Everyone knows trust is important in committed relationships. But many couples may not be aware of the little things that erode trust on a daily basis.
Usually when we think of broken trust, we imagine affairs or major betrayals. These, of course, are obvious and can be deal-breakers for many.
But the majority of relationships with trust issues suffer from many small breaches over time.
Trust in our partner is the ground of all healthy relationships. When we trust, we know deeply that we are emotionally safe and can count on our partner to hold up their end of a deal.
Without trust, love turns to resentment, and the positive flow of energy between partners drains quickly out of the relationship. Over time, repeated breaches cause righteous rage, contempt, and pervasive negative beliefs about our partners–none of which are conducive to the “usness place” in a partnership.
What breaks trust?
There are two major things that erode trust in a relationship. Are you doing either of these?
- Hurting your partner. A single hurt can irrevocably ruin trust, such as physical abuse. But far more often there is a pile of little hurts that add up. Our partners can be hurt by “jokes” that are too true to be funny, thoughtless criticism, and emotional distance. (Distance can be created by spending too much time on the internet, not being present, engaging in addiction, etc).
- Breaking agreements. Every time you create an expectation and don’t deliver, no matter how small, you have broken an agreement. This includes being late, agreeing to take care of something and then forgetting, or creating an expectation that is left unfulfilled. This could be failing to pay an important bill you said you’d take care of; making plans on a night your partner had planned a date; promising to clean the kitchen and then not doing it for whatever reason. Most couples are not scrupulous in keeping agreements.
Why does it happen?
Couples don’t damage consciously in order to ruin the relationship. Rather, it happens due to either a lack of skill or from a subconscious need to create distance.
Many partners have not yet learned how to raise an issue as a complaint, rather than a criticism. Or more commonly, couples breach trust due to resentment or fear of closeness.
If trust is broken, communication skills alone will not help your relationship. You will need another set of skills.
Building Trust: How to Repair Hurts and Broken Agreements
Here are some simple steps you can take to re-build trust:
On broken agreements:
- Just admit it. You broke an agreement. No rationalizations or excuses.
- Apologize. This must be sincere and heartfelt. A fail-proof way to apologize is to own what you did specifically, acknowledge the impact it had on your partner, and express commitment to not do it again. A good apology is NOT: “I’m sorry if you thought I was (fill in the blank here).” If you make it sound like your partner has misinterpreted or overreacted, that invalidates both them and the apology.
- Request information: “Is there anything I can do to help you feel better? What do you need from me?”
- Listen carefully and do what is asked of you, if possible.
- Entrust. This means committing to each other in confidence, ie creating a new agreement that you are willing to keep. Think carefully about it before committing, so you don’t do it again!
- Acknowledge the pain you have caused (even if you think it’s not that big of a deal).
- Avoid defensiveness, “fixing it”, or turning away.
- Allow your partner to feel their feelings. You could ask what they are feeling and just listen. Seek to really understand.
- Don’t argue. Even if you think you have been misinterpreted, just find out what your partner interpreted and why.
- Acknowledge their right to feel hurt based upon their understanding and their interpretation of what happened.
- Share what you meant and shed light if there was a misunderstanding.
Remember: People need to express their hurt or anger before they can forgive and trust again.
After you have followed the steps above, be careful to avoid repeating hurts and broken agreements in the future.
Learn how to communicate with “I statements” to prevent hurts, and when making agreements with your partner, be scrupulous in keeping them.
You will undoubtedly see a positive change in the climate of your relationship that far outweighs the efforts you made.
Building trust should be the number one investment you make, because without it, not much else can grow. Don’t you agree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!