trust: (noun) firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something (Webster’s Dictionary)
In most every poll or research study conducted on relationships, a key component required for the relationship to thrive is trust. I hear it all the time from couples I work with.
“I need to be able to trust him.”
“I trusted her.”
These phrases are commonplace in marriage.
My question: “Trust your spouse to do what exactly?” It seems that trust is often used as a tool rather than a foundational belief. Let’s look at how this commonly plays out.
“I’ll tell you about me, but only if you tell me about you.”
“If you don’t, I won’t either. But I want to, so you have to.”
“I’ll go first, and then you have to tell me too: it’s only fair.”
“If I go first, you have to make me feel secure, because I need to be able to trust you.”
Sound familiar? Shouldn’t we have trust in relationships? Yes— trust is vital, —but there’s a limit to the role it should play.
Trust is frequently thrown around in marriage as an attempt to control situations and make things “safe” for oneself. We think we must be able to trust our partner, thus freeing us to be ourselves. When I say I trust my partner, I’m actually saying I’m willing to reveal more of myself to them.
So is that really about them or me? I may be splitting hairs here, but it’s an important topic to explore.
Throughout the course of therapy, inevitably couples who’ve experienced some sort of betrayal or affair will bring up the broken level of trust in the relationship. But isn’t this statement, “We have to work on rebuilding the trust in the marriage,” really another way of the hurt spouse saying, “I want you to make this up to me”?
Trust is really more about oneself than it is the other person. Trust is found in the integrity of oneself (and others).
Trust is typically reciprocity based; meaning, if I give it, it must be reciprocated. Again, this is setting up a power struggle and an attempt to control something you cannot possibly control—namely, your spouse.
At lower levels of growing up in relationship, trust is better termed dependency.
So here’s the rub: How much dependency can you place on another fallible human being? A being who is likely more concerned about themselves than you (their concern is valid as this helps perpetuate the species; the concern for self is also what creates the possibility for choice, and ultimately love, in relationships).
If you no longer have trust in another person as a key, you begin the process of self-definition where you literally start squaring off with your partner and defining yourself, but not simply in relationship to each other.
You begin to see that the real issue is what you have been doing to yourself. Your stance might become, “The real issue is what I have been doing to me. You take care of you. My issue is me.”
In a couple who lacks emotional maturity, the agreements about what will go on in the relationship often are contingent on the meaning of trust. This may mean that one partner will give up something (i.e., drugs, alcohol, commitment to work, porn, even extramarital affairs) in order to deprive their partner of the same thing.
For example, one person wants to be in a monogamous relationship, so they give up extramarital sex in order to deprive their partner of sex with other people. It’s a classic exchange- based agreement. The only problem is that five years from now, when you (either partner) are ticked off, you turn to your partner and say: “You owe me; it’s your fault I haven’t screwed anybody else. I gave it up for you.” The partner has become emotionally fused.
At higher levels of emotional maturity, these agreements go like this:
“I want to be in a monogamous relationship, so I’m not having an affair. You don’t owe me for it, because I’m not doing it for you, I’m doing it for me. Now if you have an affair, the only thing I ask is that you tell me.”
Monogamy, or more appropriately everything in the marriage, is no longer based on exchange and reciprocity (i.e. trust). It results from a unilateral commitment to oneself. You no longer feel controlled by your spouse. You relinquish your spouse as an extension of yourself and your own gratification. And what happens, oddly enough, is that you end up having all the trust that you need. And when trust is inevitably broken in some form or fashion, you also know you can handle whatever happens.
This post is a chapter in Dr. Corey Allan’s book, Buck Naked Marriage.