This article was first posted on Soulseeds, where I post most days. Please visit Soulseeds for regular inspiration and encouragement.
Maybe you feel jaded because your trust has been betrayed and you have built high walls of protection around your heart. Thats understandable. Life can be harsh, and people can be cruel. Now you have a choice. You can either let the betrayal define you and become closed and bitter, or you can rise above the hurt and become even more determined to do whatever you can to create a world of unconditional love. Trust without any guarantee that your trust will be respected. Love without any guarantee that your love will be returned. Be kind without any guarantee that your kindness will be appreciated. This is the dance of authenticity, the risk that being completely yourself will open you to the most satisfying of all relationships.
Learning to trust an unpredictable world changes your whole outlook on life. It makes the world a more open, inviting and friendly place. Don’t give your trust recklessly. Give your trust mindfully; aware that there are no guarantees and there is always the chance you will be hurt again. In your calmest moments, you know that the risk to keep your heart closed is nothing in comparison to the joy of sharing love.
Are There Any Guarantees?
It seems backward, but the first step to building trust in relationships is to accept that there are no guarantees. As Comedian, Randy Millholand said, “There are people I know who won’t hurt me. I call them corpses.” Trust offers no certainties, or else trust would not be required. But don’t give up working on trust no matter how jaded you feel, or else you might as well be a corpse.
Find your balance. Being jaded and being idealistic are equally dangerous when it comes to relationships.
Be realistic. I have presided over too many weddings where young couples stand before me with stars in their eyes and no idea of how much they will likely hurt each other at some point. Some of these same couples have knocked on my door within weeks or months with awful stories of broken trust.
If people truly realized the intensity of making vows of commitment to another human being for life, they would wear a crash helmet to the wedding. Not a veil, but a crash helmet. Love is an act of faith. I sometimes feel like sending couples out with the instructions, “Do not try this at home without a safety net. It’s risky!”
Be realistic. There are risks involved. But also believe. Believe that there is something stronger than the risk- that is the joy of dropping your guard with another person, letting that person into your private wthoughts and dreams and making a commitment to love each other through thick and thin. Risk your trust in return for the adventure of being in love. Trust opens the gates to love.
Trust is more important than love. Saying to another person ‘I trust you” is often more profound than saying “I love you.” You may not always trust the person you love, but you can always love the person you trust. Trust is a gift. When you offer someone the gift of trust, you create an opening for something greater. Trust frees you from your fears and helps you give birth to love.
Building Trust in Relationships
Stephen Covey, son of Stephen Covey who wrote Seven Habits of a Highly Effective People, is the author of The Speed of Trust; The One Thing that Changes Everything. He offers the analogy that every relationship has a trust account. When you build trust, you make a deposit. When you break a trust, you make a withdrawal. The withdrawals are typically larger than the deposits. Therefore the fastest way to rebuild the trust account is to stop making withdrawals. The other way to rebuild trust is to make new deposits.
Here are 10 practical ways to build trust.
1. Practice with small and safe deposits first. There are big things to entrust to someone, and there are smaller things. How many people would you trust with your life savings? Probably very few. What about telling someone a secret, or starting a new business with someone? Again, very few. But would you be prepared to trust someone with a smile, or a kind word, even knowing that they might abuse your vulnerability? Start by making small deposits into your trust account and build confidence from there.
2. Gather information to get the greatest return on your investment. Trust, to a certain extent, is built on information. Instead of taking a blind leap of faith, take a calculated risk. Gather as much information as you can before you trust, but keep in mind that trust implies incomplete information. Wendell Berry said this- “Knowledge, like everything else, has its place, and… we need urgently now to put it in its place… Let us…abandon our superstitious beliefs about knowledge: that it is ever sufficient, that it can of itself solve problems… Let us give up our forlorn pursuit of the ‘informed decision.” Gather information, but also be prepared to take a leap with incomplete information.
3. Be transparent. Suspicions often emerge in relationships when people act in a way that is outside their character or routine. Even if you don’t know why you are behaving the way you are, or if you don’t know why you are pushing love away, just express that you are going through something and need some space. Transparency leaves less room for imagination that can easily create unnecessary drama.
4. Be consistent. Make sure your words match the way you live. Mean what you say and say what you mean. There is nothing that can devastate trust more quickly than inconsistency.
5. Believe in the strength of your partner. He/ she can deal with your feelings and doubts and questions. Express yourself as lovingly as you can, and trust your partner to stay with your honest thoughts and feelings.
6. Agree to boundaries with other family and friends. Your relationship has its own intimacy boundaries, and this has as much to do with sharing private information and personal feelings as sexual intimacy. If you are telling a friend something that you haven’t or wouldn’t tell your partner, you may have crossed a line into emotional infidelity. This can create major barriers to trust.
7. Don’t confuse trust with forgiveness. They operate differently. You usually forgive people well before you trust them. You might forgive an apologetic jewel thief, but not leave him alone in a jewelry store. You might forgive people who have hurt you, but not leave them alone with your heart. If there has been a breach of trust, work at forgiveness as the first step towards trust.
8. Each person has their own trust account. People operate their trust accounts differently. You need to deposit into the other person’s trust account in a way that speaks to that person. Garrison Keilor tells a story about a couple who had been married for many years. The woman wrote a sonnet to her husband that amongst all the things she loved about him it was when he was working on the broken washing machine that she gained a “trust for tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.” Be clear about how trust accrues, and ask direct questions to know how trust builds for others.
9. If you have breached a trust, don’t make things worse by lying about it. Take responsibility quickly, and begin regaining broken trust. The more time that passes, the more tangled the web, the harder it is to come back from broken trust.
10. If in your situation the broken trust is too deep, then work at a healthy ending to the relationship. There is more at stake than the relationship (and kids if there are kids involved). Your ability to trust yourself and get back on a path with integrity is the biggest issue at stake. Work towards loving and leaving the relationship, giving thanks for what it has meant, forgiving life for disappointing your expectations and moving forward positively.
Trust – What Are You Ultimately Protecting?
A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused,” I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”
The beautiful thing about this story is that the Zen Master wasn’t holding on too tightly, so trust was easier for him. Be generous in your relationships. The more freely you give, the less you will feel that you have to lose.
Maybe you don’t need a crash helmet after all. Life is generous, and always offers second chances. People are flawed, but there are always opportunities to rebuild trust. You have an inner courage to get back up after being hurt and keep loving anyway. Let go, trust the adventure of being alive and enjoy intimacy without defensiveness.