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Section 25
Rebuilding Trust Between the Hurt and Unfaithful Partner

Question 25 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Printable Page

Holmes and Rempel (1989) recognized individual differences in the nature of trust, but they emphasized that trust can be relationship-specific, that is, represented by confident expectations of positive outcomes from a particular intimate partner. People in trusting relationships expect their partners to care and respond to their needs, both present and future. Holmes and Rempel also posited that trust grows in accordance with social exchange principles: One partner trusts the other only a little at the beginning of the relationship, the other responds by trusting a bit more as time passes, and this exchange of increasing trust continues. As it develops, trust often proceeds through three distinct categories of expectations, according to Holmes and Rempel.

The first category, predictability, begins as each partner observes the other's behaviors. If one partner repeatedly fulfills his or her promises and usually acts positively, the other will view those behaviors as predictable. On the other hand, when individuals find that they never know what their partners will do next, they will not decide that their partners behave consistently. After one partner witnesses enough consistently positive behaviors by the other, trust can move to the second category, dependability, which refers to a partner's general traits rather than to the predictability of specific actions. After people see their partners behaving predictably, they begin to consider the partners reliable or dependable. The final abstract category of expectations, faith, evolves as partners grow confident that their relationships will last. Once individuals have decided that their partners are predictable and dependable, they can begin to feel secure about the future of the relationship. Decisions about faith represent a shift from expectations about a partner's current traits to expectations about his or her general motives concerning the value, present and future, of the relationship.

Overall, Holmes and Rempel (1989) argued that trust is based on perceptions of a partner's behaviors. If people believe that their partners are predictable and dependable and show faith in the future of their relationships, they learn to trust their partners. It is also possible, however, that individuals' own behaviors, independent of the behaviors of the partners, at times play a primary role in determining the extent to which they trust their partners. According to self-perception theory (Bem, 1972), individuals often infer their beliefs by examining their own behavior. Thus, trust may develop through a self-perception process in which people decide, after engaging in a trusting action, that they trust their partners. Like self-disclosure, consent for a partner to engage in an activity that others find threatening may be viewed as proof of trust in one's mate.

The tendency to develop trust through a self-perception process may also be enhanced by situational variables. Specifically, a state of increased, objective self-awareness should affect the self-perception process in two different ways: First, Hull and Levy (1979) found that heightened self-awareness produced by mirrors increases attitude-behavior consistency. Second, individuals in a state of objective self-awareness view themselves as an observer would view them. From the perspective of the actor-observer attributional bias, this state should lead to dispositional rather than situational attributions; Scheir and Carver's (1977) research has supported this assumption.

Along with the situational variable of self-awareness, individual differences in exchange or communal orientation in perceptions of interpersonal relationships may also affect the operation of self-perception processes in the development of trust. Vanyperen and Buunk (1991) as well as Clark, Ouellette, Powell, and Milberg (1987) have suggested that individuals who focus on their partners' needs rather than on fair exchange in their relationships are more satisfied with their own actions than individuals who continually check their inputs and outputs against those of their partners. For persons who are communally oriented, trust is not a function of ensuring that their partners respond in kind to their own trusting actions; although communally oriented individuals may examine their partners' behaviors, they do so only to determine whether those behaviors reveal information their partners' needs, not to assess them as a basis for trust. Persons who score high on communal orientation are focused exclusively on their partners' needs without concern over whether the partners are "keeping up" with them in matters of trust. Thus, communally oriented people should be more likely than exchange-oriented people to develop trust through their own actions.

Although self-perception theory states that one's own behaviors lead to internalized attitude change, it has also been argued that one's own actions may lead to a change in publicly reported beliefs only. According to Tedeschi, Schlenker, and Bonoma's (1977) impression management theory, people are motivated to appear consistent in front of others; therefore, after a particular behavior, they later report changes in attitudes that match the performed behavior, although their private attitudes have not necessarily changed. In terms of the present issue, if people exhibit trusting behaviors in front of others, they may publicly report more trust in their partners to appear consistent. Although the empirical evidence supporting impression management theory is inconclusive (Brehm & Kassin, 1991), it is a plausible rival hypothesis to a self-perception explanation.

We based the present study on the following hypotheses: Hypothesis 1: The participants who perform trusting behaviors or learn that their partners have done so will experience greater trust than those in the irrelevant, or nonthreatening, behavior condition. Hypothesis 2: The participants who act in a trusting manner themselves will trust their partners more than will those who learn that their partners act in a trusting manner. Hypothesis 3: No differences will occur between the participants who anonymously report their levels of trust and those in other trust conditions. (The purpose of Hypothesis 3 was to rule out an impression management explanation for increased trust.) Hypothesis 4: Increased self-awareness and communal orientation of the participants will predict greater trust in partners than will lack of self-awareness and an exchange orientation.

Previous U.S. researchers have used only correlational designs to study trust. By inducing trusting behaviors in the present research, we showed the immediate impact of such behaviors on trust among U.S. couples. Consistent with the first hypothesis, our results demonstrated that trusting behaviors, whether exhibited by oneself or by one's partner, lead to significantly greater trust in a partner than do irrelevant actions.

