During premarital/marriage coaching, I frequently discover that the topic a couple is arguing about is not the root issue that needs to be resolved. What they need to repair is the distrust that has either slowly crept or jumped into the relationship. Most couples identify violations of trust with the “big stuff” such as having an affair, drug addiction or alcohol problems, and hiding or secretly spending money. By all accounts, these behaviors are clearly violations of trust. However, what most couples may not realize is that the “small stuff” over time has the same ability to create distrust and insidiously undermine the relationship or marriage.
Without trust you can’t build anything of sustainable value. Trust is the foundation on which strong relationships are set and a critical element in any committed relationship. People can tell you whether they trust someone based on their feelings, but they may not necessarily be able to define the characteristics and behaviors that build trust.
Trust in a relationship is akin to the foundation of a house. You’re building a home. You know a solid foundation is important to stabilize the structure and allow it to withstand severe weather conditions. After the concrete is poured, you take the foundation for granted. You focus your attention to the other features of the home such as the number of bedrooms and baths as well as the size of the kitchen. You expend a great deal of effort designing the small details and decorating the interior. Your money and energy are overwhelmingly poured into creating a warm and comfortable home, while you fail to appreciate that the foundation is protecting it all.
Fast forward several years, and a crack forms in the foundation. Your house is not in jeopardy yet, but unchecked, the first crack gets bigger, more cracks appear, and some settling occurs. Now the house has cracks in the floor tiles, walls, and ceiling. The house is looking worn and possibly unsafe to live.
In many cases, people choose not to fix the underlying problem but patch it so it doesn’t appear so obvious. In extreme cases, you may decide to sell the house—get out and start over, building the same house all over again on a different property. The TRUTH—you need to deal with the foundation—TRUST.
Trust has many components, any one of which can undermine or strengthen the relationship. Brown (2017) has deconstructed trust into 7 major components that must be practiced and reciprocated over time to build trust which are:
- Boundaries: Communicating and honoring clear expectations
- Reliability: Doing what you say you will do again and again [Note: It’s important to understand your limitations and not over-commit]
- Accountability: Making a mistake, owning it, apologizing, and making amends
- Confidence: Not sharing with others what is shared in confidence
- Integrity: Practicing, and not just professing values, in which you may have to choose courage over your comfort or right over fun, fast, and easy
- Non-judgment: Helping when another falters and being vulnerable to ask for help when needed [Note: One-sided help sets the giver up to feel superior over time]
- Generosity: Believing in good intentions when the behavior is a mistake
Which ones do you live out regularly, and which components do you need to practice and reciprocate over time to build more trust? I would encourage all couples to get honest with themselves on which trust factors they struggle with and to share this revelation with their partner. You can then develop a specific action plan to improve in that area to build more trust.
Trust is not a black-or-white issue but one which is measured on a continuum. Where does your relationship ride on that continuum? What are you willing to do to move it in a more positive direction? Improving trust takes time, patience, and thoughtful words and actions. You must trust the process that will take you from where you stand today to a more trustworthy relationship in the future.
Brown, B. (2017). Super Soul Sessions Video: The Anatomy of Trust. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewngFnXcqao
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership and premarital/marriage coaching. She coaches individuals and couples as well as designs and facilitates workshops. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her website at www.shinecrossingsministry.com.