If you look in the dictionary, you will see the following definitions of the word TRUST:
1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
2. confident expectation of something; hope.
3. the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed: a position of trust.
4. something committed or entrusted to one’s care for use or safekeeping, as an office, duty, or the like; responsibility; charge. http://www.dictionary.com, 7/19/08
The common threads to all these definitions are confidence, responsibility, and care. A husband and wife rely on each other’s integrity, strength, and ability. A husband and wife have confident expectations of one another. We have an obligation and a responsibility to love, care for, and respect each other as husband and wife. Our hearts, bodies, minds, and souls are committed and entrusted to one another “until death do us part.” One might assume that since you have agreed to marry each other, that you trust each other. Unfortunately, this is not always a correct assumption. Many times we give “lip service” to trusting each other, but then do not completely give that trust. Trust is the foundation of any relationship – parent-child, boyfriend-girlfriend, friend-friend, employer-employee, and husband-wife. Without trust, your marriage has very little opportunity for growth.
According to Erik Erikson, “trust versus mistrust” is the very first stage of personality development. Trust is developed before the age of two. Erikson believed that trust in the infant years created a lifelong expectation of what we believed about the world. Our parents had the ability to write on our souls, as infants and children, and influence who we are as people. Did yours write something good or not? What did you learn about trust as a child? Did you learn that married people cheat on each other? Did you learn that when you share your feelings they are used against you later? Did you learn that you would be understood when you shared your feelings? Did you learn that feelings, like anger and sadness, caused fights and/or divorce? Did you learn to trust the opposite sex? Did you learn trust once you started dating? Were your boundaries respected or ignored? Were you taken advantage of? Were secrets, that you thought were private, shared with outsiders? As an adult, have you learned to trust? Are you willing to share your deepest, darkest secret with your spouse knowing that it will always be a secret and will never be used against you? Or do you censor what you share because you are not sure? If I asked you to fall backward into your spouse’s arms, would you trust him or her to catch you?
Trust is earned with consistency. Trust is not given simply because you think you love someone. How can you actually love someone that you do not trust? Hopefully, the two of you have been together long enough to have established a pattern of consistency and earned each other’s trust. If not, start now. Can you depend on your spouse to tell the truth, to be faithful, to listen effectively, to put the top back on the toothpaste – ALL THE TIME? Of course not, nobody’s perfect. MOST OF THE TIME would demonstrate consistency, though. Does he or she do just the opposite of what you expect or do something one time and not the other? That inconsistency breeds fear and mistrust. There are several reasons that men and women may be distrusting.
A lot of women have different trust issues related to their fathers, abuse, the “independent woman syndrome”, and infidelity. A little girl’s father is her first model of what a man is supposed to be and how he is supposed to treat her. If that relationship was a loving, nurturing one, then a woman may have a very solid idea of how to trust a man to care for her. If her father was not in the picture at all, her father left, or her father was physically present but emotionally unavailable, she may not be sure that a man can love her and take care of her. Abuse, whether physical, emotional, or sexual, can destroy a woman’s trust for a very long time. When one man (or multiple men) has taken advantage of them, women are less apt to trust men to respect and love them. If they have been deeply wounded once before by a man they trusted, they may be a lot more protective of their feelings. With the “independent woman syndrome” there is a feeling of: I am the only one who can take care of me. When you have learned to do for yourself and can depend on that, why entrust that security to someone else? Infidelity causes months, maybe years of doubt. There is no explanation for cheating that can make a woman feel better. From the moment she finds out until whenever, she will wonder if you are where you say you are and if you are really with who you say you’re with. She will question phone calls, working late, financial transactions, and even your tie choice. She will NOT be willing to give intimacy during this struggle because she no longer trusts you to respect her, protect her, and love her the way she deserves to be loved. She may doubt her self-worth and her value to you. You will have to EARN that trust back and it will not be easy.
