Trust forms the roots of any successful relationship. It is the stabilizer and anchoring point from which all communication, collaboration, and love are built. Just like an uprooted tree, if trust is broken, it can take a long time for the plant to regenerate its root system.
However, if you transplant a tree into fertile soil, it can regrow its roots much faster. Whether romantic, platonic, or professional, these exercises can help nurture the soil of your relationships so the roots of trust can flourish with new growth.
What is Trust? (Trust Definition)
Trust is the ability to confidently rely on another person. Trust means you believe in the character, abilities, and truth of what someone says and does. Without trust, healthy human relationships cannot exist. Studies show that trust is intertwined with love1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5744063/.
In other words, love cannot exist without trust and vice-versa.
The 8 Pillars of Trust are:
- Clarity: People tend to trust things that are clear and distrust things that are ambiguous.
- Compassion: People put faith in others when they see that they don’t just care about themselves. Compassion and empathy are essential for trust.
- Character: When living in alignment with your core values, people notice. It is easier to trust those who do the right thing.
- Competency: People are more likely to trust confident and capable people. A growth mindset helps build competency through continuous learning and personal growth.
- Commitment: Interpersonal relationships require assurance and dedication to another person or group. It isn’t easy to trust someone who is not committed to their relationship with you.
- Connection: Trust is rooted in collaboration. Trust grows as you build connections through conversation and shared experiences.
- Contribution: Words are nothing without action. Real results are the secret sauce to trust. When you fulfill your promises and contribute to outcomes, trust grows. When you fail to act on your words, trust falters.
- Consistency: The more you show up, the more you build trust and equity. When people are inconsistent or unreliable, it is more difficult to depend on them.
Breaches of trust in relationships can be caused by:
- Dishonesty or lying
- Failure to follow through on commitments
- Unfulfilled promises
- Cheating or infidelity
- Stealing and illegal activities
- Gossipping or revealing someone’s personal information to other people
- Trust issues from past relationships or traumatic experiences
How to Rebuild Trust: 30 Exercises for Friendships, Work, Dating, or Marriage
An investment in trust is arguably one of the best investments you can make. Trust grows with time, consistency, and communication. Whether you are working to build trust with someone new or recover trust after it has been broken, here are 30 science-backed ways to bolster trust:
#1 Create a vision board together
Looking toward the future (“future prospection”) is scientifically proven to make you happier2https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/White_Paper_Future-Mindedness_LR_FINAL.pdf.
A collaborative vision board ensures that your goals are aligned and that you both feel excited about where you’re going.
Whether you are seeking to build trust or reestablish trust after it has been broken, this exercise creates a positive bonding experience and helps you better understand what each party wants out of a collaboration.
At their core, relationships are based on collaboration. Collaborative partnerships are agreements made between people who want to share resources to accomplish mutual goals. But collaboration is only possible when the vision is clear.
Here is how to make a vision board for different types of collaborative relationships:
- For couples: As a romantic couple, you are working together to build a life that meets both peoples’ wants and needs. Create a vision of your life together in the next one to five years. Search online for #couplegoals, inspirational images, and words that exemplify your bond. Find places where compromises may need to be made and discuss how both parties can meet their needs. You can divide the board into sections for specific goals, such as:
- Career/financial goals
- Romantic goals
- Travel or leisure goals
- Individual goals
- For teams: Surveys show that over 70% of working people3https://hbr.org/2009/01/to-lead-create-a-shared-vision identify forward-thinking as an essential leadership quality. As the leader of an organization, you can instill a sense of confidence, trust, and inspiration by creating a visualization of how your team’s collaboration will help accomplish a project or business goal. Bring the team together to create a vision board of where the company is going using photos, charts, graphs, inspirational quotes, and a clear mission statement. Invite people to share their input and ideas. Learn more about Building Your Professional Relationships with Rand Fishkin.
- For families: As a family member, it is important to identify your family values, goals, and dreams. Call a family meeting and invite everyone (even the youngest) to share their input about what they think improves the family bond. Ask everyone to openly discuss these questions and print out images or quotes that reflect your answers:
- What did we enjoy most as a family last year?
- What is important to us?
- What makes us happy?
- How can we alleviate tension in our family dynamic?
- What is our ideal family vacation?
Vision boards can be made digitally, printed, or cut and glued onto a large canvas. You can use resources like Pinterest, Google, Canva, or clippings of magazines. Hang your collaborative vision board in your kitchen, workspace, or office.
#2 Share vulnerabilities
Self-disclosure is scientifically proven to improve trust4https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/pr0.1991.68.3c.1319?journalCode=prxa between people. Being vulnerable and sharing your fears, secrets, or past experiences is an act of bravery. It creates a miraculous positive loop:
- You share a vulnerability, making other people feel safe to open up to you.
