By Kevin Murphy, MSc,
I was talking to someone* recently who had concerns about the faithfulness of their same-sex partner. This person couldn’t relax in the relationship because of an inability to trust them. Everything the partner did involving other people, particularly others who might become love rivals, was treated with suspicion and inevitably led to bad feeling and often rows.
It reminded me of someone else who once asked me in another context – this was a person* whose long time partner had had numerous secret affairs - whether trust was necessary in a relationship. It might seem like a curious question to ask. Is trust important in a relationship? Most of us, standing in an objective position, would say unequivocally that yes trust is essential in relationships. It was even cited by golfer Tiger Woods’ ex-wife as one of the reasons she decided on divorce.
We might even go so far as to ask can one have any quality of relationship where there is no trust? Yet the person who asked me this question had lived for years with excuses, being persuaded they were imagining things and that, ultimately, they were the one with the problem.
It reminded me of someone else * whose relationship collapsed because their partner did not believe they were fully loved by them. This person had, in reality, been head over heels in love with that partner but had never shown it. You could say that an inability to trust had been at the root of that problem too. Except now the trust was curiously taking place in what you would expect would have been a much more positive setting.
This notion of trust turns up in many guises. It is not enough to say that a person is not trustworthy and therefore we cannot allow ourselves trust them. Sometimes we find ourselves in relationships with people who, in fact, are trustworthy and whom we do, in fact, love. It is we who have the problem.
The more traditional concept of trust arises in those situations where we implicitly trust partners who, unfortunately, abuse that trust and cheat behind our backs. In such situations we are usually constantly asked to do the very thing we are already doing i.e. trust the person even more.
The reality of human relationships is that there are no guarantees. We enter into them, mostly, in good faith and with a good deal of trust. We have no choice. But when we find ourselves unable to trust enough to allow ourselves fully communicate our feelings to the other person, then we have a problem.
Equally, if we cannot allow ourselves trust enough to enjoy what is otherwise a loving and faithful relationship, then equally we have a problem.
And, also, if we find ourselves trusting in a cheating partner so much that we ignore the evidence of our instincts and often our eyes, then we have a problem in this situation too.
In these situations, trust is like a target that we all aim at but in some cases either overshoot with too much force or else we fall far short of it because we didn’t apply enough. So why is trust such a difficult thing to get right?
When trust is absent from a relationship, the ordinary things are difficult. Being together, speaking to the person, relying on the person, enjoying the person’s company; it effects all aspects of our ordinary interactions. This tells us the fundamental place that it occupies in terms of its importance to human relationships.
Trust is something we learn very early on in our lives. We are in the care of others far longer than any other form of life on the planet. With loving parents it usually never becomes an issue. But if anything upsets the delicate balance of our early relationships – anything from outright aggression to casual indifference – then it reflects in our later adult relationships. It is interesting to note how much emphasis modern media – magazines, movies, music, novels – puts on relationships, particularly romantic/emotional relationships. It is equally interesting to note increasing divorce rates and rising demand for relationship counselling services. When you add into the mix the changing face of community and family structures and the changing styles of parenting, you begin to see how our learning about relationships as we develop might have changed over the decades.
But trust is not just about us and the other person. In the first instance it is about us and our relationship to ourselves. If we have confidence we can allow ourselves trust in others. If we have self-belief we can sustain ourselves better against the collapse of trust. And if we have a little courage we can allow ourselves love in a way that fully includes the other person rather than holding back waiting for the worst to happen.
* Details excluded in order to ensure confidentiality.