Trust. A simple concept in theory. If you do what you say you will do (or don’t do what you say you won’t do), I will trust you. Violate that, and distrust emerges quickly.
Many people are reluctant to trust quickly. Trust must be earned over time, through a repeated pattern of following through on promises or agreements. Others start out with an attitude of trust, but quickly lose it if someone falls short of their expectations. When that happens, they quickly switch over to the first camp, where trust must be rebuilt over time.
In working with dozens of married couples over the years, trust seems to be one of the most frequently mentioned issues that arise within relationships. These can range from large issues such as infidelity, use of pornography or outright deceit to smaller issues such as not taking out the trash as agreed upon.
In any case there is an expectation that has been violated. And rebuilding trust does take time. So, how can a married couple protect the trust that they have or are working to create?
A recent Naked Marriage Podcast contained the quote “Don’t hide things from your spouse. In marriage, a painful truth is better than a hidden secret.” I completely agree with this notion, but let’s take a look at the two parts of this that are referenced; painful truth and hidden secret.
What makes sharing a truth painful? Why do people hide secrets? There are a variety of things. You may know that your spouse will get angry and you want to avoid their wrath. “It’s just a little thing, they’ll never know – and I certainly don’t want a multi-day argument to ensue…” Or it could be that you don’t want to disappoint them or hurt their feelings. “It’s just this once, they’d be so disappointed if they knew I did this, I’m going to spare them the pain this would cause by not telling them…”
There are ways that these issues can be minimized or even eliminated. I’m not talking about moral or legal issues here, but rather the little things that can damage a relationship. You cannot expect your spouse to honor a list of “rules” that you dictate to them. If they don’t buy into your list or agree to honor it, you are just setting yourself up for broken trust. As an example, your spouse has asked you to never dine alone with a member of the opposite sex. That seemed reasonable, so you agreed. One day at work your boss asks you to interview a person (of the opposite sex) over lunch. In your mind, this seems completely innocent, so you don’t even think about sharing it with them. However, at a social gathering, they hear that you violated this agreement. They feel violated as a result. They even begin wondering of other situations where you might be hiding things from them. Trust has been broken. That may be an extreme example, but I can assure you I’ve heard similar situations arise when coaching couples.
I’m a firm believer that trust is high when intimacy is solid. I don’t just mean physical intimacy, but overall intimacy (this is described in great detail in my book “Beyond the Celebration” – available on Amazon). When you feel close to your spouse from an emotional, spiritual and yes, physical standpoint – trust comes naturally. If you feel distant from your spouse in any of these regards, suspicion has a way of creeping in. Emotional intimacy is especially tied to trust. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable to your spouse and you feel supported, your trust naturally soars. If there are things you feel you just can’t share, that’s a huge warning sign then intimacy is lacking and trust plummets.
The bottom line is, trust is not an end goal, it’s an indicator of how well your relationship is functioning. You can spend unlimited energy trying to build or restore trust and potentially never get there. Spend that same effort on enhancing intimacy and you will find that trust naturally builds along with it.