- Because you shared deeper information about your life, they may want to share deeper information about themself. You trusted them with something, so now they can trust you.
- As they share their vulnerabilities, you feel more comfortable continuing the cycle.
- This builds trust, connection, and mutual support.
Whether you want to build more trust with an acquaintance or someone you’ve known for a long time, consider leading with a bit of self-disclosure. If you are in the early stages of building trust, start with something lowkey, like confessing your childhood fears. If you are already close to someone, consider sharing a more profound secret, trauma, or unspoken emotions that you haven’t expressed before.
#3 Clear the air with genuine apologies
Apologies are a tipping point for trust in any relationship. We all inevitably make mistakes because humans are imperfect beings. But someone who cannot own up to their mistakes tends to have relationship problems. If one or both parties regularly deflect blame, avoid accountability, or give fake apologies without changing behavior, trust can continuously be eroded.
Fortunately, genuine apologies can smooth out the kinks in a relationship where trust has been breached. Saying “I’m sorry” once won’t improve everything, but it is a positive step toward repairing the damage. It shows that you are willing to admit you did wrong and work to do better because you care about the other person’s feelings.
Each time you give an authentic apology and combine it with real changes in behavior, you are putting coins in the metaphorical bank of trust. Your partner or friend may not immediately trust you again, but the balance and interest will grow slowly over time.
Here are the key differences between a fake apology and a genuine one:
|Fake/Manipulative Apologies||Genuine Apologies|
|“I’m sorry, but….” [A “but” cancels out the apology because it introduces an excuse or criticism]||“I’m sorry that I did X, and I will do Y to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”|
|“I’ve already said I’m sorry 10 times. Can we get over it already?” [Trying to silence the other person or force forgiveness too soon]||“I’m sorry. I can see this is still bothering you. Let’s talk about what I can do to make it better.”|
|“Sorry, you did X, and it made me do Y.” or “I’m sorry you felt hurt by what I said at the party last night.” [Focused on the other person’s response rather than your actions]||“I’m sorry I said something that hurt your feelings. It was insensitive and uncalled for. I should not be making mean jokes like that.”|
|“I’m sorry. It hurts me that you are so upset.” [Trying to overshadow the hurt party with your remorse or pain]||“I am so sorry I hurt you.”|
|“I’m sorry, it takes two to make a fight.” or “Sorry, but you started it.” [Deflecting blame]||“I’m sorry for my part in this fight. I should not have escalated things by saying, X.”|
|“Sorry, I promise I will X.” [No action]||Apology + real behavior change|
|“You’re overreacting.” [Gaslighting and discrediting the other person’s emotional experience]||“I was wrong when I….”|
|“I’ll apologize if you….” [Blaming the other person for their reaction to your behavior]||“I take accountability for what I did wrong, and I understand why you feel this way.”|
#4 Eye gazing
You’ve probably heard that the eyes are the windows to the soul. But when you have known someone for a long time, it’s easy to look past them or only engage in fleeting eye contact throughout your conversations.
Studies find that gazing into someone’s eyes5https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0092656689900202?via%3Dihub for 2 minutes can increase feelings of passion and love. This is because eye contact boosts oxytocin6https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273351212_Oxytocin_increases_eye_contact_during_a_real-time_naturalistic_social_interaction_in_males_with_and_without_autism, which is the brain chemical linked to bonding and attachment. Moreover, oxytocin is proven to increase trust7https://www.zora.uzh.ch/id/eprint/2250/9/2005_KosfeldM_Nature_Oxytocin-incr.pdf between people.
A daily or weekly eye gazing practice is like a dual meditation: it allows you to slow down, tune out the world, and connect with your partner. It can dramatically improve your trust and increase levels of emotional intimacy. Here’s how:
- Remove any external distractions and give undivided attention to your partner.
- Sit in a comfortable position facing each other.
- Optionally, hold hands or touch your knees together.
- Close your eyes and take 10 deep, slow breaths together. Empty your mind as much as possible.
- Next, open your eyes and look directly into the other person’s eyes. There is no need to talk but feel free to blink. Breathe slowly together. Smile if it feels natural.
- If you’d like, set a timer for 2-5 minutes. Alternatively, gaze for as long as you both feel comfortable.
- Stand up and hug your partner. Thank them for sharing the moment with you.
You can practice eye gazing after a stressful day at work or before a difficult conversation. It may feel awkward at first, but you can even practice eye gazing with a friend or family member!
#5 Cuddle session
Humans have an innate need for physical touch. Research shows that hugging8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3805974/ and non-sexual cuddling9https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-012-0014-8 between romantic couples lowered blood pressure and cortisol (the stress hormone) levels while boosting oxytocin (the bonding and trust hormone). From a neuroscience and spiritual perspective, cuddling is also an excellent mindfulness exercise for reducing stress.
