How many times have you heard the words, “If you love me you will trust me” or “Why don’t you just trust me?”
I don’t know how those words feel in your gut but they always fill me with even more distrust than I was originally feeling.
Of course any admonitions that you “should” feel trust are designed to circumvent your internal warning system. Whether that is accomplished with assurances or threats or attempts to shame you doesn’t really matter. The end result is the same. You are being asked to ignore your feelings and adopt the perceptions which are more convenient for the other person.
Many couples whose relationships are in crisis, have experienced a profound loss of trust. However, a lack of trust can effect even the best of relationships. Your relationship need not suffer an infidelity nor a litany of lies for the trust to die. Really the most effective way to destroy trust is to simply stop empathizing with your partner.
When our expressed emotions seem to fall upon deaf ears or worse, a cold heart, our ability to trust is severely compromised. If the situation persists over the course of months or years, trust eventually dies, leaving only the pretense of intimacy.
How then do we restore trust when it has died?
This is perhaps the biggest obstacle I encounter in my work with couples. I find the only way through the emotional permafrost of entrenched distrust is to create a genuine heart connection. Utilizing a combination of intuition and specific communication techniques, I know no better feeling than witnessing the restoration of trust and understanding where once there was contempt and grief.
Getting there takes some work, though.
A first step is to create a safe container for conflict. Every human connection experiences conflict from time to time and it is extremely helpful when both partners agree to the basic format of conflict resolution which they intend to use. Most professional advice on conflict resolution for couples delineates similar “rules for fair fighting.” And most couples will agree on the basic premises expressed in these guidelines but tend to have different perceptions about where the line should be drawn as well as how their own behavior conforms or deviates from the agreed upon standards.
Since perceptions can be very subjective and subject to individual denial, it can be helpful to video a few of your attempts at conflict resolution. Once you see yourself on camera, you may be shocked to learn what your behavior looks like from the outside. After all, we only know how it feels inside and sometimes our emotions are so overwhelming that we conveniently overlook or forget the destructive behaviors which we perpetrate during a conflict.
Below is a basic outline of the important guidelines for creating safety during conflict.
Guidelines for Conflict Resolution for Couples:
1. No Name Calling or Swearing
2. No Yelling
3. No Physical Force or Violence: Blocking, Chasing, Shoving, Grabbing, Pushing, Restraining, Slapping, Punching, Hitting, Damaging Property, Breaking or Throwing Things.
4. Take Responsibility for Your Actions and Your Emotions – Refrain from Blame and use “I Feel Statements.”
5. Stay Focused on One Issue at a Time and the Present Moment – Don’t Bring Up the Past
6. Do Not Threaten: Divorce, Retaliation, Custody of Children, Destruction of Property, Violence
7. If You Feel that You or Your Partner are Unable to Adhere to These Guidelines, Take a Time Out Until Safety and Sanity is Restored.
Another amazingly effective tool for restoring trust is Appreciations. Dr. John Gottman discovered that although successful relationships can be quite tumultuous and argumentative, one thing distinguishes them from unsuccessful relationships (those which are short-lived). Successful relationships tend to experience five appreciations to every criticism.
That means for every negative comment you make to your partner, you need to make five positive comments. This five to one ratio of positive to negative interactions can create a “glass half-full” effect which is not only more uplifting for your partner but helps to remind you of all the reasons you are choosing to stay with this person.
I recommend setting aside time each day or each week to practice appreciating your partner. The two of you can take turns expressing your gratitude and appreciation of each other’s attributes and actions. Trust me, this is a very uplifting and enjoyable way to share time together! And you can think of it as an insurance policy for your relationship, too.
While these two sets of guidelines, the rules for “fair fighting” and appreciations, will not automatically restore trust in your relationship, they are an excellent start in that direction. In addition, you will want to assert healthy boundaries and make amends for past misdeeds.
As both of you shift old, dysfunctional reactions into healthier patterns, the love and trust you once shared will very likely experience something of a rebirth.