By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
Authors of "Couple Talk: How to Talk Your Way to a Great Relationship"
Is trust, or the lack of it, affecting your relationship? Because your partner has been "burned" in a previous relationship, is he or she now finding it difficult to trust you? Has infidelity in your relationship made it hard for you and your partner to trust each other? If so, you are not alone.
When couples are asked to describe a situation that causes distress in their relationship, the topic of trust frequently arises. They lament, "I can't trust him with the checkbook," "She never gets home when she says she will," or "He's always saying, 'trust me, I'll get it done,' but he never does." Another typical comment is, "I don't trust her around other men. She's always flirting." These comments indicate the presence of a low level of trust within the relationship.
Although trust between partners clearly leads to feelings of safety and connectedness, many couples don't know how to develop or maintain a trusting relationship. They expect trust to be automatically granted as a part of the commitment. They feel they deserve to be trusted without putting forth effort to foster that trust. They have come to believe that once trust is lost, it can never be regained.
What these couples don't realize is that with the right ingredients, trust can be built, strengthened, and maintained regardless of the past. Mutual love and respect can be intentionally and purposefully increased.
Consider the following five ingredients as you look to develop or rebuild trust in your relationship:
Ingredient #1 -- Say what you are going to do. Communicating your intentions to your partner eliminates the guesswork that often leads to false assumptions and misunderstandings. Tell your partner what you are planning to accomplish and how you would like to include him or her in your plan.
Ingredient #2 -- Do what you say. The more your actions match your words, the more trust others have in you. Trust develops when a person's words are congruent with his or her actions. When you say clearly what you are going to do and then do it, trust grows and strengthens.
Ingredient #3 -- Live in the present. When you keep track of how often a behavior has occurred and make a point of reminding your partner of it, you drag the past into the present. This is called mental scorekeeping. The weight of numerous incidents creates strain that prevents you from addressing the current situation effectively. Scorekeeping builds stress, magnifies the situation, and interferes with the process of communicating clearly and directly about the present incident.
Ingredient #4 -- Look at yourself first. Before pointing a finger at your partner, consider your own behavior. Is there something you might be doing that demonstrates you are not trustworthy? Explore the possibility that you are choosing a behavior that gives your partner the impression that you cannot be fully trusted. Bring that behavior into the open, and talk about it with your partner.
Ingredient #5 -- Time, time, and more time. Time plays a major role in the development and strengthening of trust. Don't expect an overnight change of attitude from either yourself or your partner. The more opportunities you have to demonstrate how your words and actions flow together, the stronger trust will become. That takes time. Look for as many opportunities as possible to match your words with your behavior, and be mindful of your partner's attempts to do the same.
If you feel your relationship is lacking trust, make an investment. Invest in building, strengthening, and maintaining your relationship by mixing the five ingredients together, putting them into practice, and supporting each other in your efforts. The result will be a relationship of mutual respect and connectedness built on a foundation of trust.
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