When you set aside time to cuddle with your partner without sexual engagement or external distractions, it allows you to bond and bolster trust. Counselors often recommend this as a core trust-building exercise for couples after infidelity, but it can be used for any stage of a romantic relationship. Here’s how:
- Set aside a specific time to cuddle with your partner. Make it clear that this time is only for the two of you. Turn off your phones and remove all distractions.
- For an added dose of romance, create an ambiance you know your partner will love. Light their favorite candle, put flowers on the bed, set up their favorite pillows and blankets, or offer them a foot massage.
- Focus on the moment and notice the sensations of your bodies against each other.
- Ask your partner what they enjoy most and how your touch makes them feel. Experiment with different cuddling positions, massages, touching, and affection.
Notice how cuddling time improves your connection and your sense of safety together. If desired, try an intimate conversation starter for couples.
#6 Understand and speak each other’s love languages
Dr. Gary Chapman’s famous book The 5 Love Languages introduced the radical notion that everyone has a different way that they’d like to receive and express love.
The five love languages are:
- Words of affirmation: People who crave affirmation often give and receive love through compliments, reassurance, and validation.
- Physical touch: This love language is all about hugs, kisses, holding hands, cuddling, and forming physical.
- Acts of service: People who love acts of service feel extra loved when you do household chores or make them dinner.
- Quality time: For someone whose love language is quality time, they must get uninterrupted bonding time with their loved ones. They may feel unappreciated or disconnected if they don’t receive the focus and attention of the people they spend time with.
- Gifts: People who speak the love language of gifts usually enjoy giving and receiving presents as tokens of affection. If you pay attention to the things they like and bring them a thoughtful gift, you may get the key to their heart!
Many relationships encounter issues when one person expresses their love in a “language” that the other person doesn’t understand.
For example, if your significant other always does the dishes and cleans the kitchen, they may feel like they are showing their love for you because acts of service feel loving. But if your love language is words of affirmation, you may feel rejected or uncared for because they don’t say “I love you” very often. At the same time, you may be telling them how amazing they are, but they feel unloved because you never clean the kitchen after dinner.
Bridging this communication gap and finding a happy medium can radically improve trust and reduce tension. While the book is based on marriage, its principles can be applied to any interpersonal relationship. You can ask anyone in your life, “What can I do to make you feel cared for?” and also communicate what makes you feel appreciated and loved.
Here is a guide and quick quiz you can take with your partner or friend to discover your love languages: What Are the Five Love Languages? Everything You Need To Know.
#7 Say what you feel and ask for what you want
Trust and open communication go hand-in-hand. A lack of communication about what you want is a key reason couples fight.
Nobody can read other people’s minds. Yet so many people hold back on communicating their needs because they are afraid of appearing “needy,” “annoying,” or “demanding.” But sharing your feelings and wants is not any of those things. It’s actually a core pillar of a healthy relationship.
If you are feeling distrustful or afraid, you may need to speak up about what you need to feel reassured. While you are not responsible for anyone else’s actions, you are responsible for communicating your needs and desires. People who care about you usually do their best to meet your needs or find a compromise that works for both parties.
When clarifying your needs, focus on how you FEEL rather than what the other person DOES. This ensures that the other party does not feel attacked. These phrases are useful for romantic, platonic, and professional conversations:
- “I feel [lonely/sad/distant/rejected/worried] because we haven’t X. It’s really important to me that we do Y because that is when I feel….”
- “Would you be willing to [specific behavior]? It would make me feel….”
- “I like/love when you X, and it would make me happy if you did that more.”
- “I feel X whenever you do Y because Z. I would appreciate it if you could….”
- “Honestly, I don’t feel comfortable disclosing that information. I would feel safer if we X.”
- “Right now, I need your reassurance. I feel uneasy about this.”
After communicating your needs, remember to thank the other person for listening. Leave room for negotiation about how both parties can have their needs met.
#8 Trust fall
A trust fall is a team-building activity where a person closes their eyes and falls backward into the arms of a person or group. It works for couples, friends, families, and teams.
A trust fall requires that you surrender to the support of others and feel safe enough to trust that they won’t let you hit the ground. This exercise is clearly a metaphor for trusting that someone will be there for you at your most vulnerable moments.
This infamous practice is so simple yet powerful. Here is how to do it:
- The “truster” starts in a rigid standing position with arms crossed over the chest. They can stand on the ground or on a raised platform.
- The trust team or partner(s) stand behind them with their arms out to catch them. Some teams interlace their hands to create a “bed” for them to fall on. If one partner is significantly larger in size, then it’s important to verify that they can physically support the other person’s body weight.
