Trust: belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc. (Merriam-Webster)
All relationships are based on trust. Whether we are talking about children or adults; social, romantic, or occupational…without trust, a healthy relationship cannot exist.
At the most basic level, children must trust the adults that care for them. They trust that their physical and emotional needs will be met, and if they are not, the relationship is damaged, and so is the development of the child.
Children also trust that their parents will keep their word and tell them the truth. When they don’t, the trust deteriorates, and the relationship becomes strained and problematic. Children begin to act out, and it is difficult to rebuild the trust and the relationship.
As children turn to teens, it is important that parents trust them. In order for a teenager to earn the privileges and independence that they so desire, parents must feel that their teens are honest about their whereabouts, whom they are with, what they are doing, and must trust in a strong sense that their teen will make good decisions.
When a teen violates this trust, they damage their relationship with their parents, and potentially lose the freedom so they desire.
Friends need to trust one another. We even need to trust our own siblings. For example, many friendships have been lost because one person confided in another, in confidence, but then the secret was shared. Siblings trust they have one another’s back, but when that fails, I’ve seen siblings end relationships and become estranged.
At work, your boss trusts you to show up on time and get your work done. If you don’t, he will fire you. Your co-workers trust you to work together; to help each other out, to have each other’s back.
You might even trust co-workers with secrets, enabling you to confide in them. When this fails, there will be problems in the workplace, and somebody usually ends up fired or miserable.
By far, the most complicated relationships requiring trust are our romantic relationships.
And while most of us understand the most basic meaning of trust, in a romantic relationship, trust can truly mean different things to different people. Most would agree at its basic level, trust implies that you don’t lie, cheat or steal.
What about so-called harmless white lies? What exactly constitutes cheating? This is where the water gets murky, as people don’t often tend to see eye to eye on many of these questions.
Is it cheating if your partner maintains a friendship with his ex-girlfriend? Is it okay for them to talk, text, and/or see each other? Should you be told about it or is it okay to happen behind your back? Some women have no problem with this at all, others will tell you there should be no contact and anything else is “cheating”.
If your partner tells you he has no communication with his ex-girlfriend, but then you find on his phone that they’ve been talking, or even that they’ve met up, then what? He might say it was no big deal because they’re friends, whereas you might feel betrayed and that your trust was violated.
What if there is a co-worker that is flirtatious with you? Your husband needs to trust that nothing will happen here. You might minimize it as harmless and no big deal, while he might interpret every little thing a different way. If he feels the trust has been violated, the relationship is in trouble.
Men and women tend to see trust through very different lenses, and this does cause a lot of problems. Men tend to think trust can only be broken through “cheating” and their definition of this usually involves having sex. Women, on the other hand, think trust is more delicate and more easily violated and in more ways than just “cheating”.
Women also typically define “cheating” more loosely than men. These are just some of the most common examples I hear in my office regarding trust being violated. I can also tell you that relationships rarely survive the betrayal of trust.
So are we doomed? If men and women don’t see eye-to-eye, then how can a relationship survive? Isn’t someone bound to do something that their partner interprets differently than they do, and then the trust will be broken? How can any relationship survive this?
The answer lies in communication and in being trustworthy.
How to maintain trust in a relationship
Communicate with your partner about what trust means to you
Be very clear and leave nothing gray. He or she must know 100% what are the issues that are touchiest and most sensitive for you. These will largely be based on your past life experiences, and that is okay. It is true for all of us.
If you’ve been deceived financially in the past, make sure your partner knows that you need total transparency with financial matters. Let her know what dollar amount needs to be discussed before it is spent.
If you have been cheated on, make sure your partner knows what makes you uncomfortable. If you don’t want him talking to or seeing ex-girlfriends, he needs to know this. Be very clear about what you are okay with and what you are not okay with.
Show your partner the same respect that you would want in return
Once you know a certain area is sensitive to your partner, be very aware, cautious and careful about hurting them. It has to work both ways. You do not get to minimize the importance of something to someone else, no matter how ridiculous it may seem to you.
People usually have really good reasons why something is important to them, whether it is based on past experiences, deep religious beliefs, or something else. Everyone deserves a partner that will respect this.
Say what you mean and mean what you say
Your word must be kept and held in the highest esteem. Never make a promise you do not intend to keep. Nothing is more hurtful. And nothing makes you less worthy of trust. After all, trust is earned by actions. Words are meaningless if they are not backed up with actions. Everyone knows that actions speak louder than words.
Be the example of trust in all of your relationships
Show with your actions that you are a loyal friend, a reliable parent, a steadfast colleague, and a devoted partner. Demonstrate in all you relationships the kind of communication and trustworthiness that you expect.
Then, and only then, can you demand it of those around you. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and honesty, so expect it of your partner and teach it to your children.