Knowing When to Give It, When to Withhold It, How to Earn It, and How to Fix It When It Gets Broken


By Dr. Henry Cloud

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New York Times bestselling author, psychologist, and leadership expert Henry Cloud equips us to understand and manage trust for successful relationships through five foundational aspects.

Trust is the fuel for all of life. We are wired biologically, neurologically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically to trust. Trust is the currency that drives every relationship, beginning with the foundational bond between infants and their mothers, extending to the trust networks that undergird every human endeavor – art, science, commerce – and binding together every relationship we have ever had or ever will have. Nothing in our world works without trust.

It is tempting to think that trust is simple, that we should be able to spot a lack of trustworthiness relatively easily. But we all have our stories about misplaced trust. We either missed clear or subtle warning signs or there just were not any warning signs to see. Everything looked good on the surface, and maybe it was. But we got burned anyway.

And sometimes we struggle to earn and keep the trust of those around us when trust bonds fail to form or are broken. When trust breaks down, so does our ability to move forward.

Dr. Cloud explores the five foundational aspects of trust that must be present for any relationship to function successfully and helps us to understand how to implement them. He also guides us through the difficult process of repairing trust when it has been violated and broken, even when restoring trust feels impossible.

Rich with wisdom drawn from decades of experience in clinical practice, business consulting and research, Trust is the ultimate resource for managing this most complex and fundamental of human bonds, allowing us to experience more fruitful and rewarding relationships in every area of our lives.






The morning was tense. I was accustomed to tense situations in my line of work, but I was not prepared for what happened next.

I had been called in to facilitate a crisis meeting. The board of directors of a global entity had convened in a last-ditch effort to save the company. A yearlong battle between the CEO and the board chair had reached a breaking point, and they had called an emergency board retreat to try to prevent what seemed inevitable—that one of the two executives would leave the company. The departure of either one would make global headlines. Hundreds of thousands of lives would be affected, and a great deal of money would be put at risk.

We began our day together by putting the issues on the table, ensuring that we were all starting with the same set of facts. The hope was to resolve the conflict between the two leaders so the company could continue to thrive. As best I could tell, based on my pre-meeting interviews, half of the board sided with the chair, and the other half with the CEO. And it was crystal clear that the two of them did not side with each other.

As each person shared their perspective, the tension was palpable, yet somewhat cordial. But soon, in a moment, it all turned dark. The CEO interrupted the chair to make a comment, and not in a polite or measured way. Then, it happened.

The board chair, with all eyes upon him, gently closed his portfolio. After looking down for a few seconds, he looked around the table and said to the group, “I am done. You all can take it from here, but I am done. Good luck.”

With that, he got up and began walking toward the door. The room went silent with shock. I don’t think anyone knew what to do, but they all knew that this was bad. The chairman was obviously resigning. He was walking out in the middle of the retreat intended to save the company.

I didn’t know what to do, but I could not simply allow this devastating situation to continue. So I quickly ran across the room and placed myself between the chairman and the door. Then, I sat down on the floor and blocked his exit.

“Okay, wait,” I said. “You can leave, but if you walk out this door, you will set into motion a chain of events that cannot be undone. It will affect hundreds of thousands of lives. Before you do that, I ask you this one thing. Please, sit down for a moment. Right here, with me.”

There are times when people might think you are so crazy that they simply do what you ask them to do, and I think this was one of them. The chairman sat down on the floor, and I asked him, “What does it feel like when he does what he just did to you?”

He stared at me for a long moment and then began to speak. “I… I… just don’t know… what…” And then his lower jaw began to quiver as he tried to speak. This powerful man, an acclaimed attorney and industry leader, could not get the words out. “He… he makes me feel like… There is no way… I can…”

Pain and emotion so saturated this man’s words that he could no longer speak.

Within moments, movement across the room caught my attention. The CEO was walking over to us. He sat down beside us, looked at the chairman, and said, “I never knew I made you feel that way. I never knew. I would never want to make you feel that way. I am so, so sorry.”

