“The most effective way to maintain trust is NOT to break it”
Wisdom of Spaghetti Westerns
I honestly don’t know where I first learned the basics of developing trust. I’ll credit my Mother for nostalgic purposes and the spaghetti Westerns I used to watch as a kid, for their obtuse simplicity engrained in the plot lines and character development, but more than likely it came from a long-lost memory and lesson from my Father, that I’m still actively repressing. In any event, what I do remember and should be of no shock to anyone is a two-part lesson; “Say what you’re going to do” and “Do what you say”. While highly simplistic, and truly words to live by, it does subtly convey an important insight into the complexity of relationships beyond the obvious; trust and distrust are not actually the same thing and need to be managed separately for full effect of establishing open, honest collaboration and faith within any relationships.
An Investment and a Reaction
Trust is an act and investment of hope, in signifying your willingness to become vulnerable to the actions of your partner, which you ultimately don’t control. Distrust is a cautionary reaction to fears and is a mechanism to insulate yourself from the potential misconduct of your partner. The key insight here is not just about managing trust , “Do what you say”, aka ‘tell the truth’, but also minimizing distrust at the same time ,“Say what you’re going to do”, by communicating your intentions, letting them be known and removing any uncertainty. By clarifying intentions, values and beliefs in advance and following through with those on a consistent basis, we remove both uncertainty and fear, while replacing them with proven case history and thereby established security. The importance of this is that ‘security’ is a basic primal need, as indicated on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and an unspoken component element within trust. Ultimately a relationship devoid of security is a relationship in dire straits, don’t be surprised when you partner acts in a primal way when this security is threatened.
Self Management First
We must begin to manage trust in our relationships by starting with ourselves first, by being truthful, authentic and trustworthy and communicating these values clearly to our partners through what we say and do. Furthermore we need to recognize that we can and should trust ourselves to either make an appropriate selection of partners, that they have appropriate values, beliefs and intentions, are capable of making sound judgments, not only for themselves, but us as well, have appropriate social and relationship skill sets to communicate and navigate through turbulent issues, or at least a very appreciative attitude in developing those skills with us throughout our relationship, or the confidence, ability and judgment to appropriately avoid them or terminate an existing relationship, before there is a crisis to hang it upon. If we cannot trust ourselves to make good judgments, choices and to care for ourselves, we simply will never be able to truly trust others and have a healthy, happy and vibrant relationship. When we start to feel the pangs of uncertainty, fear, insecurity, jealously and distrust, it is a sign that we should stop, look and listen to ourselves first and foremost, before we take up the issue with our partner unbridled.
Managing an Investment Risk
Until we can alleviate our and our partner’s predominant concern for self-protection, emotional safety and security against the other, we will be reluctant to develop a deep and abiding faith in each other or the relationship. At first we can only screen our partner (their past being a great indicator for future behavior) and take their word at face value for their intent (be sure to actually ask, don’t assume) and verify supporting behaviors and actions over time, hopefully you’ve done this prior to committing to a relationship. While we can provide certainty via implementing policy actions of distrust through observation, verification, interrogation, cohesion and all sort of other of privacy invading tactics, the manner in which we trust or distrust our partners very much shapes and affects our relationship with them. It is far better to develop a culture of trust and be betrayed, than it is to live with the torment and shame of besmirching the trustworthy and ruining the relationship through de-validating our partners by not truly seeing them for who they really are. Ultimately holding faith in someone is an investment of your perceived validation of their worth and that of the relationship. Like all investments they carry a measure of risk. Those risks should be mitigated in advance, communicated, recognized and mutually appreciated to be minimized.
Create a Safe Haven of Trust
We need to recognize the importance of promoting, establishing and maintaining a culture of trust between our partner and ourselves via open, emotional, intimate communication over time, as proven by behavior, not when we agree or like what our partners states and says, but in those intervening times when they don’t, when they may have and hold a belief, value, thought or intention that is contrary to our own. It is through establishing a consistent pattern of behavior of actively listening to our partner, respecting their personal boundaries, and airing unspoken expectations, beliefs or ideas through empathy and sensitivity that trust and openness of understanding can truly grow. Our partners need to have the confidence in us and our relationship to respect, safeguard and validate their opinions and them, when they give voice to reservations, alternative perspectives and feedback on issues and subjects that emerge within our relationship. Promoting trust is not just about establishing behaviors with others outside of our relationship, but squarely within it too. Furthermore we need to be cognizant of our efforts to refrain from jealously, incriminations and suspicions, to withhold from suspending judgments and acts of scorekeeping over our partners that will weaken our ties and solidarity with them and thus shut down this critical pathway of communication and emotional intimacy. Simply put, our partners need to trust us with what they think, feel and believe even if they know us to disagree.
Reducing the Mechanisms of Distrust
As discussed briefly previously, distrust is a cautionary reaction to fears and is a mechanism to insulate yourself from the potential misconduct of your partner. Quite often our partners will have or develop distrust with us due to any number of reasons, whether they feel they are being misled, misinformed or mishandled inappropriately. These actions if real or not, will deteriorate our relationship dramatically over a very short period of time, as suspicions, tensions and defensiveness grows in a compounding nature. If real and you value the person you’re with, the relationship you have with them and desire it in the future, you need to stop that shit immediately. There is nothing cool with displaying ‘alpha-dominate’ traits that un-nerve, undermine, invalidate, exploits and disrespects your partner. If you’re doing this, you’re a dumb-ass and you’re playing with fire and are likely to be burnt, deservedly so. If on the other hand you are not doing this and there is still a measure of distrust within the relationship, you need to recognize these reactions for what they are; unspoken calls at unmet emotional needs. It will be your obligation as a man, the leader of this relationship, to realize that your partner needs to be provided the peace of mind, of not just hearing reassurances, but your search, understanding and awareness of her unmet and most likely unspoken emotional needs and how those can be appropriately and responsibly accounted for. Lastly when our partners unjustly disbelieve, attribute false incriminations and harbor jealous suspicions they are actively poisoning our relationship with them, through vile invalidation of who we truly are. It isn’t just about the individual disbelief, incriminations or jealousies, but the manner in which they are holding and regarding you. The manner of man they believe you to be, not are, but the one they believe you to be. As a standard personal boundary, we should not be involved with people who hold us in contempt, suspicion and unease unjustly. We simply should come to expect the people who we let into our lives, who know us best, recognize and see us for who we are. Sadly these deep and misguided emotional insecurities of our partners are born out of past experiences with others, who did not care, nor consider them and as a result they have become psychologically wounded as a result. It behooves both of you to come to terms with these past experiences with your partner, where they stem from, how they affected your partner and how they are playing out in your relationship, so they can be mitigated, over-come and over-turned.
Trust/Distrust Emotional Gauges
It is important to realize that trust isn’t an emotion, but a learned behavior, one that we can establish, cultivate, and promote. As a relationship manager it is our job to consistently respond to our partner’s needs, look for opportunities to foster the intimacy that comes with being honest and transparent, and to remove the obstacles and mechanisms that limit cohesiveness and solidarity with our partners, to increase relationship performance and effectiveness. Want to know the current health state of your relationship? Check the trust/distrust levels within it.