Relationships don’t begin with trust. Trust is built day-by-day by two people who demonstrate trust-worthiness 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. 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 paranoid; 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.
Charlie: In the early stages of our relationship, I trusted that Linda was a good person, that she would never do anything to deliberately hurt me, 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 Linda that I felt mistrusting of. I not only kept these feelings from her, I wasn’t even aware of many of them myself. I didn’t trust that she’d stay with me if I failed to be a good provider. I didn’t trust her to not say things to me that would hurt my feelings. I didn’t trust that she would never take advantage of my vulnerability if I let my guard down and shared my deepest fears and longings. I feared that she would say bad things about me behind my back to our children and turn them against me.
These fears had little to do with Linda and much more to do with patterns that I had taken on from my own childhood. Like most people, I came into our relationship with my share of emotional baggage. It took me a while to begin to see that Linda was more trustworthy than many of the other people who had been in my life. Consequently, I frequently tested her caring, not trusting it to be unconditional. Fortunately, Linda hung in there until I came to realize that it wasn’t just her that I didn’t trust, it was me. I didn’t trust myself to provide for my inner needs and concerns because I had turned that responsibility over to others throughout my life. This realization did more to affect the level of trust in our relationship than all of Linda’s efforts combined.
As I accepted responsibility for meeting the needs of my own well-being instead of expecting Linda to provide for it, the level of trust in our relationship began to climb. By acting in ways that gave me evidence that I was self-caring, self-respecting, and self-reliant, I experienced an increased sense of trust in myself. I made and kept promises to myself that I had in the past been willing to break; I strove to bring more compassion and kindness to my self-talk, to be less judgmental, and to take better care of my body; and I gave myself more of the kindness, respect, and appreciation that I had been looking to Linda and others to provide. The result was that Linda felt less obliged to take care of me, and without this pressure she was more loving and free when she was around me. It was a net gain for us both, as the quality and quantity of what she gave to me increased. As it did, I reciprocated, and the trust level between us increased dramatically, eventually creating a rock-solid foundation for our relationship.
We still at times can experience momentary feelings of doubt or mistrust, but when we lapse it’s always very brief, just a temporary blip on the screen that soon disappears. These days, one of my greatest pleasures, and Linda’s too, is to relax into the trust that now characterizes our marriage. It took a fair amount of time and effort to get here, but the payoffs have been beyond what either of us ever expected them to be.