What does it mean to have trust in a relationship?
I am not specifically a relationship therapist, yet almost all clients will inevitably discuss their relationships with me. This is because relationships are the greatest challenge in our lives.
It is easy to be peaceful and at ease on our own, but together we are forced to work through our sticky parts. This makes relationships one of the best ways to grow and learn.But as we all know, this is often not how it works. Instead, many relationships grow apart.
What decides if we grow together or not? To me, it’s trust. But what does trust really mean?
Trust is the assumption that the other has positive intent
Whether you are together or apart, trust is the assumption that your partner is always acting with positive intent (in other words, even when something they do hurts or triggers you, you trust they weren’t intending to). Sounds easy right? It’s not. It takes an incredible amount of courage to continue to make this assumption that you partner always means well.
If you find it impossible to assume positive intent from your ‘other’, it’s likely that there is one thing holding you back: you probably believe, deep down, that your partner will hurt you. Because of this belief you unconsciously try to protect yourself.
I’m going to share with you my personal trust story as an example of what I mean. First, let’s look at how unconscious belief’s run our lives, as it is integral to the story.
Step One: Uncovering your unconscious beliefs
Many years back, when I first stated my personal development journey, I realised that there was a nasty voice inside my head that was constantly berating me. It said so many terrible things that I was surprised that I had never noticed it before.
Most of what I heard was tape loops of the same few things: I am annoying, I am too much. I began to study this voice: at first it sounded like my own, then later I could recognise the voices of others.
Eventually, while I was training to be a psychotherapist I found a new layer and it wasn’t a voice at all. It was like a feeling, or a sense of something: like music without the words. I realised that the reason it didn’t have words was because it was a belief I had formed before I even knew how to speak. It was like a soundtrack that had been playing from the time I was a baby, and it was “I am really annoying”.
Current studies suggest that we even begin to form our perception of the world in utero, through the chemicals of the blood we share with our mother. We are picking up on the environment around us from the very beginning and forming beliefs about ourselves and the world.
Noticing the voice in your head, or the feeling that you carry, is the very first step to making conscious change in your life. If your unconscious beliefs remain unconscious they will continue to run in the background, ruling your life and making all your decisions for you.
(A while ago, we posted an article called The Three Questions that you can read if you want to understand more about this.)
Step 2: What are you protecting yourself from?
Around the time I discovered this deep belief, “I am annoying” I was working closely with my colleagues in my psychotherapy training. It was a safe space to explore, so I got up the courage to ask them if they thought I was annoying. They were somewhat shocked that I held this belief, as to them it wasn’t even a little bit true.
There was real power in seeing this long-held belief for what it was. Once we can see clearly, we gain an insight into what we are protecting ourselves from. I realised that I had been going into all of my relationships, romantic or not, with this unconscious belief that I was annoying. This meant that I believed eventually, the other would come to this conclusion too. I had to protect myself from the inevitable outcome of getting hurt.
This causes non-trust, beacsue the unconscious question you ask is, “How is this person going to hurt me?” This is very different to, “are they going to?”, which could be a valid question. There is an assumption that there will definitely be hurt, the only variant is the quality of the pain.
I’d gone into every relationship carefully so that I wouldn’t be abrasive or annoying. This meant there was always a bit of me holding back, because I had to protect my shameful secret. If you have trouble with trust, you probably do you do this too.
The question is, what are you protecting yourself from?
Step 3: Realise that trust is a habit
Like love or gratitude we mostly think of trust as something that is simply there, as if it should just come to us when we need it. But trust (like love) is a verb: a doing word. We have to cultivate and practice it.
Over the years our inability to trust may have become a strong habit. Though we may believe our behaviours are permanent or unchangeable, this is simply not true. The way we think and act can be rearranged with repetition of something different.
We must realise that we are behaving in a habit and find a new way.
Step 4: Try a new way
Once I had identified that my habit was of protecting, of not-trusting, and of assuming negative intent, I knew it had to change. I made a decision to not accept anything that’s not trust.
I went through a process of catch, repeat, repeat. I would realise I was not-trusting and I would ask: how can I do this another way? It was hard, but I kept telling myself that this was about my beliefs, and not about my partner’s actions.
During this process, it is important to communicate with your partner. As I did, you can say something like “I realise I have trust issues. I am going to work on this. Could you please be patient? This is something I’m working on: it’s not about you”.
My partner was very receptive as he had been feeling like he had to constantly demonstrate himself to me. As I took responsibility for my feelings he no longer had to prove that he was honourable and our relationship was able to shift to a place of deeper comfort.
Get the facts
It’s important to remember that we don’t need to assume that all people are acting with positive intent. Of course there are plenty of nasty and dishonest people in the world that will genuinely cause harm to us, sometimes intentionally. This method is to be used within the relationships you have and value: with people that you have assessed as worthy.
At the beginning of each relationship it is important to gather the facts. Is your partner kind, honest and virtuous? Is he/she a cheating dirtbag? Gather the information you need to decide, and then move into trust.
This amazing journey of self discovery taught me something beautiful. That whether or not we learn to trust in our family of origin: trust can be a decision that we make. We can learn to not accept anything that’s not trust, and we can learn to assume that just like we are, everyone is doing the very best they can. This is positive intent.