About a year ago I was having a heart-to heart with a friend, and she was trying to pinpoint why she felt so uneasy in certain areas of her relationship, and confident in others.
When I suggested that she might be picking up on a lack of trust, she responded:
"Well, I know if I were to ask him to hold my purse, or hold onto a $20 bill or something, he wouldn't take it. I can trust him.... But I'm just never totally sure if he's going to do the things he says he's going to do."
And let me tell you the same thing I told her: Trust is COMPLICATED.
You can trust someone in one way, and not trust them in another.
If you've ever felt conflicted about how much you trust someone, now you know why!
You can't have complete trust in someone unless you have all of the necessary elements of trust. Without them, your sense of trust is incomplete!
But hold on. It's not enough just to know that there are different elements of trust... you need to know what those elements are.
Plus, if you know what pieces are missing, you're going to be better equipped to talk about the problem, and resolve the problem in your relationship!
THIS is where the relationship research comes in.
Because you need to know what's really going on in your heart, and in your relationship when you feel like you can't trust him.
Our understanding starts by examining different components of trust. One study on the topic pinpoints three core characteristics:
3 Characteristics of Trust. Rempel, Holmes and Zanna (1985)
1. Predictability. This is the ability to forecast his behavior based on past interactions with him. This depends on the level of consistency he has in his behavior. You can't trust someone if their behavior is totally erratic and unpredictable.
2. Dependability. This is essentially the trustworthiness of the other person. Dependability is determined by the kinds of qualities that are attributed to them based on previous actions. For instance, if you've attributed positive qualities to him, (you believe he is caring, compassionate, a good listener, etc.) it will increase his level of dependability. If you have attributed bad qualities to him (he is selfish, immature, etc.) it will decrease his dependability.
3. Faith. Faith is being confident that he will respond positively and with empathy although there is no available evidence to make that prediction. Rempel, Holmes and Zanna theorize that faith is primarily based on how you interpret his motives and intentions. Motives in this study were identified as:
Extrinsic- valuing the relationship/partner as a means to an end (using them)
Instrumental - valuing the relationship/partner for personal benefits (you like how they make you feel, or what "perks" they bring to the relationship)
Intrinsic - caring for the other without expectations of personal gain (you're in the relationship because of who they are, and because you care about them)
As it turns out, people who believed their partners were intrinsically motivated to be with them had more faith (blind trust) in their partner. And faith was strongly (and positively) related to feelings of love!
Another insightful take on the components of trust is from famous vulnerability researcher, Brene Brown. (Keep reading, cause this is where it gets good!)
The Anatomy of Trust:
This understanding of trust is perhaps the most helpful and the easiest to remember when evaluating your relationship. My advice: keep this one in your back pocket at all times.
It even comes with a handy acronym: BRAVING. Because any time you brave trust with someone, you are braving connection.
Here are the necessary components of trust according to Brown's research:
Boundaries. You can't trust someone who violates your boundaries, or pressures you to violate boundaries you have set for yourself. Understanding and respecting personal, professional, and social boundaries are necessary for you to feel safe with someone, and are necessary for establishing trust.
Reliability. In the research community, reliability is taken very seriously. When creating a measurement for a study, you want your measurement to be reliable. Meaning it will be the same every time you test it. If I got on a scale and it read 120, and if I got on it a hundred more times, and it said 120 every single time, that would be a reliable measure of my weight. Reliability means you are consistent. You can't do something once and be considered reliable. It has to be over and over and over again. It's a pattern of consistency. It's doing what you say you will do again and again and again.
Accountability. When someone is accountable, they own their mistakes. They don't try to shift the blame. They take responsibility for their actions, and do what's needed to make it right. They are transparent with others even when they make mistakes and they genuinely try to make amends.
Vault. This area of trust is significant. The vault means that this person will keep what you've said in confidence. They don't air your dirty laundry to the folks next door. You can't trust somebody who shares all your secrets! Interestingly, the vault goes both ways. In order to be trusted in this area, you can't just keep my information confidential, you need to practice discretion with others' information as well. If someone spills a secret to you that wasn't theirs to share, they've damaged your trust as well because there's no way to be certain they won't do the same thing to you...
Integrity. Integrity is choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. Even when no one is looking. It's living out your values, and standing by your principles. Not just professing them. Integrity is courageous, and stands up for what is good, and honest. A person with integrity can be trusted because they have a moral compass that points north, and they hold themselves to that standard.
Non-Judgment. In order to have trust with someone, we need to know we can be ourselves. No explanations or apologies necessary. Both people should be able to ask for what they need, and discuss their feelings without judgement, condemnation, or criticism.
Generosity. If you are going to trust someone, you need to know that they will choose the most generous and gracious interpretation of your behavior as possible (Gottman calls this maintaining a "positive perspective"). They won't jump to negative conclusions about your words, intentions, or behavior. Instead, they will give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume the best about you.
The Divine Reflection
How does this help us understand God and the relationship we have with him?
We can trust God because:
God is predictable. He is always good, and he is always holy. He is always loving. And always forgiving. We know what we can expect from him as his child.
"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:11
God is Dependable. God is love. God is faithful to those who love him.
"Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments." Deuteronomy 7:9
We can have Faith in God. His motivation to love us is selfless. We can blindly follow him.
"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:7
God always allows for our free will (never forces us), and his word establishes healthy boundaries.
He is reliable. The same yesterday, today and forever.
Although he cannot hold himself accountable to us (he is perfect) he is always honest with us, and his Holy Spirit keeps us accountable.
He is our vault, our confidant, our comforter. We can share our secrets with him.
He is without sin. He IS the "true north" that our moral compass and standard for integrity points to. He will do what is right.
He knows our deepest hearts, the good and the bad, and yet he doesn't condemn us. There is no judgement for anyone in Christ.
Christ somehow sees the best in us, even though we are sinners. His high regard for us is incredibly generous.
God is trustworthy because he is God, but also because he has proven himself trustworthy.
The fundamentals of how trust is built is the same, whether it's happening between yourself and your spouse, or yourself and God. The standard of what it takes to trust is the same.
God has met, and exceeded that standard. Perhaps because he knew this is what would be required for a relationship of trust? (Personally, I think it's just a part of who he is.) Either way... it's clear that in our relationship with God, he is trustworthy in all aspects of the word.
Back to where we began...
Phew! You can see what I mean now when I say that trust is complicated!
In the first example I gave, my friend trusted her partner to have integrity, but she didn't trust him to be reliable.
In your case, he might be accountable, and respect boundaries, but he might be judgmental when you talk about your feelings. Or something completely different!
So if you're feeling a sneaking suspicion that you can't quite trust your man... check through these categories to see if you can figure out why.
(Hint: if all of these areas seem to be A-OK, then maybe you need to take a deeper look at your heart. You might just be having some trust issues... but more on that later.)
If you want to have a conversation about it, communicate with him the areas where you can completely trust him and tell him "thank you" for being so trustworthy in those areas.
Then, share with him the areas that you find it harder to trust him.
Express how important it is to you that you are able to count on him. (I'm sure it's just as important to him!)
By refining your understanding of what's really going on in your heart, mind, and relationship - you become much better equipped to have the conversation of how you can increase the trust in your relationship.
So to close, I have two questions for you to ponder:
What's keeping you from trusting him completely?
What's keeping you from trusting HIM completely?
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Also, you can check out Brene Brown's books here, and a video of her explaining the Anatomy of Trust here.