The Role Of Trust And Expectations In Relationships

Updated December 16, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Trust and expectations can be key aspects of many different kinds of relationships, including friendships, family relationships, workplace dynamics, and romantic relationships. In romantic relationships in particular, trust and expectations can be especially important for creating and maintaining a healthy relationship. When trust is present and reasonable expectations are met, this can help the relationship run smoothly. But, when trust is broken or unreasonable expectations are rampant, this can cause a lot of conflict. Here, we’ll explore the role of trust and expectations in relationships and offer a few suggestions for how to cultivate healthy trust and expectations.

Cultivating Trust And Managing Expectations Can Be Challenging

The Importance Of Trust And Expectations

Trust and expectations both play important roles in a relationship. Trust can make room for vulnerability, closeness, and intimacy, all of which can help foster commitment and build the foundation for a solid relationship. Trust typically takes time and effort to build, but once in place, trust can allow you to rely on another person, as you feel safe with them. A relationship without trust can often be rocky and filled with conflict. 

Expectations in a relationship are often a given, but they can vary from fair and healthy to unfair and unreasonable. When expectations are fair and agreed upon, they can allow the relationship to run smoothly, but when expectations are unreasonable, they might contribute to frustration, conflict, and disappointment in the relationship. Expectations might involve things such as communication frequency, milestone timing, future plans, levels of commitment, boundaries, and more. 

Trust and expectations can also impact each other in both directions: when expectations are fair and met, that can help build trust between two people, and when trust is present in a relationship, that can allow for more reasonable expectations.   

Conflicts Related To Trust And Expectations

While trust and expectations can contribute to healthy relationships when managed well, there can also be conflicts around these areas that can have negative effects. 

When Expectations Create A Rift

In many relationships, a few basic expectations can be perfectly reasonable, such as treating one another with respect, creating healthy boundaries, and being honest with one another. Healthy expectations within a relationship can include honesty, faithfulness, respect, and kindness, among other things.

However, expectations can become problematic and cause conflict when they are unreasonably high or not discussed and agreed upon beforehand. In these cases, these unreasonable expectations may lead to arguments and resentment. For instance, there could be misaligned expectations regarding how the two people communicate throughout the day. One person may have the unspoken expectation that they and their partner will text multiple times a day, always respond immediately, and be available for frequent phone calls. Meanwhile, the other partner may feel that communicating throughout the workday is not reasonable for them and would prefer to catch up in person after work. These misaligned, unspoken expectations may lead to frustration and even resentment for both people. 

As another example, the two people may have different ideas regarding how to express affection. If you expect your partner to give you a constant stream of compliments, but your partner doesn’t frequently express affection this way, you may feel unloved, and your partner may feel unfairly blamed. Bringing undiscussed expectations into a relationship of any kind can create resentment between partners and erode trust.

When Trust Causes Issues

There can also be conflict around trust, especially when it is offered too quickly, taken for granted, or broken. If trust is offered immediately in a relationship rather than built gradually, for example, two people may feel far closer and more intimate than time has allowed for. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, this can lead to trouble if the trust hasn’t been earned by both people, and you may learn that you don’t know each other as well as you felt you did. Your trust may have been misplaced. Trust offered too quickly can also put a lot of pressure on a new relationship. It might feel as though you’ve both entered into expectations of commitment far sooner than you’d hoped. 

In addition, sometimes trust can be taken for granted and lead to pain. For instance, someone might be having an intense argument with someone they care deeply about, such as a long-term romantic partner. If they trust that their partner will love them always, they may say hurtful things in the midst of an argument and feel that they can get away with it because of the long-term love and trust the two of them have built. This misuse of trust can be very unfair and painful. 

A breach of trust such as cheating or lying can introduce doubt and trepidation into a relationship, or even contribute to its end.

Cultivating Healthy Trust And Expectations

Creating and maintaining healthy levels of trust and reasonable expectations can help relationships run smoothly. Included below are a few suggestions to consider for how to do so:

  1. Show Respect And Consideration

Respect and consideration can be helpful tools for cultivating trust and fair expectations. Respect for yourself and your partner can go a long way in making sure that you are both treated well in the relationship. If you do not respect yourself enough to value your emotions, experiences, and expectations, you may have difficulty expressing your needs and desires to your partner, which could lead to misaligned expectations. If you do not respect your partner, you may not value their needs, desires, expectations, and boundaries, and you may not be able to cultivate trust. Consideration in a relationship often means taking your partner into account instead of only looking at your needs. You may be less likely to have grandiose, unrealistic expectations of your partner when you take their experience and their needs into account on a regular basis instead of focusing only on your own. 

  1. Manage Conflicts In Healthy Ways

Even most healthy relationships encounter conflicts at times. While such conflicts may be largely unavoidable, there are ways to manage these situations in a healthy way and minimize the strain and hurt they may cause. For instance, try to remain calm, try to make sure both people’s perspectives are heard, try to see the situation from each other’s side, and try to remember the love that exists between you even in the midst of an argument. When the two of you can respect each other, consider each other’s needs and opinions, and keep trust at the forefront, you may be able to minimize the pain of any conflicts. 

  1. Communicate Your Feelings 

Communication can be another key component in building trust, managing reasonable expectations, and even navigating conflict. Your partner cannot read your mind, so creating open, honest, and clear communication can help ensure that you both are on the same page regarding expectations. Communicating your needs and desires, raising concerns when any expectations seem unreasonable or are unmet, and communicating your honest feelings when conflicts arise can help to maintain a healthy relationship and build further trust. 

How Therapy Can Help

If you would like further help in examining the roles of trust and expectations in your relationships, seeking help from a trained in-person or online therapist can help. With your therapist, you can explore concerns you may have about your relationship, evaluate your expectations and how you can communicate them, and explore concerns you may have around trust. You and your partner can also meet with a couples therapist to discuss trust and expectations together. 

Sometimes, finding a time that suits both you and your partner can be difficult. This is where online therapy might be especially beneficial. With online therapy through BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples, you and your partner can meet with a counselor from wherever is most convenient, eliminating the need to travel to an in-person appointment, which may make it easier to fit into busy schedules. 

Research has shown that online therapy can be effective for couples who are experiencing distress in their relationships. For example, one such study explored the effectiveness of an online couples therapy program for couples experiencing relationship distress. It found that the couples who participated in the online program reported significant improvements in both relationship satisfaction and relationship confidence. 

Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar concerns.

Cultivating Trust And Managing Expectations Can Be Challenging

Counselor Reviews

“Joseph has been really helpful during this time. From helping me work through setting my boundaries to keep healthy relationships with my family, to doing some conflict resolution with my partner. I feel like I've greatly benefitted from having Joseph to talk to during this hard time.”

“Steve has helped me personally in so many ways to better myself and tackle life’s struggles and navigate me through tough times. Not only me personally but my wife as well and our marriage as a whole. I truly believe that without Steve’s help and guidance our marriage would not be where it is today.”


Trust and expectations can play important roles in relationships, and conflict can arise when trust is broken, or when expectations are unreasonable or unmet. To try to cultivate healthy trust and expectations, it may be helpful to show respect and consideration, try to handle conflict in a healthy way, and communicate openly about your feelings. For additional support with relationship concerns, online therapy can help. 

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