By Elise Fuller, MA, LPCI, NCC
Supervised by Marci Stiles
Typically, when I speak of trust being broken in a relationship, my clients assume I am talking about an extramarital affair. “Well I’ve never cheated on her, if that’s’ what you’re asking.” — a common response when I’m inquiring about the current level of trust in their relationship. Unfortunately, trust is much more complicated than that.
We are taught about trust from birth. Whether or not you can depend on your caregiver to bring you food, to coddle you when you’re crying, to show up at your baseball game, or bring you to get the ice-cream they promised.
We are constantly learning about trust and adjusting our feelings and reactions to the world based on whether or not we feel “safe.” In relationships, it is no different; in fact, some would argue that TRUST is the biggest underlying dance between partners.
In most failing relationships, trust has been broken. Sometimes it is overt, like the extramarital affair. But, often it's little things that add up over time: criticizing our partners, not listening to them at the end of the day, not supporting them when someone else is dragging them down, only showing effort in our own interests, and turning away when our partner is asking to lean on us.
These daily negative interactions tend to destroy trust. Another example would be a wife that agreed to have children previous to marriage that later changed her mind — “I don’t want it to ruin my figure!” These examples lead to an overwhelming sense of betrayal in relationships. Partners start to think, “You don’t have my back, and I’m in this alone.”
As Dan Wile said when commenting on how these negative interactions create a viscous cycle for couples, “each partner feels too unlistened-to to hear, too misunderstood to be understanding, and too stung by what the partner just said to do anything other than sting back.”
So if trust is broken and destroyed day by day, interaction by interaction, then wouldn’t it suggest that it has to be rebuilt in the same manner? The answer is a resounding YES! In essence, couples are actually creating new relationships when they make the decision to heal from distrust. They adopt the belief that trust is, first, a decision that is then further enriched by evidence.
What I mean to say is the offended partner (could be one or both) makes a decision to end the negativity, and to make an effort to heal and ultimately trust again. Then, they make daily efforts to rebuild positive interactions that build evidence suggesting their relationship is becoming more trustworthy. The process should go as follows:
First: The partner(s) establish transparency. They “come-clean.” They offer information to their partner that has been previously hidden. This means sharing their emotions and previous hurt. Remember: when sharing your feelings it is safest to use “I” statements, and to avoid criticism, contempt, and defensiveness (see my article on communication spoilers).
Second: The betrayer(s) express genuine remorse. Partners work to create understanding and acceptance. They apologize. I often suggest "The Five Languages of an Apology" by Gary D. Chapman and Jennifer M. Thomas to help partners become master apologizers. This is a skill I believe will benefit you in all your relationships, personal and professional.
Third: The couple creates a timeline, or a “process of betrayal.” This is a historical review of how the distrust occurred in their unique relationship. This allows each partner to take responsibility in their part in the cycle and to problem-solve ways to avoid these interactions in the future.
Fourth: The couple reverses the betrayal process. They put their plan in motion. They turn toward each other, rather than away. They practice to be great listeners. They do away with criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. They make commitments to one another to create an environment of love and support — creating a ratio of 5:1. There should be five positive interactions for each negative in the relationship. One should offer five kind words and compliments before discussing a complaint.
Many clients believe that good marriages should be “easy” they should “come naturally.” “If you have to put in too much work than it’s not a good marriage,” they’ll say. That could not be further from the truth. Good marriages are the reward, the spoils, for two hard-working, conscious and careful lovers!
These tips are based on the marital research of Dr. John Gottman. Marriage counselors at Positive Outlook Counseling use these strategies and much more to help their clients heal old wounds in their relationships and build stronger, healthier connections that last a lifetime. For more information, visit www.positiveoutlookcounseling.com.
Positive Outlook Counseling
Marci B. Stiles, MA, LPC-S, NBCC
16610 North Dallas Parkway, Ste 2100
Dallas TX, 75248
Positive Outlook Counseling services range from individual counseling to family therapy to marriage counseling services. Marci Stiles specializes in individual, family, marriage and troubled teen therapy.
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