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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Theory # 7: Relationships: A Question of Trust

I recently read two books--romances--one contemporary and one historical--in which the main conflict between the hero and heroine was trust. It irritated me, because the characters had only just met each other, and yet were demanding the other trust them.

So I've been thinking about trust.

More even than love, I think, trust is the core of a good relationship.

Which is likely what the authors were trying to convey in the books that irritated me so much, but it was nonsensical for virtual strangers.

Back in theory # 1, I mentioned that the first step in training a husband is to pick the right one. And that goes for this theory as well. Those two romance authors did have one thing right--you shouldn't marry someone you don't trust.

Partly, trust is something you either have or you don't. But it can also be nurtured and developed. Modern life doesn't make trusting easy. Messages abound that people are untrustworthy, and even that you're naive at best or deliberately deluding yourself if you trust your spouse. Women's magazines are full of articles about "how to tell if he's cheating." Both sexes are bombarded with advice on how to protect yourself in the inevitable event of divorce. And we're all raised not to trust each other. Men only want one thing. Women will marry you then divorce you and take your house and your kids away. Both sexes view the other with suspicion.

Even worse, women know that men are hopeless with kids or with housework, that they're uncommunicative and that they're not in touch with their emotions. Men know that women are overly emotional, illogical, hopeless with anything mechanical, and addicted to shopping.

With all that, trusting your partner completely seems idiotic.

Marriages without complete trust can work, and the partners can be happy. But it's better with trust. Imagine having no doubt in your mind that your spouse will be there for you no matter what. Literally in sickness and health, for richer and poorer. Imagine being able to share your secrets and dreams freely without fear of rejection or ridicule. Imagine not having to keep track of your spouse's household chores as well as your own. That's what trust can give you.

The most important thing is being able to trust in your love for each other and your commitment to the relationship. Everything else stems from that. If you love your partner and are committed to the relationship, you're not going to do something that damages or endangers it, whether that's cheating or draining the savings account.

Trust goes against all we've learned about protecting ourselves, and I wholly agree that trust shouldn't be given profligately. But a spouse isn't just anyone. This is the one person you've decided to spend the rest of your life with. That's huge. It's overwhelming, if you think about it. So if you're willing to combine your life with theirs, it's not such a big leap to trust them, is it?

But we don't. We come into relationships prepared for failure. We hold a little bit of our selves back, protecting ourselves from heartbreak. We don't trust because we expect that trust to be broken. And in doing so, we risk the thing we're guarding against.

How do you develop trust? You start in small ways. Look at the small things in your relationship that indicate a lack of trust and change them. Then as trust grows in small things, move on to the bigger ones. People do tend to live up to--or down to--expectations.
  • Do you criticize her driving even though she's never had an accident? Stop. Trust that she's a competent driver.
  • Do you remind him to take the trash out every Tuesday even though he's only forgotten once? Stop. Trust that he knows it needs to be done.
  • Do you hesitate to leave him alone with the children? Stop. Trust that he loves the children, too, and even if he doesn't do things the same as you, it's not necessarily bad.
  • Do you keep quiet about the details of your daily life? Stop. Trust that she loves you and is interested in you.
  • Do you hesitate to reveal your sexual fantasies? Stop. Trust that he loves you, wants to please you, and won't reject you.
  • Do you check up on her when she's out with friends or out of town on a business trip, suspecting that she's cheating? Stop. Trust that she loves you and that she's committed to the relationship.
  • Do you keep a tight rein on the finances? Stop. Trust that he's concerned about the family and won't plunge you into debt.
I can hear the objections now. The trash will pile up, the kids will be dirty & unfed, we'll be up to our ears in debt, he'll think I'm a pervert, and I'll be the last one to realize he's cheating and making a fool of me. That's the risk. That's why trusting is so powerful. Nothing worth having comes without risk.

You don't trust in a vacuum. This is your one-and-only, remember? There are reasons why you chose this person. Remember them. And talk. Not criticizing, not instructing, not threatening or demanding, just discussing. It doesn't happen overnight, nor should it. It takes a lot of practice, and it's a huge leap of faith. It's not for a marriage that's already in trouble. Obviously, you'd be foolish to blindly trust a spouse who's already got one foot out the door.

Which leads me to another theory: communication. You shouldn't trust blindly. And that's where communication comes in.

If you're communicating, you know this person. You love them, that's why you're married. And when you take the risk of trusting them completely, it sets you free.


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