The chairman looked up and stared at the CEO for a moment. Then he turned to me, appearing as though he did not know what to say or do next.

I looked at the group and said, “Give me the room. I’ll call you back in when we’re ready.”

Over the next hour and a half, the three of us simply talked. And listened, and talked some more. Finally, I invited the board to return and said, “Time to go to work.”

For the remainder of the retreat, the board listened to the two executives talk about their disconnection and, more importantly, about how they would move forward. To say the least, things ended much better than they had been just a couple of hours earlier. Disaster averted.

The problem we have is this: we often don’t understand how trust like theirs went awry, nor do we know the mechanisms involved to get back to a good place in the way they did. The goal of this book is to understand both: how it gets broken, and how to repair it when it does.

Can You Relate?

Perhaps you identify with the dynamics, the communication breakdowns, and the emotions expressed in this story. Maybe you are not a CEO or a board chair, but you fully understand tension, division, and skepticism in a relationship. You understand what it is like if it all breaks down or being caught in the middle between others where these problems exist. You know the heartache that comes from finding out someone you trusted has betrayed you or let you down. Your story may involve:

The spouse you felt sure was loyal and totally devoted to you had an affair.

The business partner with whom you entrusted your entire career sold out to your worst enemy.

Someone you entrusted yourself to was not competent to do what you thought he or she would.

The pastor with whom you entrusted your spiritual well-being was leading a double life.

The friend with whom you shared your most intimate details spread your secrets to others.

A beloved sibling turned against you in a battle over inheritance, and you were shocked to find that money or possessions could mean more to him or her than your relationship.

The trusted employee in whom you invested much either started a new business without telling you or took valuable knowledge and expertise learned from you to work for a competitor.

Your trusted teammate let you down.

Someone you love was not capable of actually loving you in return in the ways you need it.

You know your history of broken trust. You know who was involved, and you know what happened. The list of ways humans can betray one another is almost infinite, but the pain is always the same: hurt, betrayal, disillusionment, anger, withdrawal from trusting others, reticence in future transactions, suspicion, and more. In short, when trust is broken and we are betrayed, we suffer.

Trust: More Than a Feeling

Trust is a familiar word and a familiar concept. We know what it means and when it’s working for us. We also know, sometimes in agony, when it gets broken. defines trust as a noun this way: “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” This is a good and accurate explanation of trust, but I really like how the Cambridge Dictionary defines trust as a verb: “to believe that someone is good and honest and will not harm you, or that something is safe and reliable.” As I noted earlier, the crucial question we ask before we get involved with a person or a situation is, “Is it safe?” We long to feel safe and secure, and trust is the currency that brings those feelings about in our lives. When you put these two definitions together, it says a lot about what we are going to be looking at in this book. It is feeling safe—plus security that we can rely on someone to deliver what we need in several ways.

When you meet someone—a potential love interest, a potential employer or employee, a new neighbor, or a casual acquaintance—you often get a sense about that person, a feeling. You may say to yourself, “I seem to connect with her,” or, “I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t feel good about that guy.” You then tend to act upon those senses. The consequences of those actions may be as small as asking the person next to you at a ballgame to watch your jacket while you go to the restroom and seeing the jacket untouched when you return. Or they may be as life-altering as walking down the aisle with someone in marriage. In either case and in hundreds of others, you take the first step on the path of trust based on a feeling, and thereby you make yourself vulnerable to being hurt in some way. You place yourself at risk if the person you trust does not perform. Worse, if that person betrays your trust, you get hurt.

We are easily tempted to think that trust is simple, that we ought to be able to quickly spot a lack of trustworthiness. After all, we have seen cases where this was true. We have a family member who took a salesperson’s word that the used car was reliable. We could immediately see that a friend’s new boyfriend was narcissistic while she found him charming and liked his confidence. In both cases, we were amazed that the people we care about did not simply see what we saw. We frequently walk away from such instances feeling a bit smug, thinking, How could he or she do that? And for a moment, we feel a bit sturdier, saying to ourselves, “I wouldn’t have let anyone take me for a ride like that. I’m smarter than that. I would have seen it.” We feel like we are on the right side of Proverbs 22:3: “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (NLT).

