Any successful relationship needs trust. You simply cannot function as a couple if you do not trust each other. Without trust your relationship does not feel safe. When we don’t feel safe, we tend to go into survival mode. We are not our best selves in survival mode. We feel stressed, we are reactive, and we become self- involved since we are in a state of protecting ourselves rather than giving to our partner. This is a downward spiral and can lead to a complete breakdown of the relationship.
Whereas honesty is a quality in a person that is essential to a relationship, trust is not a quality of a person, but an outcome of individual qualities.
Trust is not a quality, but an outcome
I often see trust listed as one of the required qualities of a successful relationship. It’s generally listed along with support, respect, honesty, open communication, loyalty, etc.
It is important to make a distinction between trust, and other attributes of a successful relationship though. While I wholeheartedly agree that mutual trust is essential for a successful relationship, it really isn’t so much a quality as it is a natural outcome of having the other qualities. If you are honest with one another, treat each other with respect, are loyal, communicate well and support each other, you are building trust.
If your relationship was graded, trust is essentially having earned an “A” for your relationship. Thinking back of grading systems in school, I remember two types of teachers. One teacher would proclaim at the beginning of a semester “I don’t give A’s. I don’t believe anyone deserves an A.” In this teacher’s class, you could do all the work, show up to all the classes, participate do extra credit and if you were lucky, maybe you would get a “B”.
The other kind of teacher would tell you, “I assume you are all “A” students.” With this type of teacher, you had to prove you were not worthy of an “A”. In this case, if you chose not to come to class, didn’t study or turn in your work, that’s when your grade was lowered. So, you were basically asked to maintain your grade. It still required work, but you were given the benefit of the doubt that you were fully capable of doing it.
I will tell you, I was way more excited to do my work with the second type of teacher. I found the first teacher’s style to be demotivating. It left me with a sour taste in my mouth. My thought was “Why should I bother if no matter how hard I work I can never ace this class?”
The same is true on a relationship level. If you find yourself in a relationship where you are not trusted though you’ve never given a reason to distrust, it’s an awful feeling. It is not a healthy place to be. These relationships can potentially escalate, become controlling, even abusive, or otherwise emotionally draining. If you have been honest, kind, respectful, faithful, and the other person still cannot trust you, it’s devastating.
Ideally, we would enter a relationship in a state of trust. Start out by giving your partner an “A”.
We would give the other person the benefit of the doubt that they are trustworthy. Given that the relationship doesn’t unveil any reasons not to trust your relationship would remain in a state of trust. However, trust does require ongoing participation. If you are not being honest and open or are disrespectful to your partner, you are destroying trust. You are bringing down your grade, so to speak. To get back to a place of trust, you may need to work a little harder, do some extra credit so to speak. You cannot expect your partner to just trust you as if nothing ever happened. Just like in school, if you didn’t study, you didn’t get to keep your “A”. Hopefully, you took responsibility and worked harder the second time around. Re-building trust is harder than it would have been to maintain trust, but it can be done.
On the flipside, if you are in a relationship, where your partner has not been honest, or has treated you with disrespect, it is natural to feel distrust. There is reason to be more cautious. However, if your partner is trying and willing to work through this, (depending on the severity of the offense and if you are willing to work on your relationship) you will need to eventually forgive and move towards trust for your relationship to succeed. If you imagined yourself a teacher for a moment, you would hopefully give a student another chance at an “A” if they were trying. After all, none of us are perfect and all of us make mistakes.
Application to Blended Families
When you are on your second or third marriage, trust is even harder to come by. One, because you have had some past experiences that may make it harder to trust. Perhaps you were betrayed, lied to, cheated on, etc. Or maybe you thought the relationship was going great when your partner announced they want out and just lost your trust in relationships altogether. Whatever the circumstances, chances are you may still be carrying some of feelings from your previous relationship and trust may be harder for you to bring into a new relationship.
Additionally, whenever children are involved, there is generally still interactions with ex-spouses. So, not only is it harder to trust because of your own past experiences, but now you need to extend additional trust for your partner interacting with someone that they were once emotionally involved with.
Trust is hard in any relationship. Blended families though have additional challenges. It will take some extra work. But it will be worth it when you receive your “A”.
Now, whether you are in the first type of relationship, where there is no trust no matter what you do, or the second type, where trust was lost, it does not have to be the end. If both partners are willing, it can be worked on. Depending on the severity, you may need to seek out counseling, you may choose to hire a coach, or you may just be able to work through it on your own. There are many online resources and self-help books available on this topic as well.