In another Insight, “How many serious ruptures” I summarised how to build trust as a couple.
Firstly, you consistently turn towards opportunities to connect with your partner.
Secondly, you acknowledge and talk about any feelings of unhappiness with your partner.
And thirdly, you consistently see your partner in a favourable light. That is, you cultivate a benevolent perspective, where you interpret your partner kindly. You will find more about a benevolent perspective here.
Here in this Insight, I give much more detail about how you can gradually and consistently build trust over time. (Trust can also be eroded over time.)
Before we continue, lets pause to remember why building trust is important.
Trust is the most important quality that will enable your relationship to endure over time and be more and more secure and reliable.
But there are two very different kinds of trust that you will encounter over the course of your relationship. It is really, really important to discern the difference between these two kinds of trust.
In the first joyous stage of your relationship, when you fell in love, trust entered your story in a specific way. But that might not be all that reliable in the long term. Let me explain: when you engaged in a lot of kissing, touching, hand-holding and yes – sex – there is a big flood of endorphins, and particularly oxytocin, through your bodies. You feel good. Part of feeling good is that you feel you can trust this person – possibly for the rest of your life. You are ready to commit! One of the roles of oxytocin is that it builds feelings of closeness and trust, whether or not there is any foundation for that trust.
Read Hugs and Kisses: the Oxytocin Connection. Oxytocin reduces fear and reduces good judgement. At this point in your relationship, you and your partner have not been through the trust test. In other words, you do not yet know if your partner really will be there for you, through thick and thin. And your partner does not know that about you yet, either. You do not know about their character, and how they will behave in difficult circumstances.
So, we could say that by all means enjoy all those hormones and the flood of intimacy, but don’t stake your life on it! Not yet!
The second stage of trust is achieved by trial and error. It is achieved through life experience. And based on this trust you can make a commitment. You can offer and expect loyalty, for instance.
For instance, does she keep her word and show up when she says she will? Does he keep secrets that negatively impact your relationship, and then you later find out? Or does she have a gambling habit that she didn’t reveal when you were happily courting? How might this affect how you build trust?
Trust is built by repairing inevitable regrettable incidents or loss of attunement. Will you make a lifelong commitment to me? Or will you forever gripe and complain that I am not who you thought I was? Read What is Projection: unpack the Smoke and Mirrors of Relationship. Or will you constantly compare me unfavourably with others? Or imagine that you could do better? You might even imagine that I am going to betray you like your previous partner did! This is the real test of trust, loyalty and commitment. Your relationship really WILL be reliable if you learn how to build trust.
With each level of trust achieved, the relationship becomes more watertight. As I mentioned before, your relationship can be eroded in the direction of betrayal. (Betrayal comes in a multitude of forms.) But here I give you the tried and true processes of building trust.
Fundamentally do you have the best interest of your partner in mind when you make choices? Do you aim for win/win solutions, where neither of you are disadvantaged by the choices you make? Is fairness important to you both, where neither of you exploits the other to get what they want? Do you talk about this? This Insight, on Gratitude will encourage you in this direction.
Do you turn towards your partner when he or she tries to connect with you, even when you are busy? Are you tuned to what your partner does to try to connect with you? Do you take every opportunity to attune to/with your partner? Are you attentive to their conversation? Or even influenced by their opinion? You can expect this of your partner too! Responding to bids to connect, and being in tune with your partner creates a relaxed sense of reliability for both of you.
Are you there for your partner – most of the time? Can you rely on your partner being there for you – 50% of the time or more? Do you know for sure that they will do everything they can to accommodate your needs? Do you go out of your way to accommodate your partner’s needs? But what if one of you gives a lot more than the other. The Relationship Insight, Do you over-function or under-function in relationship, might help you go deeper.
Is it easy to see your partner in the best possible light? Do you remind yourself – and them – of their wonderful qualities! Do you also minimise their negative qualities? The Insight on Gratitude will give some guidelines on how to do this.
Do you tell the story of your relationship in positive terms; how you met and your time together, your triumphs over difficulties. Do you recall the “story of us” with great pleasure and gratitude?
If you are overwhelmed by emotional reactions to what your partner has said or done, do you learn to self-soothe? Have you learned not to take things personally and overreact? The Insight Increase your window of Tolerance: Try knitting and playing the Ukulele is helpful here.
Are you practised at going towards conflict, or do you avoid it at all costs? How do you go about retrieving a conflict when it has reached a point of no return? Are you skilled at effective repairs, so that you return to feeling warmly towards each other? How long does this take?
Do you willingly show up for courageous conversations, and go towards your areas of conflict? Are you able to express negative feelings, and make complaints directly to your partner without fear of reprisals? From the opposite perspective, do you take a generous perspective when you partner is revealing their weaknesses? Are you skilled at airing hurt feelings and failed attunement, and resolving them together?
What would you do if unresolved conflict becomes the dominant state in your relationship? Or when repairs do not work?
Are you comfortable with self-disclosure, and showing your partner your vulnerabilities? Brene Brown has a lot to say about the value of vulnerability. This TED talk has had 36 million views. I kid you not! This shows that you are not the only one interested in understanding more about vulnerability! How respectful of your partner’s vulnerabilities are you?
Do you share secrets with your partner rather than people outside the relationship? Here is Brene Brown again, this time on trust. Trust and vulnerability go together. What do you do if you catch yourself beginning to be deceptive around your partner? Although men rather than women are more likely to value non-disclosure, everyone can learn from the Insight: You are the strong silent type, and now she wants you to talk!
Is your partner your greatest confidant? Can you tell him anything, knowing that he will still admire and support you? It is important, however, that you do not feel entitled to information about your partner’s life before you met. There are some things that are private. Perhaps you need to clarify what these private things might be.
If you found yourself putting up walls against your partner, what would this tell you about the state of your relationship? What would you do?
How to tend to the needs of your partner, as well as your own needs, is one of the arts of relationship. This requires differentiation, and I explain what differentiation means in the Insight, How to make your relationship garden thrive.
What would you do if you realize that you and your partner have not been spending much time together, and have been inattentive to each other’s bids for connection? What if your partner complains that you are interested in your work, your hobbies, your mates – but not her! How would you respond?
So, if you realise you are just living your own life, and you are rarely making bids for connection, would this be important enough to you to make some drastic change?
If you are feeling lonely, it might be because you are investing less in your relationship. Do you sacrifice for your relationship? The areas of our life that you sacrifice the most for are the areas that have the greatest meaning to you.
If you partner challenges you on some behaviour, do you take this on board? Or, to the contrary, do you arc up in your own defence? Defend, in addition to excuse, deny, explain and avoid, are deadly to good communication.
Are you eager to take responsibility, and to be accountable? If there is a problem, do you look to your own behaviour to see how you might be contributing to it?
Are you actively cultivating shared meaning and shared goals?
Is your sex life playful and alive? (Next Relationship Insight will be “Keeping Sex Alive.” Do you make space for sexual play? The longer you are together, the more likely that sex becomes a conscious decision, rather than something stimulated by hormones. This is totally normal.
Do you guard and protect your relationship against outside influences, such as pressure from in-laws or friends? Is it easy to support your partner’s perspective, when faced with criticism from others? Do you protect your relationship from your own negativity? Can your partner rely on you no matter what?
So how are you going in building trust in your relationship? Are you a pro?