Relationships don’t start with a high level of trust. Trust must be built day-by-day, when two people demonstrate trustworthiness through their words and actions. Trust is developed conversation by conversation, by working through conflicts and demonstrating kindness, generosity, and consideration. In a moment of unconsciousness, anger, or fear, we can do great damage to the trust that we have worked so diligently to create. Yet breakdowns inevitably occur. We can’t avoid them, but we can repair the damage, provided there is a shared intention to do so.
We are all members of the scar clan.
The more awake and aware we are of the preciousness of trust, the more deliberate we will be in protecting and preserving it. Although our legal system says “innocent until proven guilty,” when it comes to relationships, most of us don’t start with this assumption. It’s not that we’re all a bunch of paranoids; it’s just that most of us don’t get to adulthood without having been burned by people who we thought were trustworthy. Emotional betrayal makes us much less naive and more cautious. While we all would like to believe that people are generally trustworthy, most of us have abundant evidence to the contrary.
Consider the case of Jonathan and Nina.
In the early stages of their relationship, Jonathon trusted that Nina was a good person, that she would never do anything to deliberately hurt him, that she was honest and decent, and that she could be counted on to honor her word and keep her commitments. Yet on a more subtle level, there were aspects of Nina that Jonathan didn’t trust at all. He not only kept these feelings from her, he wasn’t even aware of them himself. Jonathan didn’t trust that she’d stay with him if he failed to be a good provider. He didn’t trust her to not say things to him that would hurt his feelings. Jonathan didn’t trust that Nina would never take advantage of his vulnerability if he let his guard down and shared his deepest fears and longings. He feared that she would say bad things about him behind my back to their children and turn them against him.
Identifying patterns left over from childhood
Over time, Jonathan came to understand that these fears had little to do with Nina and much more to do with patterns that he had taken on from his own childhood. He came into the relationship with his own emotional baggage, as most people do. It took Jonathan a while to begin to see that Nina was more trustworthy than many of the other people in his life. Consequently, he frequently tested her caring, not trusting it to be unconditional. Fortunately, Nina hung in there until he came to realize that it wasn’t just her that he didn’t trust, it was himself. Jonathan didn’t trust himself to provide for his inner needs and concerns because he had turned that responsibility over to others throughout his life. This realization did more to affect the level of trust in their relationship than all of Nina’s efforts combined.
Rising up to a higher level of responsibility
As Jonathan accepted responsibility for meeting the needs for his own well-being instead of expecting Nina to provide for it, the level of trust in their relationship began to climb. By acting in ways that gave him evidence that he was self-caring, self-respecting, and self-reliant, Jonathan experienced an increased sense of trust in himself. He made and kept promises to himself that he had in the past been willing to break. He made a commitment to bring more compassion to his self-talk, to be less judgmental, and to take better care of his body. He gave himself more of the kindness, respect, and appreciation that he had been looking to Nina and others to provide.
The result was that Nina felt less obliged to take care of him, and without this pressure she was more loving and free when she was around him. It was a net gain for both of them, as the quality and quantity of what she gave to Jonathan increased. As it did, he reciprocated, and the trust level between them increased dramatically, eventually creating a rock-solid foundation for their relationship.
Jonathan and Nina still at times can experience momentary feelings of doubt or mistrust, but when they lapse, it’s always very brief, just a temporary blip on the screen that soon disappears. When I saw Jonathan last, he said, “These days, one of their greatest pleasures is to relax into the trust that now characterizes their marriage. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. Check out her OMTimes Bio.
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