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Trust in A Relationship
Chris Wemple, Ph.D. "How can I learn to trust again?" If we have been hurt, we invariably ask ourselves that question. Just how do we establish trust in a relationship, and how do we learn if another person can be trusted enough to get deeply involved with them, perhaps to marry them?

How and who we learn to trust is a complex question. We may trust some people out of habit, because of societal and family expectations, out of our own wishful thinking, or perhaps because we're not sure we have a choice. Or maybe you have always had a hard time trusting or getting close to others. In a sense, you can never know for sure the limits of trust with another person. In spite of this, I do think that we can learn to be aware of things in our relationships that can build confidence and trust, or by their absence signal that there is a problem.

I have sketched out four stages or levels which I think contribute to the development of real trust between two people, and have labeled each stage with the quality I think is most needed at that level. I have also put down some of the concerns or questions one could ask at that stage. Hopefully, this might help answer the question by giving you some ideas of what to look for in yourself and the other person, and to help you find a way to be more realistic about trust in a relationship.

1. Openness & Validation: At this stage, trust begins with a willingness to honestly self-disclose as well as a willingness to set aside your own agendas and biases to try to take in and validate what the other person is saying. By the way, validation is communicating to the other person that you "get" what they are saying, that if you were in their position, what they are saying and doing would make sense to you (even though you might not think or feel the same way). Validation does NOT mean to agree with what is being said, nor does it involve saying that it is right or wrong. Openness and validation on both sides build intimacy and trust.

Concerns at this stage: Can I be honest with myself, or about myself to others? Am I being too closed off? Am I putting too much out there at once? Can I tell whether or not someone is actually listening and paying attention to me? How well do I listen to them? Is this person being open with me, telling me the truth?

2. Respect: As two people get to know each other, trust is encouraged through mutual respect. Respect means to hold someone as worthwhile and valuable, as well as to honor or observe boundaries or limits with them. If respect is not shown in both senses, then trust will erode quickly. Many would consider honesty in an interaction to be an expression of respect.

Concerns at this stage: Do I know when my boundaries and limits are being respected? Do I really know how to recognize and respect someone else's boundaries? How will I respond if they request respect? Can I make a reasonable request for respect? If I make a request for respect, will that be honored? Or will it be met with rationalizing, criticisms or even ridicule? Can we tell the truth in a caring and respectful way?

3. Acceptance & Letting go of the need for control: Acceptance is an attitude of being willing to see the other person as they are (as opposed to how you want or expect them to be) and allow them to be that way. While it doesn't necessarily mean approval or agreement, it can mean that you are willing to work at trying to take them as they are, without trying to change or control them. Being accepted as you are encourages trust, and willingness to be honest.

Concerns at this stage: Can I learn what is reasonable to expect for myself or another person? Can I accept and let go when my own high expectations are not met, without having to give up all expectations? Can I tell the difference between "lip service" and an honest attempt to change something? How will I be treated when I don't meet their expectations?

4. Consistency & Sacrifice: At this stage, trust is deepened by a demonstrated commitment. We show commitment through consistency (being reliable), and sacrifice (efforts that are made at a cost ). According to those who have studied commitment, relationships can have two kinds of commitment: The first is "constraint commitment," which is maintained because the cost of doing otherwise is too high (staying married because of the kids, or because it's too expensive to divorce.) The other kind is "dedication commitment" which involves dedication to a positive or shared goal, and a willingness to consistently make efforts and sacrifices toward that goal. That goal could be a relationship, expressed as a sense of "we" by partners in that relationship. The deepest levels of trust emerge in a relationship in which both partners can sustain a dedication commitment, characterized by consistency and sacrifice, over time.

Concerns at this stage: Can I follow through on commitments to myself or another person, even when it means sacrifice on my part? Is this other person willing to do the same for me, and have they shown that they are? Can I count on this person when I need them, or when troubles arise, and can they count on me? Can I put my heart in his/her hands?

One more thing; this is an ongoing process - something that we are always trying to build and re-build in our most important relationships.

Chris Wemple, Ph.D.

e-mail: Nathan Claunch, Ph.D.
The Divorce Survival Guide