Socially Single: Trusting after getting burned

Kelsey Foster

This week, I answer a question from the audience. If you have a dating or relationship question you’d like me to weigh in on, send me an email at

“Hey Kelsey – Here is a question for you: What is the appropriate level of trust to afford people when starting to date again after being burned in the past. How do I go about learning to trust again?”

I like to think of trust as something that is earned over time with each interaction. I generally believe that people are good and decent . So I start out any new relationship, friendship, etc. from a place that gives each individual person a basic level of trust: The “I trust that you are a decent person who won’t intentionally hurt me…unless you prove otherwise” place.

If you find you start from a place of “Ohmygod this person could break my heart and totally burn me and I bet they are a jerk!” I recommend not dating right now. Dating requires a certain level of emotional resiliency. When your wounds are still fresh from your breakup and fear is driving the bus, the chance you will enjoy dating is pretty much zero. And dating should be, and can be, enjoyable!

From the initial meeting, observe simple things about those you date: Do their stories line up with their actions? Are they kind to people around them? Do they keep their word, like calling when they say they will and showing up when you have plans?

If the answers to those questions are yes’s, the level of trust you have for them increases.

Think of trust like a bank account. Each time you are given confirmation that the person is trustworthy, you make a deposit to the account, growing your level of trust with them incrementally.

Do you start out by handing over the keys to your heart (or your house or your checking account)? No. Those are big steps that require a strong foundation of trust. Remember that a strong foundation grows over time with lots of little deposits.

As the foundation gains strength, begin to consider things like: Would I trust this person around my loved ones (especially children if you have them)? Do I trust he or she could be monogamous (if that is what you want)? Can I trust I will be given acceptance as I share the deeper parts of who I am (including my quirks, flaws and in-progress areas)?

There will be times in every relationship where a debit is made from the trust bank. Plans can fall through, disagreements arise, incompatibilities are discovered, and boundaries could get crossed. When that happens, you need to evaluate how the situation gets resolved. Trust might suffer in the short-term; however, if each person is accountable and works toward finding a mutually agreeable solution, trust can be restored quickly.

If more debits than deposits are made to the trust bank, it’s a good sign it’s time to re-evaluate the whole relationship.

It may sound like I’m asking you to keep score. I don’t recommend you actually keep track of the trust account on a spreadsheet. However, by following this incremental approach to trusting someone new, you mitigate the risk of “trusting too much”. You give yourself time to evaluate a person’s trustworthiness before just blindly giving it and hoping for the best.

Kelsey Foster is a dating and relationship coach in Edmonds. She released a new book, Improve Your Love-itude, available on Amazon. Find out more information about Kelsey on her website or join her on Facebook.

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