This week we continue our preview of the first 6 sections of The Marriage Program. There are a lot of moving parts to a marriage, but we believe that there are 5 foundational components to a healthy and sustainable relationship. This week I am discussing some of the details of Trust, which is our fourth foundational component.
Trust can be a confusing dynamic to sort out in a relationship. It’s tricky because there are sometimes issues that aren’t always in plain view. It is not uncommon for there to be an issue from the past that is causing problems with someone’s ability to trust today. The challenge with this scenario is that the individual who was hurt in the past is now punishing themselves and perhaps their partner by not trusting. Another potential challenge with trust is when one or both partners fail to behave in a trustworthy manner.
Today, I will highlight the most common hang-ups I see people struggling when it comes to trusting others.
Let’s first start with a distrusting partner. Without a doubt, the most common reason for someone struggling to trust is because they themselves have been hurt in the past and as a result have chosen to keep others at a distance. This idea makes sense to the person who has been hurt, «I know I don’t want to be hurt like that again, so I will make sure to not let anyone else get close.» Unfortunately, there are two problems with this line of thinking 1. Not everyone is a threat. 2. Keeping everyone out is not a healthy option if you long to have healthy relationships.
Instead of keeping everyone out it is appropriate to decide on a case-by-case basis who to trust and how much to trust them with. We all have someone in our life who is not trustworthy – evidenced by their continued behaviors and choices. Regardless of our relationship with this person (spouse, parent, child, friend, co-worker) it is not wise for us to put all our trust in someone who has consistently demonstrated hurtful or unreliable behaviors.
However, there are usually people in our lives who have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate trustworthy behaviors. When we are determining who to trust and how much to trust them with, it is helpful to have some kind of criteria to base our decisions off of. Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help create a criteria: Has this person hurt you before? What is their reputation? Are they a good listener? Do they share your values? Do you believe that they are kind? Any or all of these questions, plus dozens more, are objective ways to determine whether or not someone is trustworthy. The answers to these questions will also assist you in determining how much to trust someone if you determine they are trustworthy.
Now let’s turn our focus to the partner who is exhibiting untrustworthy behaviors. As we discussed above, it is often appropriate to withhold trust from someone who has consistently demonstrated hurtful or unreliable behaviors. If your spouse doesn’t trust you and they reference your behaviors as the reason then it is your responsibility to change those behaviors. I know firsthand how this feels. Early on in our marriage, I fell into a bad habit of making promises to my wife that I failed to deliver on. Thankfully, the promises weren’t a matter of life or death, but the ramification of broken promises was that my wife couldn’t count on me. As a young and defensive man, I spent too much time arguing why not completing a house project «wasn’t that big of deal» instead of addressing a character issue that was hurting my marriage. It was a long and painful learning curve for me to figure out that when I made a promise to my wife it really mattered. I still occasionally fail to complete a project here and there, but I have changed my promises to hopes. Instead of saying, «I promise I will finish painting the play room this weekend.» I now say, «It is my hope to finish painting the play room within the next week.» I am not suggesting that it is okay to be a slacker or to make false promises. But the reality is, there will always be situations that don’t go as planned. Therefore, it is less destructive to have a goal or a hope instead breaking a promise.
Trust is a foundational component of every healthy relationship, but it, along with other components, needs regular attention and maintenance. It is not abnormal for trust to fluctuate in a marriage as a couple goes through different seasons of life. Understanding your own reservations regarding trust and making a consistent effort to be trustworthy will aid you in developing a healthy and trusting relationship.