How to identify trust in your relationship
Updated: Jan 15
What is Trust?
Trust is word that we hear all of the time, especially when we think about relationships. When we think of trust within our relationship we usually think about fidelity or more specifically infidelity, but trust is present in everything we do. So what is it?
If we do a quick Google search we find that:
‘Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something’ (Google Dictionary)
Quite vague right?
With everything we do in life, we give away a certain amount of trust, this could be trust in a bus driver to get us to our destination safely, trust in the dog walker to not kill our dog…. But when we look more specifically at relationships and the trust we have with our partners this is so much more complex and often taken for granted.
The following activities will help you to identify the trust in your relationship, how you give it, how you expect to receive it, your style of trust and ways to improve it. Knowing this information is really important if you want to initiate, strengthen or rebuild trust within your relationship but it can also be quite insightful and help you learn things about yourself, and your partner that you may not have known.
How We Trust
Let’s start by thinking about how you trust and what constitutes trust for you. Grab a pen and paper and write down the things that your partner does that allow you to trust them.
Think about the following:
Are they reliable? Can you trust them to stick to their promises, pick up milk when you ask them, ensure the dog is fed if you go away for the night?
Are they honest? If you ask them a question can you trust that they will answer you honestly?
Are they predictable? Can you guess how they will respond to certain actions, conversations & requests?
How about Loyalty? Do they support your choices, rights & opinions (that doesn’t mean they have to agree with them, they just have to respect them)?
Are they committed to you? Do you both agree what you want from your relationship, have shared goals and the willingness to support each other through good times & bad?
Think about the things that made you trust your partner to begin with and the things they do in everyday life that strengthen that trust.
For example one of my clients wrote:
“I have been with my husband for 15 years but trust was hard to find. At first he was really unpredictable, he would show up at my house at 3am with flowers and then I wouldn’t see him for a week, no call nothing. It was only when I met his family that I started to trust him more. His mother and father had been together all of their lives, they had lived in the same house and raised 3 children together. All of them came home each Sunday for lunch and all of them had good jobs. I started to trust that he had that in him. Eventually when he proposed and we moved in together he became more predictable and when our daughter was born I found I could rely on him to help me. When I went back to university he supported me with my studies and took care of our daughter and the house and I knew he would always be there with a cup of tea if I was sad or stressed out”.
I think you would agree that to truly trust someone we need to know that they will do what they have said they will, we need to know that they are being truthful with us, we need to be able to predict their reactions to our actions, we need to feel that they are loyal to us, and we need our partner to be committed to the same things we are committed to.
Now you have thought about the trust you have in your partner, switch it around and think about the things you do that show you can be trusted.
Now compare your answers to both activities.
Have you written anything that surprised you?
Are your expectations of trust the same in your partner as yourself?
How much do you think you trust your partner?
Another client had this to say:
“When I think about the ways I can be trusted it doesn’t quite match my expectation of my partner. I value honesty above anything else and I would expect my partner to tell me everything, good or bad. Yet I know, deep down, I don’t offer the same. My boyfriend hates it when I work late, he thinks my boss takes advantage but I know It is something I have to do otherwise I won’t stand out. So when I work late I often lie and tell him I am going to see my mum or a friend. I do it to save an argument, but it means I have to delete texts and make up stories of what I have done. Similarly there are times when I am angry or upset and he always listens to me, he has been stressed out lately and I know when he tried to tell me about it the other day I was too busy and didn’t really listen at all”.
The point of these activities, is not to identify what you are doing wrong but to identify the common assumptions and expectation you may have in regards to trust within your relationship. If they do help you see areas for improvement, bonus!
By understanding our own values in relation to trust we can explore potential issues and difficulties that may arise or exist within our relationship.
Types of Trust in Relationship
Now you have thought about what trust is and looked at the way you trust, you might like to look some common trust types in relationships and see if any fit.
It’s worth noting here that these types may not fit every relationship perfectly. Similarly there may be parts that fit between the different types.
The ‘Seesaw’ Relationship
Seesaw relationships usually consist of two partners battling it out to be right.
Let’s look at an example:
Daniel and Ben have been in a relationship for 12 years, they have built and run a successful Gym together. Daniel is pragmatic and likes to do all of his research before he invests time and money into new things. Ben is much more impulsive and often makes decisions based on a feeling. In the beginning their different personalities complemented each other but now Daniel is getting increasingly frustrated with Ben making decisions that are risky and don’t involve him. Recently Ben hired a new trainer to work at the gym who has no previous experience, he is spending a lot of extra time with him and recommending him to existing clients. Daniel feels this is irresponsible and risks the relationship they have built with their clients and their brand. When they discuss it, Ben constantly brings up past decisions he has made that have turned out well and calls Daniel a ‘worry wart’ and an ‘old man’ he feels Daniel should trust him more and stop undermining him. Daniel tells Ben he needs to grow up and stop trying to please everyone, he reminds him of the times he has rescued them when Ben has messed up.
In this scenario it’s clear that both Daniel and Ben feel strongly about being right. Their tendency to put the other down and disregard their ideas will only increase the negativity between them. By criticising and using past examples of success they are judging their own behaviour based on their partners failings and refusing to give each the trust they desire.
If we use the Seesaw analogy we can see that when one partner pushes their end of the see saw off the ground the other partner is trying frantically to push against it to re balance their positions. By doing they will never be equal or show equal trust.
Things to Try
To re-balance this seesaw both partners need to move closer together at the same time.