While trust often begins with a feeling, it can’t only be based on a feeling, an emotion, or some kind of sense. It has to be rooted in more solid, observable, essential qualities.

It’s important for us to know that while trust often begins with a feeling, it can’t only be based on a feeling, an emotion, or some kind of sense. It has to be rooted in more solid, observable, essential qualities, which we’ll explore in part 2 of this book.

Believe It or Not, Trust Is Sexy

I had a client who said something powerful one day: “I never knew how sexy trust was.” I found that statement intriguing, so I asked him to explain.

He had been put in a situation at work that would require him to be around a woman he had dated seriously before marrying his wife. He was concerned about how his wife would take this news and worried she would want him to refuse the project. Had he turned down the opportunity, it would have been really problematic for his work. He felt caught between two bad options.

But when he shared it with his wife, her response was surprising. “I am not worried about this at all. I totally trust you. Don’t even think about it,” she said.

This was good enough for him, because in reality, he had no designs on his former girlfriend to begin with. But he certainly understood how his being around her could be a problem for his wife.

He was surprised when he went on the first business trip that included his ex-girlfriend and found himself at a dinner meeting with her. Eventually, other attendees left the table, went to their rooms, and left him alone with the woman with whom he was once seriously involved. They talked for a while, and then the thought hit him: it would be so easy for him to cheat on his wife with her. Then he remembered how his wife trusted him, even though she knew he would have an opportunity to betray her, and she really, really trusted him.

As he sat there, he became even more aware of the depth of his wife’s trust. He told me that, as he thought about it more and more, he felt he might explode inside with love and desire for her. He could hardly wait to end the dinner and get back to his room to call her. His heart and soul melted at the feeling of oneness that he had with his wife because of her trust in him.

Trust is the fuel for all of life.

That’s why he said to me, “I never knew how sexy trust is. If I could have gotten to her at that moment.…” (I’ll spare you the details, but you can imagine.) His wife’s trust propelled him toward her and drove him more deeply into their relationship. Trust builds bonds, deepens them, and can call forth our greatest faithfulness. I’ll explain the biochemical and psychological reasons for this in chapter 2.

What stood out for me about his story is exactly what I mentioned in the introduction to this book: Trust is the fuel for all of life. As I noted, we have been created and designed biologically, neurologically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically to trust. When we trust, life works. When trust is high, it gets all the juices flowing and everything runs well. When trust is low—well, you know what that’s like. When trust is broken, things are even worse.

You’ve had enough experience with trust to realize that it’s powerful. As I’ve stated, trust fuels all of life. That’s why I’m on a campaign to persuade you to embrace trust and to grow in trust as one of the most important skills you can have.

Why Trust?

Let me offer several reasons trust matters so much and mention a few areas of life that depend on being able to trust:

Physical and psychological maturity of the human organism, beginning at birth: brain size, body weight, immune system function, intellectual development, language and social development, and others.

Trust in family of origin affects the ability to trust on all levels in adulthood, in marriage, and in other relationships.1

Rises in trust affect gross domestic product (GDP) growth in economies through increases of business investment, human capital accumulation, and organizational improvements.

Happily married couples trust that their spouse will “be there for them” when needed most. Unhappy couples do not have that same trust.2

Couples therapy focusing on building emotional trust is more successful.3

Work teams with high trust outperform teams with low trust in results across multiple measures.

People higher in trust have better physical health and fewer health problems than those low in trust. Their high trust levels affect longevity and their mental health (lower anxiety and depression), and they are happier as people.

High trust leaders are more effective across multiple measures.

Physiological brain performance in marital relationships is reduced with low trust, resulting in lower conflict resolution and affecting divorce rates.

Performance, turnover, and customer experience are affected by trust, and the absence of trust leads to multiple business problems.

Trust built on empathy reduces anxiety across virtually all dimensions of life.

Trust in surgical teams leads to better results and greater learning curves.