Our second hypothesis was also supported: A person's own trusting actions induce trust in the actor; furthermore, their effect is significantly greater than the effect produced by knowledge of one's partner's trusting behaviors. This finding is consistent with a self-perception explanation (Bem, 1972): People may sometimes infer trust more from their own actions than from those of their partners. Our intention in this research, however, was not to demonstrate the superiority of the self-perception perspective to Holmes's social-exchange model or to offer it as a more powerful theoretical alternative. Instead, the data supporting the self-perception perspective suggest that it may be useful to modify Holmes' model to include a self-perception component. For example, partners in the state of intense passion called limerence (Tennov, 1979) or romantic love (Hatfield & Walster, 1981) are typically blind to imperfections in their loved ones (Gold et al., 1984; McClanahan et al., 1990). Consequently, fueled by their passion, people may discount, or even ignore, their partners' lack of trusting behaviors and use their own trusting behaviors as the critical criteria in judging interpersonal trust. Later, as their passion wanes (Sternberg, 1986), they may adopt a view of their partners based more on the mutual exchange or "tit-for-tat" strategy proposed by Holmes. In fact, Holmes and Rempel (1989) themselves claim that early in relationships, partners may experience "blind trust" in one another without much behavioral evidence. Self-perception may account for such blind trust. If one forms beliefs only on the basis of one's own behaviors and ignores relevant partner data, such behavior could be a function of blind trust.

In regard to the third hypothesis, that impression management may be a plausible rival to self-perception as an explanation of the actor results, the lack of differences between the participants who displayed trusting behavior after reminders that their responses were completely anonymous and the participants who were not so reminded provides strong evidence for the self-perception position. Thus, it seems likely that private, internalized trusting beliefs were changed in the present study.

Concerning the fourth hypothesis, both the mirror manipulation, designed to increase objective self-awareness, and the variable of relationship orientation yielded unexpected results: When trusting behaviors occurred in front of a mirror, they resulted in even greater trusting-behavior effects, but these effects occurred under both the actor and the recipient conditions. Because the purpose of the mirror was to produce increased objective self-awareness and, consequently, to increase the self-perception effect upon trust, the enhanced trust thereby created in the receiver conditions was not anticipated.

Theoretically, the mirror should have focused the actors' attention on their own behaviors, making them more like observers and leading to dispositional attributions and consequently greater trust scores. Because they were viewing themselves as the recipients of trusting actions, the process for the receivers should have led to a stronger belief in their own trustworthiness rather than to an increase in trust toward their partners. Perhaps increased feelings of being trusted by their partners then led individuals to increase their own trust in their partner for three reasons: First, the recipients of trusting behaviors may have felt pressure to reciprocate the confidence of their partners. Second, they may have believed that they had power over their partners that caused their partners to act in trusting ways. Third, they may have been convinced that because their partners' trust was evidence of an overall positive orientation toward the recipients, they should in turn trust their partners. According to these explanations, increased self-awareness would increase trust directly for the actors and more indirectly for the recipients.

We expected communally oriented participants to be more likely than exchange-oriented participants to develop trust through their own actions; however, since relationship orientation did not interact with the experimental variables, that expectation was not confirmed. On the other hand, relationship orientation was related to the participants' trust in their partners: The communally oriented participants reported greater trust than did the exchange-oriented participants. Possibly, their lack of emphasis on behavioral reciprocation enabled the former to trust their partners more because they developed trust. Also, the communal participants may have had blind faith in their partners, which led to increased trust in their mates. Communal orientation and trust may also have been related because both are properties of healthy, well-functioning relationships.

Although this research is limited because the sample was composed primarily of U.S. undergraduates, our findings may have implications for one specific area: the contractual approach to marital therapy. According to this approach, distressed couples are encouraged to develop behavioral contracts designed to promote fair exchange in relationships by focusing on the relation of a partner's actions to one's own. Although Epstein and Baucom (1989) and Hahlweg and Markman (1988) found merit in this method, Weiss (1974) pointed out long ago that this form of contracting may not be effective in promoting trust and satisfaction in severely distressed couples. The contingent relationship between each partner's behavior change agreements creates a "who goes first" problem; neither partner is likely to change under such conditions if intense mistrust exists between them. Thus, Weiss recommended "good faith" contracting as an alternative therapeutic procedure. With this procedure, both partners initiate positive changes in their behaviors, including those involving trust, independently of what the other party does. Jacobson and Holtzworth-Munroe (1986) noted that these self-initiated behavior changes are likely to be viewed by the actor as voluntary and eventually reflective of a positive, trusting attitude. Research by Jacobson (1978,1984) showed that the "good faith" procedure does indeed promote general satisfaction and trust in the relationship. Although the process underlying the increases in trust is left unspecified, it seems reasonable, in light of the present study, that a self-perception component may be at least partially responsible for the development of greater overall trust.
- Zak, Ann Marie; Gold, Joel A.; Ryckman, Richard M.; Lenney, Ellen; Assessments of Trust in Intimate Relationships and the Self-Perception Process; Journal of Social Psychology, Apr98, Vol. 138 Issue 2
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

Personal Reflection Exercise #11
The preceding section contained information about rebuilding trust between the hurt and unfaithful partner.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

What is meant by “good faith” contracting? Record the letter of the correct answer the Answer Booklet.

Answer Booklet for this course
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The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
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