- For everyone’s safety, clearly communicate which way they will fall. Do not allow the “truster” to fall forward or sideways. Set up pillows or other buffers to prevent any injuries.
- Optionally, the “truster” can close their eyes and count to three.
- As they let go and fall backward, their team or partner catches them and safely places their feet on the ground.
#9 Use icebreakers
Sometimes self-disclosure doesn’t have to be an intense deep exchange. It can also include sharing unique facts about yourself or your interests to spark conversations and new connections.
Many people roll their eyes when they hear the term “icebreaker.” You may think of a cringey “get to know you” game, but these exercises don’t have to feel awkward. They can help build trust amongst work groups, families, and friends.
- 35 Fun Meeting Icebreakers to Warm Up Any Meeting
- 31 Icebreaker Games For Teens For ANY Situation
- 231 Deep Icebreaker Questions to Build Authentic Connections
- 21 Best (Non-Boring!) Large Group Icebreakers For Work
- 23 Best Icebreaker Games for Kids in ANY Situation
- 60 Fun And Exciting Virtual Icebreakers For Remote Work
If you’re having difficulty building trust with people in your life, you may need to take a look at your conversational skills. Deep conversations allow people to open up, but improper social cues, poor communication skills, and one-sided discussions turn people away. Learn to communicate with confidence in this mini-course:
Communicate With Confidence
Do you struggle with small talk? Do you often run out of things to say or feel awkward and self-conscious in social situations? Our Conversation Mastery Course teaches you the secrets of master conversationalists and gives you the skills you need to have confident, engaging, and captivating conversations with anyone, anywhere.
#10 Make promises and follow through
Trust and integrity go hand-in-hand. Someone who has integrity makes their words and actions align. If you have lost trust with someone in your life, your behavior probably deviated from your words. To recover trust, you may have to make new promises and actually follow through with them this time.
When you can trust someone with the little things, it becomes more likely that you’ll trust them with the big things. After weeks and months, fulfilled micro-promises add up to show somebody that they can trust you again. They are like more coins in the trust bank accumulating interest over time.
Incorporate these promises on a regular basis and always follow through:
- Promise a phone call at a certain time and call them
- Say you will be somewhere at a specific time and show up
- Make thoughtful plans that the other person will enjoy
- Offer to pick up laundry, groceries, or another favor and do it
- Set a deadline for a project and deliver it right on time
- Take accountability when you forget or mess up and change your behavior next time
If you find yourself regularly apologizing for unfulfilled promises, you may need to re-evaluate your relationship with commitments and integrity. Do you value integrity? Do you keep promises to yourself? Have other people let you down? Explore more in this guide to 7 Smart Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable (& Be Disciplined).
20 More Trust-Building Exercise Ideas
- Let your partner go through your phone
- Share passwords to social media accounts
- Try date night conversation game
- Make a daily gratitude list for each other
- Come clean about a lie you previously told
- Admit when you are wrong
- Complete a joint task (like doing a puzzle or planting a garden)
- Have a trust talk (ask: “What do trust and commitment mean to you?” or “What does trust feel like to you?”)
- Share a secret
- Plan an adventure together
- Try a new hobby together (novel activities are proven to increase trust10https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12609069_Couples%27_shared_participation_in_novel_and_arousing_activities_and_experienced_relationship_quality in relationships)
- Play games that encourage honesty (like Truth or Dare and 21 Questions)
- Talk about a time when you did not trust each other
- Take turns planning date nights or family activities
- Create a “trust checklist” with clear expectations for each other
- Go to an Escape Room
- Try a partner obstacle course
- Practice mindfulness together
- Sign up for an adult sports team
- Go to family or couples therapy
Key Takeaways: Trust is Built with Consistency and Transparency
Ultimately, trust is like a bank account. It requires continuous investment to grow. The more trust-building activities you put in, the greater the interest you will accumulate. But if you drain the account through betrayal or secrets, it is very difficult to build it back up.
If the foundation of your relationship has been uprooted, all hope is not lost. Trust can be rebuilt, but it will require patience, consistency, and open communication. When using trust-building exercises in your partnership, family, or workplace, remember to:
- Stay consistent: You can’t expect trust to be built in one team-building exercise or couples therapy session. Instead, aim to build trust on a daily basis through small acts and fulfilled micro-promises.
- Be patient: Do not expect trust to magically appear after one exercise or fulfilled promise. The good things in life take time, which is why trust is so precious and highly valued.
- Be open: When you open up, other people feel safe to open up. The best thing you can do to build trust is to communicate openly and transparently. Volunteer yourself as the first to disclose, and you may be surprised how others respond.
Want more? Check out these guides to 30 Days to Better Relationships and How to Build Trust With Anyone and Improve Your Relationships.