Why is unreliability so frustrating?

A lack of reliability can be really damaging in relationships because it can make it more difficult to trust someone.

Often the little things form the backbone of why we trust someone. The small stuff accumulates to shape how we feel about a person. Bad things like forgetting to call if you’re coming home late, changing plans last minute, not asking how someone’s day was – and then, on the obverse, good things like remembering something they said in a previous conversation, going out of your way to help them with something, surprising them with a gift.

Together, these instances can add up to become our perception of how trustworthy a person is – how secure we can feel in and around them, how much we can rely on them when it comes to the big stuff. In this context, trust isn’t just about how much you believe your partner when they say something, or feel certain that they wouldn’t cheat on you – it’s a general feeling of putting your trust in them: a belief that your partnership is a strong and enduring one.

When unreliability takes the form of being emotionally unpredictable, trust can obviously be affected in even more extreme or painful ways. If you can’t predict how someone is going to behave towards you on any given day, you can feel like you’re always treading on eggshells or feel constantly anxious about your status in the relationship. You might worry that today is going to be the day that there’s going to be another ‘incident’ or find yourself feeling worried or cold when you think about them, instead of secure and happy.

If the latter sounds familiar to you, it’s important to recognise that this can constitute a form of emotional abuse. Although there are different ideas on what defines abusive behaviour, if you feel that your sense of self-esteem is being consistently undermined, there’s a significant risk that this is the case.