The Trust Factor: Part Two

In my last post, I talked about Trust and explained that it is something I believe must be earned & maintained. Since that post, I have received a bit of feedback and a request for deeper explanation & clarification. Luckily, this is a topic I have spent a lot of time thinking on, and even discussing in therapy.

To recap: 

The idea that trust is an automatic award, seriously disturbs me. To just “give” a person your trust, without any indication of trustworthiness, is … well … naive. It fully identifies one of the biggest pitfalls in today’s relationships. Given trust, without having had to earn or maintain it, allows a person to 1) take such trust for granted -there is no “ownership,” 2) avoid the maintenace requirement, providing no accountability, and 3) with avoidance of ownership & accountability, the trustee is easily able to shift blame when trust is retracted (i.e. “It’s your fault you don’t trust me.” rather than “What do I need to do to earn your trust?”).

So the question is … how does one earn and maintain trust in a relationship? Keep reading and I’ll explain my personal view on that.

1) Communication

This one thing alone can make or break a relationship. Lack of communication leads to a breakdown of trust, unanswered questions, and insecurity. It also shuts out intimacy (no, not sex, intimacy; there’s a difference). It’s better to over-communicate than to not communicate at all.

This starts in the beginning of every relationship: what are your intentions, what are your relationship rules, what do you expect from your partner. Without these few, but significant understandings, a relationship cannot stand on solid ground.

There is more to communication than sharing your favorite color or even revealing the “skeletons in your closet.” It’s voicing your emotions, sharing your thoughts and beliefs, speaking when you are upset or disappointed, making sure you share when you’re happy or appreciative, and, just as important, to be willing to listen and hear the same when coming from your partner – and doing so with complete honesty.

For two people wanting to share the rest of their lives, it is necessary to have an open door policy. There must be a feeling of “safety” when communicating. The firm knowledge that you are free to open up without judgment or having to face anger. Even when things are hard. Even when it’s uncomfortable.

I must admit, communication, especially verbal, is hard for me. I spent years having to bite my tongue. I knew that opening up my communication line meant I was opening the door to abuse. To being told how stupid I was, how ridiculous and invalid my thoughts and feelings were, and ultimately, to a temper that was as dangerous as any tornado. This trained me to keep not just my feelings and thoughts to myself, but to avoid communication offered by others.

2) Commitment

The level of commitment you display reflects directly in the amount of trust given.

A partner who makes it clear that they’re committed to the relationship builds a stronger trust foundation than one who always has one foot out the door.

To me, this is a simple thing to grasp. If you’re threatening to leave every time things get hard, you offer no relationship security. You are announcing, every time you say you are done with the relationship, that your partner is not worth fighting for … that the relationship is not that important to you … and that you cannot be depended on. Instead of an anchor, fully intended to hold a relationship down, you become volatile, a yo-yo, a temporary option.

When you commit, however, you tell your partner that they are safe with you – that you will be there when they need you – and that you value the relationship. That they are worth it.

Note, I am not saying that major issues (abuse, infidelity) should not shake commitment, because those things absolutely are on another level than what we are discussing right now. Abuse should end a relationship (lesson learned). And we should be held accountable for doing things that cut threads of trust (we’ll talk about that shortly), but in the general day-to-day, commitment should be unshakeable.

3) Actions that match your words

It’s easy to make promises. It’s not always easy to follow through. Tangible results are proof that you’ve followed through. And the expectation of such provides accountability. Whether it is proving your commitment by standing firmly, keeping an “I will” promise, or simply doing (not doing) something, being able to show, tangibly, that you have followed through builds trust. But just as this is important in building trust, it is equally important in maintaining and repairing trust.

4) Transparency 

I think this is one of the hardest trust-builders for some and is often where building trust hits a wall.

Society today, with so much available in technology, has a higher expectation of privacy than ever. Smart phones especially have become tools of self-gratification and freedom that continually grows. It is easy to hide our darker sides, to cheat, to lie, to become someone different through the graces of technology and privacy. These things are not seen as negatively when a person is single and free to act as such.

But in a committed relationship, expectation of such freedom and privacy is detrimental.

A partner whose phone is always locked, whose “online life” is dripping in secrecy, and who, at all costs hides their activities, “friends,” and interests from their partner not only betrays trust, but is keeping a part of their self from their partner. One cannot attain true commitment, honest communication, or, in most cases, match their actions to their words, with so much privacy. Accountability is thrown away and relationship security is nowhere to be found.

There should be no secrets in a committed relationship, except for those “surprises” FOR your partner. More often than not, the person screaming for “privacy” has something to hide. Too much privacy destroys trust.

Simply put, when you commit yourself to your partner and relationship, you place your “togetherness” above your “singleness” and you strive to become “one.”  (This is not to say that you should not each have your own interests or friends, just that if you need to hide them or lie about them, or in any way keep them from your partner, they are a breach of trust.)

If one desires privacy on this level, they should be direct when communicating and setting out the initial boundaries of a relationship with the understanding that what is “acceptable” on one side of the relationship, must also be “acceptable” on the other side of the relationship. All too often one partner expects complete tranparency, while refusing to offer the same. 

5) Consistency

When building, maintining, or repairing trust, consistency is mandatory. We all have “off days” when we do something we wouldn’t usually do. Maybe we are distracted or had a bad day. For some reason, we act more aloof or angry or secretive. This is understandable and with good communication, it is easily explainable. But if you are unpredictable, inconsistent in your words and actions, and constantly leaving your partner with unanswered questions and unexplainable actions on a regular basis, you are paving the road to distrust.

6) Intimacy

In today’s society, intimacy seems to be interchangeable with sex. And while sex is a piece of intimacy, true intimacy runs much, much deeper than just having sex.

This is a theory I carried with me for most of my life. Especially having been married, having been in committed relationships, I was always sure that “intimacy” should have felt “different” than the sexual relationship(s) I experienced. There was always something missing – a gap between the “physical” and the “emotional” aspects of sex. I felt naked, but not bare. And the term “making love” was a mystery to me. But as I have learned recently, there is a difference between “just sex” and “emotional sex.”

Intimacy comes when you aren’t afraid to be vulnerable. When you’ve committed more than just your body to the relationship. Perhaps intimacy is directly related to trust and is reliant on the first 5 points of this blog post. Either way, I believe intimacy is necessary in maintaining trust. Allowing a person so deeply inside of you, being vulnerable to them, are allowing emotion to guide you … there is truly something amazing in that.

Earning and maintaining trust is a full-time job in any relationship. It isn’t something to be done only when convenient. Unfortunately, many times, it is left on the sidelines until it is realized that it is lacking. Then suddenly come the questions: “Why don’t you trust me” and “How can I make it right.” The answer is simple, really. Earn it. Ask your partner what they need from you to earn their trust. Do so willingly, happily even, as earning the trust of the one you love, the one who loves you, is the greatest gift you can give them. And once you have earned it, protect it. Put their trust in you above your “singleness” needs. Above others. Because, after all, if you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, trust is the foundation for a long, happy, and magical relationship.

Repairing broken trust is hard. Perhaps even harder than earning it to begin with. And all too often it is pride and ego (or selfishness) that prevent a person from repairing trust. So often we see where a person has broken trust and puts the responsibility of “fixing it” on their partner without providing them with the security to trust again. It becomes an expectation, rather than an earned privilege. But when a relationship is worth it, when your partner is worth it, pride, ego and selfishness go out the window and the desire to be trusted, the need for intimacy, and the commitment made win.

Earning trust is not impossible. It takes dedication and commitment. And when it is achieved … what a beautiful thing it becomes.

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