Written by Jamie Tolle






Having trust within a relationship is a foundational piece to a healthy, deep bond. It sprouts connection, confidence, and security and helps foster honesty and vulnerability. Needless to say, trust is a big word that holds so much weight and value. Brene Brown, a researcher, recognized the lack of language to talk about it and decided to do some digging. She found a definition from Charles Feltment that sums up what trust means perfectly:


Trust is choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.

trust in relationships

Needless to say, trusting another is a brave act in and of itself: It’s a big deal and we shouldn’t have to go into it blindly. It can be a conscious decision we make in order to have meaningful relationships.


Brown explored the research behind trust and came up with tangible ways to know what having trust looks like. The seven elements (what Brown refers to as the anatomy of trust) organizes it in a clear manner that is worth sharing.


The acronym is BRAVING:

Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Nonjudment, Generosity.


Boundaries: Having boundaries is paramount in any healthy relationship; This is especially true in an intimate relationship. It’s a reciprocal aim between both parties to be clear about their own limits and respecting others boundaries. It’s important to understand what your partner’s boundaries are and to respect them. On the flip side, in order for your partner to respect and understand your limits, you have to make those clear to them.


Reliability: In research terms, reliability is about having a measure give the same results again and again and again. This works the exact same when it comes to reliability in relationships: You say what you’re going to do and follow through with it over and over again. Reliability, therefore, builds over time. If you’re noticing shortcomings within yourself, it might be helpful to explore if you’re being honest and clear about your limitations. If you are taking on too much, you might inevitably fall short and be perceived as unreliable even if those weren’t your intentions. Simply put, you shouldn’t overpromise and underdeliver.


Accountability: How willing are you to own your mistakes? Do you take ownership for where you went wrong? Accountability is not providing a defense or an excuse, but rather owning your mistakes and making amends. Brown explains there’s also a flip side to accountability; Accountability isn’t just about one partner apologizing and taking ownership for a mistake. It’s also the other partner holding space for their partner to take accountability. Do you allow your partner to acknowledge and take accountability for their mistake?


Vault: What you share with your partner in confidence will not be shared and what they share with you will be held in confidence. It’s important to respect our partners’ secrets, stories, and information. We naturally gauge what we can share with someone not only by how they regard what we share with them, but also by how they treat other people’s sensitive information. Have you ever had someone share something with you that wasn’t theirs to share? This will have an impact on whether you trust them or not. A great way to reflect if you’re living up to this bargain in your own life is by asking yourself: Do I respect the vault and share people’s matters appropriately? Do I maintain this quality in the relationship with my partner?


Integrity: Brene Brown lays out integrity in a very effective and clear way: Choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, and easy, and practicing your values rather than simply professing them. This means you put in the work and try to live up to your morals and values. It’s important to note that it’s not just living in accordance with your values in your relationship, but in life in general.


Nonjudgement: Being human means we will naturally make mistakes and need others. Providing nonjudgement means that you provide space for your partner to fall apart and ask for help, and your partner provides the same support in return. In addition, real trust doesn’t occur unless you put yourself out there–you must be willing to ask for help from your partner as much as you’re willing to provide help.


Generosity: Brown puts this piece eloquently: You assume the most generous thing about your partner’s intentions, words, and actions. If something happens, (your partner forgets to call you back, you hear from someone else that your partner was doing something you deem bad, etc.) instead of assuming the worst, you will check in with your partner first to ask about it with open curiosity. To have trust with someone, you need to extend a generous interpretation of their actions and intentions.


Having this BRAVING checklist helps us to know what we need in order to have and/or build it. While this is a super useful tool, it can still be challenging to work through–especially if a breach in a relationship has occurred. If you and your partner are having trouble navigating how to build back trust or expand on it, couples therapy can be a great place to explore this further.


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