Thursday, November 29, 2012


Trust is an important component in close relationships. We learn how to trust initially as infants and small children who learn to have confidence that mom, dad, or the primary caregiver will respond to our needs and be there as we need them. If we aren't fortunate enough to get this platform as we grow up, then we have to try to create it as we go with others.

When we become parents ourselves, we are giving our children a platform for trusting others. Are we calm, reasonable, warm, available, and supportive? It means a great deal to have a parent who can be counted on. Children need parents who are predictable, present, involved, and providing meals, love, and attention. When parents are unpredictable, absent, hostile and volatile, it blows apart the empathic envelope of trust that parents should have around their growing children. For our children to trust us, we must be trustworthy as parents.

As a teen or an adult, it takes courage to let your guard down and be vulnerable with significant others ---to trust a few people to be there for you, to support you, and not to betray that trust. Some people have difficulty trusting others because they know that they can't be trustworthy themselves.

Trust is built over time, like depositing coins in a bank, or marbles in a jar. Every repeated experience where your trust is maintained, and the loved one is a person of their word, helps to keep that bank account balance up or that jar filled. If trust is broken, it is a much harder thing to rebuild later. Sometimes trust can't be rebuilt at all.

How is trust built or maintained at a high level?

1.      Being honest with others.

2.      Having difficult conversations when they need to happen. For example, you might begin resenting the other person, or needing to do something different, or wanting to change or upgrade the communication and quality of relationship between you. Sharing what you are thinking may be difficult, but keeps the other person in the loop and honors the relationship between the two of you. It gives the other person the opportunity to grow. I often see people in counseling who wish their former partner gave them a heads up right away about problems, rather than storing them up until there was nothing beautiful left.

3.      Be aware of the danger of side conversations. Talking with an objective person, like a trained therapist, can very helpful in getting clarity about what you are wanting, and how to best approach the other person. You can trust that the therapist has no hidden agenda. You can get insight as to how to change your own dance steps in any relationship so that you are operating from your best self. Side conversations with friends, extended family, etc. about an important relationship are potentially problematic, build outside alliances, and dishonor the other person.

Teens, in particular, tell me they shut down when they share something personal with a parent, and the parent shares that sacred trust with others.

4.      Be impeccable with your word. Keep your promises. Doing this also develops your own character and integrity.

5.      Ask for what you want. Be direct. Be brave. There are no bonus points for passivity or silent suffering.

6.      Don't keep destructive secrets. These are secrets that you know would hurt or damage the trust between you if the other person knew.

7.      Avoid passive aggressive behavior. If you are upset, hurt, or angry, own up to it with your loved one.

I like to think of it this way: in order to establish the feeling of safety with another person, you must be able to trust them. To build feelings of intimacy, you have to feel safe. These are the building blocks of close and caring relationships, whether between partners, between parent and child, or close friends. Safety, trust, openness, intimacy, and vulnerability are best when they travel as a team. A relationship can only be as strong and as deep as your commitment to these hallmarks of conscious relationships, and the similar commitment of the other person you are in relationship with.

So there are two parts to trust: being a trustworthy person yourself, and choosing intimate others who are deserving of your trust, and can give you that gift in return.

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