The Role Of Trust And Expectations In Relationships

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Trust and expectations can be key aspects of many kinds of relationships, potentially including friendships, family relationships, workplace dynamics, and romantic relationships. Trust and expectations can be especially important for creating and maintaining a healthy romantic 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 occur, this can cause conflict. In general, showing respect and consideration for your partner, addressing conflict healthily, and openly discussing your feelings can help you build trust and manage your expectations. Couples therapy, whether in person or online, can also be helpful for challenges related to trust and expectations.

Cultivating trust and managing expectations can be challenging

The importance of trust and expectations

Trust and expectations frequently play important roles in a relationship. Trust can make room for vulnerability, closeness, and intimacy, all of which can 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 may 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 being 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 often involve things like communication frequency, milestone timing, future plans, levels of commitment, and boundaries. 

Trust and expectations can also impact each other in both directions. For example, when expectations are fair and met, that can 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 on the relationship. 

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 others.

However, expectations can become problematic and cause conflict when they are unreasonably high or not discussed and agreed upon beforehand. In these cases, unreasonable expectations may lead to arguments and resentment. For instance, there could be misaligned expectations regarding how the partners 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, partners 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. Let’s take the example of two long-term romantic partners having a heated argument. If each person trusts 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. Here are a few methods for building trust and setting healthy expectations:

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.

2. Manage conflicts in healthy ways

Most healthy relationships encounter conflicts at times. While such conflicts may be largely unavoidable, there can be strategies to manage these situations in a healthy way and minimize the strain and hurt they may cause. For instance, you might try to remain calm, make sure both people’s perspectives are heard, look at the situation from each other’s eyes, and 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. 

3. Communicate your feelings 

Communication can be another key component in building trust, managing reasonable expectations, and navigating conflict. Your partner generally cannot read your mind, so practicing open, honest, and clear communication can ensure that you are both 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 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 licensed 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 any challenges regarding 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 often where online therapy can be especially beneficial. With online therapy, you and your partner can meet with a therapist from any location with an internet connection, which can eliminate the need to travel to an in-person appointment and make it easier to fit therapy 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 generally 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

Therapist 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 cultivate healthy trust and expectations, it may be helpful to show respect and consideration, handle conflict in a healthy way, and communicate openly about your feelings. For additional support with relationship concerns, online therapy can be beneficial.
Receive compassionate guidance in love
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started