A lot of men have some of the same issues. Because men tend to be more logical than emotional, you might think that their feelings don’t run as deep. That is a myth. Men tend to love from their head first and then to their heart. They make a conscious decision a lot of times to allow someone in their heart and love them. Therefore, when men truly love, their love can run very deep. When a man has decided to entrust his heart to a woman and he gets hurt; it can be very difficult for him to open up and trust again. A man’s relationship with his mother allows him to model how to care for a woman. However, his relationship with his father teaches him how to be a man. If the father was a good role model (i.e. loving, faithful, honest, hard-working, etc.), then a man may develop a good sense of self. If the father was not a god role model (i.e. abusive, unfaithful, dishonest, lazy, etc.), then the man may not develop such a good sense of self. Abuse, whether physical, emotional, or sexual, can make a man question his manhood, his sexuality, his self-worth, and his ability to protect [himself and anyone else depending on him]. When this abuse is inflicted by a woman, he may have a very difficult time ever trusting women – even the one he is going to marry. Infidelity is taken as a personal affront and comes with a lot of hurt and pain. A man may question his decision about choosing to love and choosing to trust his spouse. He may question his value or lack thereof. It will take a very long time for him to trust again because he will go back in to their head and start over again. The journey back to his heart will be even longer after a betrayal like that.
Lack of trust can be seen in many different ways. When you hide money from each other, you don’t trust. You don’t trust your spouse to be responsible with your money. When you don’t allow your spouse to parent your children, you don’t trust. You don’t trust your spouse to be a good parent. When you lie to each other, you don’t trust. You don’t trust your partner to handle the truth, whatever that truth is. When you don’t tell your spouse when something feels good or hurts during sex, you don’t trust. You don’t trust your spouse to make the necessary adjustments to lovingly meet your needs. When you make a major decision without your partners input, you don’t trust. You don’t trust your partner’s opinion. When you check your partner’s wallet/purse, cell phone, car, e-mail account, etc., you don’t trust. You don’t trust your spouse to be faithful. When you are having a major emotion – happiness, sadness, anger, confusion, whatever – and you don’t feel like you can share it with your partner, you don’t trust. You don’t trust your spouse to validate, appreciate, and soothe your emotions. When you don’t feel comfortable being naked in front of your spouse, you don’t trust. You don’t trust your partner to love you just the way you are. When you do or say something that you would not do or say in front of your spouse, you don’t trust. You don’t trust your spouse’s reaction to whatever you are doing or saying – maybe because it will be hurtful to them or maybe because it will keep you from getting what you want.
So, how do you trust? First, if you have difficulty trusting, you must admit it to yourself, then to your spouse, then to your counselor. That’s right, your counselor. You will need an objective third party to help you work through your struggle and help you find healing. No matter what the problem is – dysfunctional childhood, abuse, infidelity, etc. – a counselor can help you sort through the emotions and really heal the wounds rather than just continuing to put a band-aid on your problems. Once you can deal with the true depth of your distrust – where it stems from and how it affects you – you can close that chapter in your life and open yourself to new beginnings. Second, you need to talk about your distrust with each other – openly and honestly. Third, you need to agree to accept each other where you are in your struggle and support each other while you grow. Fourth, make a conscious effort to do whatever each other needs to help build trust (e.g. checking in by phone at specified times, having a “safe” word during sex to stop uncomfortable sexual activity, creating intimacy without sex, sharing bank records, etc.). Lastly, be patient with each other, honor each other’s commitment to facing this problem, and celebrate each new level of trust and depth you develop together.
Imagine the new depth you will have in your marriage when you can trust your partner unconditionally. What would it feel like to be able to share anything and everything with your spouse without fear of retribution? What would it feel like to be able to share your hurts and pain, your fantasies and desires with your partner and know that you would be heard, understood, and not judged? How freeing would it be to find safety and security in the one person that you have vowed to spend the rest of your life with? Be careful with each other and take your time. Most importantly, be wise. If you realize that the person you are with is not trustworthy, does not value you and your feelings, or is hurtful without remorse, then you may not want to open yourself up too much. You know what’s comfortable for you. If the two of you are in this together, however, you must be willing to step outside your comfort zone and push for new emotional breakthroughs. The new you and your new relationship will be incredible. Trust me.
by Michael-Renee Astree, RN, LAPC