By: Tess Worrell
Harry, an introvert, married his outgoing secretary 15 years ago. He prefers quiet, home-based activities while she loves going out to be with people. He loves to pair great wines with exotic meals; she’s a meat and potatoes girl. They have about two big arguments a month. They love being married.
Joe, an outgoing salesman, fell in love with the quiet manager of one of his best customers. He loves to take her out on the town while she prefers a quiet movie at home. They enjoy cooking their own creations together. They have about two big fights a month. They just decided to divorce.
What’s the difference?
Statistics show that the happily married couples face the same obstacles, blend the same number of differences, and even have about the same level of conflict in their relationship as unhappy couples. Yet, happily married couples possess something unhappy couples do not. Trust.
Trust forms the foundation of relationship. Without it–relationships inevitably fail.
For such a critical element–trust is fragile. We can blow it easily. Mistrust, on the other hand, proves hardy. Once blown, trust takes incredible effort to restore. So, how can people build trust throughout their marriage? More importantly–how can they get it back once lost?
John Gottman, PhD in his book, The Science of Trust, outlines the following traits of happily married people:
- Happily married people give the benefit of the doubt.
- Happily married people, when they know they have gone too far or misspoken, repair the damage.
- Happily married people choose options that will benefit their spouse–even if the option costs them.
All these traits depend on trust.
- One only gives the benefit of the doubt if they internally believe the other person means them good not harm. The assumption becomes, “I must have misunderstood,” rather than “he/she is out to get me.”
- One repairs the damage caused by one’s actions or words because they value the other person and their perceptions. They value the relationship highly enough to refuse to allow their own actions to damage or destroy it.
- One only chooses for the benefit of others if they in turn believe the other person is equally concerned with their benefit.
Thus, happily married–trusting–couples are able to move forward together. Even in the midst of misunderstanding, conflict, and real hurt. They overcome these hurdles because they trust each other enough to believe they can work through them together. They believe that each is more committed to the good of the couple as a unit than their own self interest.
How do couples who have lost trust regain it? Whether the loss stems from a slow, gradual trend of discounting the importance of the other person or the sudden, explosion of huge events such as adultery or criminal activity–trust can only be rebuilt by proving oneself trustworthy. Action after action…over a long period of time.
- Each person takes seriously the perceptions of their spouse and works to modify him/herself as the spouse needs. They remove or reframe a behavior, an attitude, or a way of communicating that causes their spouse to doubt to that he/she is “safe.” If a husband chooses to “shade” the truth because he fears the conflict that might come with being honest, he wrecks trust. To fix–he must be more open and face the conflict. While his wife might not like what she hears–she feels safe in his (kind) honesty. If a wife is told that her way of making suggestions to her husband leaves him feeling childish and criticized, she needs to reframe her comments in a way that builds her husband up rather than tearing him down.
- Each starts giving the benefit of the doubt to the other. Start assuming that when he says something, he is telling the truth. Start assuming that when she makes a suggestion, she’s trying to help–not criticize.
- Each follows through on his word–no matter the cost. As actions match statements, time after time after time, trust builds.
- Each begins choosing what benefits the other–even if it’s not the best choice for them. When husband chooses to leave a meeting early to pick up the children from school so his wife can complete a project, she learns he’s in the relationship to care for her. When a wife puts aside her work to listen to her husband’s difficulties with his boss, he learns she’s in the relationship to care for him. As these individual actions become the pattern, trust builds.
Relationships build on one foundation–trust. Marriages that thrive do so because–despite glitches and hurdles–each person trusts the other. Marriages fail because trust is lost. Even when broken, however, trust can be rebuilt. As people understand trust and its importance, they begin to behave in a trustworthy manner. And, the marriage heals.