There’s nothing like the clean slate of a new relationship, full of hope and idealism and giddy excitement for all sorts of fresh possibility. There is, however, a reason they call the development of a relationship ‘building’ a relationship. As any relationship comes into contact with the stresses and uncertainties of everyday life, the build-up of decidedly non-honeymoon period gunk inevitably threatens to dull the shine from your new relationship penny. Nothing steals that shine faster than trust that has been tarnished. Friedrich Nietzsche once said “I’m not upset that you lied to me. I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Once that trust is gone, it’s hard to get it back.
The loss of trust is a pattern that can spin quickly out of control and destroy a relationship. My friend Meg had been seeing her boyfriend for just a few months when she decided she needed a night out without him. While they got along great when they were alone at home watching movies and cuddling (and doing other things people do when home alone), when they were out in public, he was so insecure it drove her crazy. He would watch her eyes to make sure they didn’t wander, he would analyze the tone of voice she used with the waiter to determine whether she was flirting. God forbid she get a text message. Finally, Meg needed a night off. Meg, however, knew, or at least believed, that telling her boyfriend she wanted a night without him would send him over the edge, so she lied. And, as in all great romantic tragedies, he caught her in that lie. It was a vicious circle. His initial mistrust had caused her to lie. Boom. Sound of relationship imploding.
Meg and her boyfriend could have stopped this pattern before it started if they had concentrated on building on that initial trust two people must inherently afford one another in a relationship, rather than living in fear that it would disappear.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but show trust until you have a reason not to. Would Meg have needed a night off even if her boyfriend hadn’t been driving her insane with his insecurities? Yes, probably. We all need our alone time. But it wasn’t the night off that drove a wedge through the relationship, it was the fact that she lied about it. To him, her lie was a confirmation of all that he had feared throughout the relationship. Suddenly he was certain he had been right to mistrust her all along. If he had shown trust in her from the beginning, a night off would have been just that instead of the relationship destroyer it became. The only way to find out whether someone is trustworthy is to trust them in the first place.
On the other hand, deserve trust. I would have (and in fact, I think I did) suggested to Meg that she talk to her boyfriend and explain that, though she enjoyed being with him, his constant eye on her was pushing her away. She should have given him more credit and not assumed that he wouldn’t be able to handle her taking one night for herself. The fact that she lied to him validated his fears and proved that while his mistrust of her was driving her nuts she, in fact, didn’t trust him either.
One obvious way to deserve trust is to do what you say you’re going to do. Duh. This applies to everything from arriving at a pre-destined location at a pre-destined time when you say you are going to, to, you know, not having sex with someone else if you and your partner have decided that you are in an exclusive relationship. And don’t say you’re going to a movie with your sister when you’re actually going dancing at a club with your girlfriends, where your boyfriend’s best friend will see you and let your boyfriend know you lied to him. Oh, Meg.
Nothing could be more important in building trust in a relationship than communication. Allow me to clarify: honest communication. If you need something from your partner, communicate this need. On the other hand, ask your partner what he or she needs from you. Use your eyes , your ears and your words. Make sure those words are from the heart. Don’t just say what you think the other person wants to hear, you won’t be doing your relationship any favors. If you are open and honest in your relationship, it gives an invitation to your partner to feel safe in being open and honest as well.
If things feel off, if you and your partner are not seeing eye to eye, physical contact, even a simple touch on the shoulder, can go a long way in reminding your partner of your bond. Isn’t that what make-up sex is all about anyway? Showing your partner that although you may not see eye to eye all the time, you can express to each other the foundation of trust in a different way and come back to the small print later.
If you are going to enter into a relationship, you are simply going to have to accept the fact that you are putting yourself in a situation that, though often wonderful, could potentially hurt you. Relationships are not just simply there to ‘make you happy.’ They are about connection and support and finding someone with whom you can really be open and honest. That’s a recipe for disaster! It’s also a recipe for joy. Once you accept that there will be ups and downs and that your partner is a fallible human being just like you, trust will follow.