mistrust Can Destroy a Marriage and What to Do About It

By Terry Gaspard

Trust and intimacy form the foundation of a lasting marriage. When couples bring baggage such as infidelity or trauma from the past, it can set the stage for mistrust.

That’s why it’s crucial that you allow yourself to be vulnerable and discuss breaches of trust when they occur. If you can listen to your partner’s side of the story and give him or her the benefit of the doubt, you’re on your way to facing daily challenges with assurance.

One of the hardest things about extending trust to your partner is learning to have confidence in your own judgment. Trust is about much more than believing your partner has betrayed you. It’s about believing that your spouse has your best interests at heart.

For instance, Brianna, 46, finds her marriage to Kevin, 50, challenging because they’re raising four children and it’s difficult to squeeze in alone time as a couple. As a result, the secure connection they once had has been evaporating and Brianna often finds herself questioning Kevin’s feelings for her. In fact, Brianna wonders if he’s starting to have a roving eye because she’s put on twenty pounds in the past year and that’s causing her to feel insecure.

Over the last several months, Kevin has grown weary of Brianna’s constant badgering. After all, he feels he’s earned her trust by being there for her in so many ways, such as caring for their children and paying bills. He is eager to move forward and feels that Brianna lives in the past.

Kevin puts it like this: “I was unfaithful to Brianna with my former girlfriend when we were dating but I ended it quickly and haven’t strayed since. My feelings toward Brianna haven’t changed but she’s pushing me away with her questions and constant lack of faith in me. I just want her to relax and realize that I’m not going anywhere.”

Unpack the Baggage from Your Past

Take a moment to consider this: your partner is not solely responsible for creating mistrustful feelings. In most cases, you must take equal responsibility for creating an atmosphere of safety and security in your relationship. Dealing with baggage from your past is part of this. In order to begin the process of overcoming mistrust ask yourself:

  • Does my fear and abandonment cloud my perspective and cause me to overreact to my partner’s actions?
  • Do I feel comfortable asking for what I need and allowing myself to be vulnerable?
  • Do I bring my best self to my interactions with my partner?
  • Do I possess self-love and allow myself to be loved and respected?

 Are Mistrustful Feelings Based on the Past or the Present?

Karen, in her mid-forties, is an architect whose first marriage ended due to infidelity.  She married her husband Brian on the rebound after a brief courtship. Karen often reacts with fear and suspicion when he returns home late from work or there’s the slightest imperfection in his story.

Karen has a tendency to catastrophize when she says to Brian, “You’re always putting work first and you don’t care about me.” In the past, Brian reacted negatively to these accusations, but he has learned to reassure Karen and now calls her if he’s going to be late and puts special time with her on his calendar.

Through being reliable and reassuring her, Brian is working on showing Karen by his words and actions that he is there for her. He’s deeply committed to her and doesn’t have a history of betrayal in prior relationships. Likewise, Karen must learn to examine her thought processes. Is her self-doubt and mistrust grounded in reality or a fragment of her past? She must be willing to let go of self-defeating thoughts – to free herself from the blueprints of her previous marriage.

Karen reflects: “It’s taken me a couple of years to realize that Brian is nothing like my ex who betrayed me. He’s committed to me and wants to be with me. If I need reassurance, I tell him and he gives me a kiss and tells me it’s going to work out.”

Trust is an Essential Element of Intimacy in Marriage

 Trust is much more than a feeling. It is an acquired ability. You can learn to trust your instincts and your judgment when you honestly face your fears. If you are able to come to a place of self-awareness and understand the decisions that that led up to trust being severed, you can start to approach others with faith and optimism.

Do you sometimes feel that love is easily broken and fear that it will disappear despite everything you do? Mistrust is often a lingering feeling in the back of your mind that your partner does not truly love you, or might abandon you. So much about trust is walking the talk. Your spouse may tell you that he or she loves you, but did their actions support that? If you experience mistrust, all isn’t lost. Truth be told, you can begin to repair it with your partner step by step by considering the following strategies.

Here are 6 smart ways to repair broken trust:

  • Challenge mistrustful thoughts. Ask yourself: is my lack of trust due to my partner’s actions or my own issues, or both? Be aware of ghosts from your past that may be triggering mistrust in the present.
  • Trust your intuition and instincts. Have confidence in your own perceptions and pay attention to red flags. Ask yourself: does my partner have my best interests at heart?
  • Gain awareness about how your reactions may be having a destructive impact on your relationship and take responsibility for them.
  • If your partner lets you down, do not always assume that a failure in competence is intentional – sometimes people simply make a mistake.
  • Accept your partner and realize that we all have flaws. If he or she makes a mistake (like forgetting it call you) it may simply mean that they are human and perhaps a little forgetful.
  • Listen to your partner’s side of the story. Make sure your words and tone of voice are consistent with your goal of rebuilding trust.

A relationship that isn’t built on a bedrock of trust will not endure because feelings of mistrust can erode love and intimacy over time. Couples who share a vision for their marriage that includes building trust, intimacy, and profound love can withstand difficulties together. Trusting your partner will allow you to create a solid partnership and to be resilient when facing the inevitable challenges of daily life.

Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True in 2020.

**Terry offers coaching to individuals and couples about divorce, marriage, remarriage, or relationship issues. She is also an expert on matters related to children of divorce and the challenges facing adult children of divorce. You can sign up for low-cost coaching here. In most cases you will be able to meet with her within a week.