DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…
During a recent live broadcast of our I Do Me 2 Blog Talk Radio (BTR) show, a person in our BTR chat room typed about how trust impacts forgiveness and even sexual relations. After more discussion, my husband and I realized that this topic really struck a chord with a number of couples. We received some significant feedback and decided to address the issue of trust in our next blog.
HOW CAN TRUST BE EARNED?
Approaching the topic of trust, I recognized that there was still the need for me to first define what trust means. I tend to need a little more clarity about a subject that appears to ignite uneasiness when discussed. This issue of trust certainly appears to be a sore spot in many relationships. Having stated this, I find it necessary to first declare that I do not agree that trust is earned. Please read on to learn why.
Every time I hear or read the statement that “trust is earned”, something nags at me as Morpheous (in the Matrix) put it “like a splinter in your brain.” My experience and observations have led me to believe that people tend to not really understand what trust means to others. This is exemplified by how often a person responds to a partner with “I thought you trusted me” or “I thought I could trust you.” It appears that trust is as unique and personal as the one who has it. With such universal misunderstanding, I doubt that either party in a relationship can truly determine at what point trust is actually earned. Even in observing someone’s actions, you still lack the knowledge of the purpose, motivation and intent of the heart.
SO MANY “TRUST” QUESTIONS
How many times have we heard, someone declare (usually after getting busted), “if you trusted me then…” while thinking “I don’t agree with that”? How can someone work to earn something that they do not understand? How do you know that you have truly earned someone’s trust? What is the evidence that trust has been earned? Likewise, how do you know that trust has been broken? I mean, what if trust was never whole or solid from the beginning of the relationship? The splinter is getting deeper.
Frankly, I was not too sure about how to define trust, so I went straight to the
cyberspace reservoir of information, known as the Internet. I ran an online search for the word trust, that returned 1,170,000,000 instances. After reading each one (just kidding), the information overload about trust made the splinter began to grow painful. From the legal to the emotional, to the logical, the different spins on trust led me back to my first conclusion, which is described in the above paragraph. So I settled upon first sharing what trust in marriage means, before addressing what to do about breaking and fixing it.
THE TRUST EXPERIMENT
I am reminded of that Trust Experiment where you are told to stand in front of someone, with your back to the person. You are then instructed to simply fall back, trusting that the person will catch you. I must admit that I did not always follow logic. Even if the person was smaller than me and appeared to be weaker, I would close my eyes and try it anyway. Fortunately, I was never dropped. But in my mind, it was more about curiosity than trust. I just wanted to see what the other person was capable of doing. At the same time, I am certain that I would never try it again if I was dropped and got hurt.
TRUSTING NOT TO BE HURT
I think that it is too much to expect that my spouse will never hurt me. In our 30 plus years of marriage we have experienced quite a few situations that resulted in our saying and doing things that hurt the other one. However, I believe that my husband has demonstrated that (in his right mind) he would not intentionally hurt me. I make the distinction of being in his right mind and intentionally because it is my belief that his love for me produces a desire to protect me from being hurt. However his wrong, messed up mind might just want to do or say something to defend himself or show me how much I have hurt him.
Likewise, I will admit that there have been times that I felt like I wanted my husband to hurt and feel some pain in response to my feeling wronged or mistreated in some way. With this wrong and messed up mind, I intentionally said something or did something that I knew would upset him. However, he still helps me to feel that he trusts me. I realize that having confidence in his trust for me greatly influences my trust in him. (Check out the How Much Can You Trust Your Spouse? Quiz)
I am much more confident in people being able to earn distrust than trust. I see distrust in marriage as when one believes that the spouse is not dependable and not committed to refraining from intentionally inflicting pain and discomfort. This would certainly qualify for broken trust in that it is void of being a solid trust. However, I do not think that there is anything that can be done to truly prove that it is time to trust a person who is viewed us untrustworthy.
I believe that trust is a state of mind held by someone who is voluntarily becoming vulnerable to someone or something. Trust includes expectation of outcomes and responses that a person believes will occur. I think people direct their trust to whomever they chose regardless of how much others may lack the evidence that they are trustworthy. I further believe that people learn to trust rather than accepting that another has earned their trust. With this in mind, I believe that it is much too difficult to assess whether or not people are actually projecting their own untrustworthiness onto their spouses. Perhaps they see something of themselves that makes it impossible for them to imagine that anyone could be trustworthy. Or maybe they have experienced deep wounds from care givers or former relationships that prevent the ability to give trust to others. Whatever the hindrance, this could indicate that the trust in their marriage never even had a chance to be broken, because one or both of them never had trust from the beginning.
There are several areas in our marriage where I choose to apply my trust. For me, trust in marriage is believing that my spouse will not intentionally hurt me. Trust is also believing that I can depend on my spouse when I think that I need support. Most of all, I trust that he loves me and wants to stay married to me beyond any and every challenge. He cannot prove this to me because we have not experienced any and every challenge. However I have learned that the better I am with reassuring my husband that I trust him, the more he will try to live up to my expectations. I think that like the Trust Experiment described earlier, sometimes it is best to ignore logic, close your eyes and try it anyway. And if (or when) the trust is somehow broken to the degree that my husband has earned my distrust, I still believe that I have the (God-given) choice and the control to give my trust to him again at any time.
DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…
STAYING IN MARRIAGE THROUGH BROKEN TRUSTS
Sitting in a small room with the door closed and the blinds drawn closed is a young man staring at his wedding band, asking questions that only God can truly answer. One more sleepless night and the tears continue to flow. His self-contentedness has surrendered to humility. He picks up a pen to write, but can only write the words; “How long…?”.
Realizing he has no right to dictate the terms or time it takes for his wife to work through the pain he caused, he cries out “Lord! What do I have to do?” He has
prayed fervently and is now confident that God’s mercy has covered him and that God forgives him. He even believes that his wife has forgiven him for what he did. However, there is this nagging cloud over their home where even in the midst of their intimate moments, there appears to be something that was once familiar but now is being held back.
He murmurs to himself that he was stupid to have broken the promise he broke and must have been insane to do it again. However, the most difficult thing for him to deal with is really not the “what” but “how long”. How long will it take to regain the priceless trust that was once his?
FOR BETTER OR WORSE
In most relationship settings outside of marriage, broken trusts are often a death sentence. However, in marriage, due to the incredible volume and depths of investment and vows there is an inherent motivation to try and recover. Most wedding vows include the statement “for better or for worse” without the couple truly calculating what “worse” might feel like for them. It is a blanket statement that is often used to cover the unimaginable offense. But even if the spouse agrees not to divorce, regaining trust may prove to be a painful journey with volatile progress. Often the lashing out that accompanies a wounded heart provokes a pattern of bitter, verbal exchanges that reminds the offender of what he or she has done repeatedly. Some have expressed the need for retribution in order to convince the offender not to take what happened lightly.
There is no way to actually make up for the events that frame the weight and magnitude of this offense. Additionally, the healing and restoring process is usually undefined and unique to the couple and the situation surrounding the broken trust. However, time is a necessary element of the restoring process. For the injured spouse, letting it go rather than obsessing over what happened is healthier and promotes a better atmosphere for you to heal. The injured spouse must be allowed to express her/his pain and the offending spouse must acknowledge the fact that s/he caused the pain.
For the offender, patience is a required posture. Apologize but remember your injured spouse is likely navigating through a mountain of emotions that conflict with their previous picture of who they believed you were. Those emotions often act like noise that blurs the vision and filters the hearing of your injured spouse. However, emotions like volcanoes erupt and eventually cool off. A remorseful spouse is often willing to listen past the exaggerated words that are framed by anger and disappointment. Avoid switching into a defensive posture to reduce your sentence. Once the eruption has subsided, set mutual goals that have short-term results.
It is better to not count in minutes, hours or days, but in months and years for this process. It is a slow recovery process toward regaining the sure footed assumptions that often accompany trust-filled relationships. But rejoice and note each step of progress. Remember the blissful mountain from which you fell. However, refrain from requesting a re-assessment of your relationship too soon. You may find that your spouse has not come to the same conclusion as you for the accumulated “brownie points” you believe you have earned. It is better to be patient and earn more than you thought you had than to rush into a review that leaves you woefully off in your self assessment of your progress in earning trust.
When couples calculate the various things that they may have to go through with their spouse, it is difficult to accurately grasp the pain and devastation of broken promises during courting stages. It is only after you have truly placed your trusts and fragile heart in the hands of your spouse that you become vulnerable enough to be totally blindsided by a blow to the gut that leaves you gasping for air and wondering if you can ever recover.
FACING DEVASTATING BREACHES
Infidelity is among the most devastating breaches of trust. However, there are other breaches that also present formidable challenges to move beyond. When a spouse has misused finances through reckless gambling, or investment without the consent of the spouse that results in loss of home, life style, and/or savings preserved for the children’s education that can also be a breech that feels insurmountable.
Among the most difficult breaches of trust I have ever heard of is the one regarding child sexual molestation. This offense is one that crosses so many lines on so many dimensions that even with the help of professionals it is sometimes too difficult to regain even a reasonable level of trust.
Regaining trust is possible but the injured spouse must be allowed to share their pain. The offender spouse must acknowledge that they caused the pain. Affirm that you know this will be difficult and will take time but that you are committed toward being there through the journey in order to earn the trust back.
If by chance you say something that seems to re-injure your spouse, sincerely apologize for it without defending your motives. Especially through the early times, the injured spouse needs to have their pain validated by you. If that doesn’t happen, you may find them seeking validation from friends, counselors, pastors, or just about anyone.
For men, it is especially difficult to have their private matters aired in public. There is a much higher probability for recovery when the communication has sustained a respectful level of discretion. Avoid public outbursts that can draw in uninformed bystanders.
Seek out good counseling while choosing a counselor you mutually decide upon to avoid agitating or giving room for more distrust. A good counselor will use a scalpel like a skilled surgeon to address only what must be resolved for this matter before muddying the waters with other unrelated past issues.
Above all…. Pray, and pray more. There is a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance.