Few couples would dream of saying they don’t trust each other.
And yet, it’s the No. 1 issue I see in my office. Most arguments, at their core, are about trust.
It sounds like this:
- Can I trust you to choose me over your mother?
- Can I trust you to choose me over your friends?
- Can I trust you to respect me? Or to help with the housework? Or the kids?
- Can I trust you to choose me over addiction?
- Can I trust you not to betray me sexually?
- Can I trust you not to betray me financially?
- Can I trust you to accept me for who I am?
- Are you going to be there for me? Do you have my back?
- Are you thinking of my welfare?
These are all tough questions. If the answers are yes, you and your partner are building trust every day. And you may not think about how you’re doing it, but here’s what the research shows:
Trust is built in small moments, bit by bit. Even the smallest interactions are opportunities to build — or destroy — trust.
Here’s an example from my life:
The other night, I was looking forward to watching my favorite TV program. I wanted to see what had happened after a break-up between two characters the week before. I had just settled in front of the television with a cup of hot tea when I got a glimpse of my husband, who was reading an email on his phone. His expression had changed. Suddenly he was sad, preoccupied, in distress.
This was a moment of decision for me. Do I practice building trust or do I act like I did not notice that something was wrong? Do I ask, “What’s the matter, my love,” or do I start watching my program?
Trying to follow my own advice (reluctantly!), I turned off the TV and gave my husband my full attention. If I had ignored him, this one incident was not going to destroy his trust in me. However, an accumulation of missed opportunities would damage our relationship.
It’s easy, I know from the many arguments that I’ve heard in my office, to blame someone else for the breakdown of trust. But sometimes, self-examination is in order.
Ask yourself: Do you know how to show up emotionally for the other? If you don’t trust yourself to do that, instead of turning towards your partner in times of stress, you might simply shut down and turn away.
Here’s an exercise to try:
Make note of your own feelings when you partner is turning to you and expressing emotions. How do you react when your partner needs you?
Do you drop what you’re doing and make yourself available?
Do you tense up? Do you look away? Do you reach for your phone? Or do you face him or her and offer your full attention?
Spend some time observing your reactions. And try to discuss them with your partner.
If you have trust issues in your relationship, psychologist John Gottman offers help folded into the acronym, ATTUNE. Just practice his formula:
Awareness of the emotion your partner is showing,
Turning toward this emotion
Non- defensive responding
Remember that hearing someone and being there emotionally is the most important gift you can give anyone you love.