Business marketing effectiveness is built upon the ability to create trust, and brand loyalty depends on it.

What is referred to as “social trust” (positive attitudes toward other members of society) increases individual success; maintains health; reduces anxiety; increases welfare, health, and education; and improves physical and mental health in a society, while low trust does the opposite.4

The list could go on, but hopefully you see that trust matters greatly in every area of life, and you are becoming convinced that we all need it to do well.

Researcher Roderick M. Kramer teaches us that trust can be both positive and negative:

Human beings are naturally predisposed to trust—it’s in our genes and our childhood learning—and by and large it’s a survival mechanism that has served our species well. That said, our willingness to trust often gets us into trouble. Moreover, we sometimes have difficulty distinguishing trustworthy people from untrustworthy ones. At a species level, that doesn’t matter very much so long as more people are trustworthy than not. At the individual level, though, it can be a real problem.5

As you read Kramer’s words, you may be saying to yourself, “Don’t I know it? Trust at the individual level can definitely be a real problem.” My hope for you is that as you make your way through this book, you will grow in the skill of identifying whom to trust and knowing how to trust them. This way, trust will become more of a positive experience and less of a negative one. Whether your experience with trust has been good or bad, and it’s likely been a mixture of both, it can be better. This is vital, because everything depends on trust.


1 K. M. Franklin, R. Janoff-Bulman, and J. E. Roberts, “Long-Term Impact of Parental Divorce on Optimism and Trust: Changes in General Assumptions or Narrow Beliefs?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59, no. 4 (1990): 743–55,\

2 John M. Gottman, The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011), 55. Kindle edition.

3 Susan M. Johnson, The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (New York: Routledge, 2019).

4 Farzin Rezaei et al. “The Relationship Between Spiritual Health and Social Trust Among Students,” Journal of Mind and Medical Sciences 8, no. 1 (2021).

5 Roderick M. Kramer, “Rethinking Trust,” Harvard Business Review (June 2009).



I relish my time on airplanes—those periods of quiet, alone time with no meetings and no demands. I have learned to avoid answering the common question from a seatmate: “So, what do you do?” Experience has taught me that if I say I am a psychologist, I am often in for a session I did not sign up for. But on this particular day, I slipped a bit. I was working on some research on trust, and when the man next to me asked about it, I told him. His response surprised me.

“Well, I don’t trust anybody,” he said. “Never have, never will. People aren’t trustworthy.”

“Really?” I asked. “No one? Nobody at all?”

“Absolutely not,” he continued. “Trust only leads to trouble. People let you down.”

“Well, I hate to tell you, but you’re very mistaken about yourself,” I said. “You absolutely do trust people.”

“No, I don’t. No way,” he said. “What are you talking about?”

“You’re trusting the pilot sitting in the cockpit, and you’ve never even met her. You trusted the guy who fueled this plane to put pure jet fuel in it instead of something else. You just ate a sandwich, trusting that the meat packer made sure it did not contain E. coli. You trust the mechanic who serviced the cabin compression so we have oxygen to breathe at 30,000 feet. And my hunch is that when you drove to the airport, you trusted the drivers in the opposite lane not to cross the yellow line and hit you head on. So it seems to me you have a great deal of trust. In fact, you’re a pretty trusting guy.”

I continued, “But what I imagine is true is that you don’t trust people in a much more personal way, and that usually comes from having had some bad experiences somewhere in life. But the reality is that life itself cannot work—whether you’re traveling or eating a sandwich or breathing air—without trust.” I said all that, kind of wishing I hadn’t, as I had just potentially entered one of those conversations I try to avoid.

As we continued talking, his story confirmed one more time how unavoidable trust is in life. At the same time, it reminded me afresh how brutally vulnerable we are when we engage in trust and it doesn’t go well. This had been the case many times for the man sitting next to me before he finally gave up on trust. Or thought he had.

So, if trusting is so dangerous, why would we not be like this man? Why would we not at least stop trusting people in personal relationships or in the business arena? Why not simply try to avoid trust as much as possible? After all, it is true that trust sets us up to be disappointed or deeply hurt. It involves risk, and we can lose a lot. So why not just avoid it as much as we can?