Discuss your problems, look for solutions that involve both people and pull on the strengths of each. There will be things that one partners finds boring, annoying or difficult, whereas the other partner may enjoy and thrive in that area. If trust is hard to give they need to start small and find areas of their life where they can give trust without such high ramifications should something go wrong
What will I get from being right in this situation?
What will I lose by being right?
What are the benefits if we find another way?
Daniel and Ben decided to hold 2 business meetings each week. During the first meeting they would discuss new business ideas. They agreed that each partner, regardless of whose idea if was, would offer up at least 2 pros and cons for each idea presented. The second meeting would involve the wider Gym team. At which point they would present the ideas to the team without disclosing whose idea it was. They would gain feedback from this meeting and then make their decisions together. Ben agreed not to make any decisions without first consulting Daniel and Daniel agreed to hear Ben out with any ideas he wished to present.
The ‘Ostrich’ Relationship
When we think of an Ostrich it brings lots of images to mind, but the most common is of the Ostrich sticking its head in the sand, and this is the defining characteristic of an Ostrich relationship.
When one or both partners refuse to acknowledge problems within the relationship and instead choose to focus on their assumed fantasy of what they want from the relationship instead. Whilst this may work for a short period of time, eventually other issues will start to occur as a result of not dealing with the initial problem and sooner or later the real problem will rise up and demand attention.
Unfortunately this is quite common is abusive relationships where one person is aware of the issues but the reality of facing them is far more daunting than imagining everything is/will be fine. Abuse of any kind is not acceptable in any circumstance. Violence and emotional abuse never go away on their own, they only increase in severity.
Things to Try
Usually problems within our relationships are quite obvious, you can tell when your partner is quieter than normal, you will notice differences in behaviour. If you have money worries, you will be aware of these in some way or another. Try writing down any worries you have, use your intuition and pinpoint anything that has changed or is not working the way you would like it to.
Try a communication activity
Find a time where you can spend an 1-1.5 hours together uninterrupted
Agree to allow each other time to speak, don’t interrupt or talk over each other
Each Pick 2-5 topics you wish to discuss and write them on separate pieces of paper
Place the paper in a bowl
Each take turns to select one piece of paper out of the bowl
Whoever’s topic is picked should speak for 5 minutes about that topic, their thoughts, feelings, worries etc.
Once that person has finished the other person has 5 minutes to talk
Continue until all topics have been discussed
This activity can help you to confront issues you may otherwise have avoided. It’s important that you allow each other time to be heard, don’t interrupt your partner, don’t roll your eyes, don’t get up and move around. Instead pay attention. It’s helpful to agree on these rules prior to the activity, similarly its helpful to agree on a set time limit, don’t try and talk about every issue you have on one night. It will be too much too soon and you will find yourself exhausted by it. Adapt the activity to suit, don’t start with issues you know will cause a full blown row, start small. Choose just a few topics at first to ease into it and add more next time. However you need to adapt it, do it to suit you.
The ‘Tight Grip’ Relationship
This usually occurs where one partner fears they will lose the other partner and so they keep tight control over them and their actions. Common behaviours include, checking phone messages, insisting on going everywhere together, checking up on them when they are out, questioning them when they get back. The tight grip relationship feels much more like a parent-child relationship as oppose to adult-adult.
For the partner experiencing this kind of fear, they can feel consumed by anxiety and feel compelled to act this way. They may not wish to do the things that they do but know of no other way to ease their fears. For the partner being controlled, it can feel like they are being suffocated, and are not able to have a ‘normal’ life. It is not uncommon for the partner who feels like they are being punished for doing something they haven’t done, to do that very thing, thus justifying the treatment. Of course this doesn’t always happen and there are less dramatic examples but the point remains,
when we hold onto something too tightly, it can die.
Things to Try
Ultimately the real issue here lies with the partner who is expressing these behaviours and they need to seek support to work through their anxieties. Both partners need to understand the root of the anxiety to be able move forwards and reduce it. A trained counsellor or therapist can help you to do this.
To learn more about how we develop our styles of trust take a look out for my blog How I learnt to Trust
However, there are things that the partner suffering these behaviours can also do.
Firstly try not to make exceptions that are beyond reasonable, if you change your behaviour to appease their fears, that fear will just be replaced with another until you have restricted your life so much you no longer recognise yourself.
Secondly when speaking to your partner try to pick out the emotions underlying the requests and questions from your partner.
“Where is your phone? it’s not where it usually is”
“Why are you checking up on me again? I am allowed to move my phone”
“You clearly have something to hide or you would give me it”
This is an example of a conversation that you may have had a thousand times, you feel controlled and interrogated and so you react.
Instead try and read the emotions that your anxious partner is expressing
“Where is your phone?, it’s not where it usually is”
“It sounds like you are worried about something, is there something wrong?”
“No I just didn’t see it and wondered if you had lost it”
“ It’s in my bag, I just haven’t gotten it out yet, I was busy making a drink”
These small changes address the anxiety as oppose to the accusation and allow you to have a more productive conversation with your partner without the escalation into another row. However, if you are in a controlling relationship it is important to seek help, it is never OK to feel controlled, restricted or uncomfortable in your own relationship.
Trust is something that we talk about far too easily without thinking about what it actually means. The trust you have in your relationship may well be taken for granted, and may differ somewhat between partners. What you value as a trustworthy quality in your partner may not be a quality you in turn give back, that's why it's helpful to identify trust in your relationship.Trust is so much more than fidelity, it underpins our entire relationship and effects our overall happiness. By identifying your trust style you can work to make positive changes in your relationship, improving communication, solving underlying issues and strengthening your relationship as a whole.
Coming Soon Rebuilding trust
The way you trust and why