Simply put, we can’t, and there are good reasons for that.

We’re Biologically Wired to Trust

If you have ever been around a newborn, you’ve noticed that newborns do not do much due diligence when they’re hungry. They scream with all their might and basically say, “Bring it to me now!” When the breast is offered, a natural rhythm develops between a baby and a nursing mother, and it is the epitome of trust. Truly, the human infant is wired to trust. Trusting is the most natural and instinctual thing infants do. They trust first for food and then for holding and comfort. As they experience hundreds of instances of first being in distress and then consistently being delivered from the pain of hunger and aloneness by a caring person, the trust they automatically placed in Mom or a caretaker pays off and even multiplies. Trust followed by satisfaction builds more trust.

The care, comfort, and love the baby receives are gradually internalized. Neuroscience teaches us that these become actual living physical structures inside the infant’s brain. Slowly an “internal mother” is neurologically constructed, and as the internal self-soothing system begins to form and develop, this will soon be able to soothe the infant from inside, even when the external mother is not present. Love actually becomes internal “equipment.” Eventually, in a couple of years, this infant-turned-toddler will be able to venture into the next room and not be afraid because he will have “mommy on the inside.” And one day, as an adult, this same person, now grown up, will be able to “self-regulate” his anger at a boss and keep his cool—all because a lifetime of trusting relationships produced an internalized self-soothing system.

Trust followed by satisfaction builds more trust.

Developmental psychologists call this process “developing emotional object constancy.” This means that the “love object” (the caretaker) gets internalized through thousands of instances of trusting connection. At some point, an infant achieves the milestone of “secure attachment” leading to “constancy,” whereby he or she feels loved even when not being attended to directly. The love is now on the inside.

As Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (NIV). The longing for love and comfort that is fulfilled by a loving mother or primary caretaker now is a “life-giving tree” living inside, and it yields the perpetual fruit of feelings of security. This is the same process that enables terrified PTSD patients to internalize the care of a therapist and overcome the horrifying distress they have inside and, in time, realize a cure.

But no matter how loving a mother may be, if an infant does not “know” how to trust—to depend on another human being and to receive what its mother has to offer—none of her milk, love, or care will matter. The physical and emotional nourishment she offers will remain unavailable to the child if the child cannot trust. Trust makes it all happen. Without trust, the door is never opened, and nothing can get in to benefit the baby. Trust is the infant’s first job, and it is a job that will not end for the rest of his or her life. And without it, the child will never know the resilient and curative effect of trust.

Since trust is so essential, it is good to know there are drugs available to help in the process! The pharmacy is right inside mother and infant in the form of powerful bonding chemicals that virtually ensure this process will take place, “gluing” them together in this bubble of safety and trust. Humans, in this case mother and child, are both chemically equipped to engage in this reciprocal relationship of trust and develop an unbreakable bond. This is part of their natural wiring. As one group of researchers put it:

Neurobiologically oxytocin directs the young infant to preferentially select species-specific social stimuli to form dyadic attachments.… Increased maternal oxytocin levels were significantly related to more affectionate contact behaviors in mothers following mother-infant contact, synchrony, and engagement.

Stated more simply, “oxytocin directs the infant to trust the mom, and vice versa.” Think about this: As human beings, our natural chemical makeup is designed to trust and to bond. We literally can’t help it. God wired us this way, as Scripture attests, as a beautiful first step in even trusting Him: “You made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast” (Ps. 22:9 NIV).


On Sale
Mar 28, 2023
Page Count
304 pages
Worthy Books

Dr. Henry Cloud

About the Author

Dr. Henry Cloud is an acclaimed leadership expert, clinical psychologist and New York Times bestselling author. His 46 books, including the iconic Boundaries, have sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide. He has an extensive executive coaching background and experience as a leadership consultant, devoting the majority of his time working with CEOs, leadership teams, and executives to improve performance, leadership skills and culture.

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