Trust is one of the most important qualities to have and maintain in relationships. The survival instinct will drive any of us to do what we believe we need to do to take care of ourselves. This is especially true if we have not learned all the complex and important skills of self-care. When people have healthy self respect and take the best of care of themselves they are able to avoid relationships with people who cannot be trustworthy. It is best when people are raised from birth to be trusting and trustworthy.
How Trust Develops
As infants we must trust our parents to take care of us. Good enough parents are trustworthy. They take good care of us, listen to us and understand us. If parents cannot be counted on we feel insecure and develop a lack of trust. Children know when an adult is hurting them. We teach children not to hit others but if an adult hits children they will feel confused and less trusting. When children cannot trust adults they become anxious in relationships and will often have a hard time trusting an adult partner. If children are in a difficult relationship with an adult most children will learn how to lie to get by. It’s a normal survival instinct for children to lie when they feel they must. When adults have unrealistic expectations and are very critical most children learn how to lie for self protection.
When adults use positive healthy parenting/teaching skills they raise people who can be honest because they grow up believing they are valuable. Children need to have their feelings, thoughts and perceptions heard and validated. If children are in trustworthy relationships with adults they develop healthy self-confidence and self-esteem. These qualities are needed for people to take good care of themselves, be trustworthy and avoid untrustworthy friends/partners. We now know that babies are naturally empathic. Good parents’ help children develop that natural empathy and praise children when they exhibit empathy.
- Trust is earned. This is true in all adult relationships. Trust means we place confidence and faith in the other person. We expect honesty, integrity, loyalty and respect. It means we can expect the other person to keep promises and confidences and remain with us when things get difficult. As we get to know someone we share information about ourselves. Gradually we deepen the relationship by sharing more and become more vulnerable. It’s important to ask the other person questions that give them the opportunity to be vulnerable with you. Trust is not built when only one person shares. When people share their vulnerabilities with one another and understand and empathize with each other they become closer, more intimate. As partners become more intimate they build loyalty to one another. Loyalty encourages more trust.
- Criticism is a behavior that can undermine trust in relationships. People who behave in a critical manner are often struggling emotionally and may have difficulty being supportive, understanding and empathic. Tell the person how you feel about being criticized or judged and tell them what they can do to be respectful and supportive. We all must teach others about what we need. It’s important to know ourselves and our sensitivities well enough to communicate them to others.
- Trust builds gradually and takes two. Building trust requires mutual commitment to the relationship as well as honesty about the kind of relationship you are building. A trustworthy individual is able to be considerate and respectful of others. Knowing yourself well enough to be able to tell the other person what your needs are, is vital and will help them trust you. It is not respectful to tell someone they don’t know how they feel or that they “shouldn’t feel that way”. The perception of reality is subjective.
- Trust involves reliable, respectful, consistent, consideration of others. Showing one another interest in each other’s activities and interests is vital. The more we do for each other the more trust we build that we can both be there for one another. This makes it safer to be vulnerable with one another. Following through on our promises to one another is very important. When we agree to meet at a certain time we show trustworthiness by being there at the agreed-upon time. Even small actions like that matter and help to build respect and trust. It is easy to forgive an occasional late arrival if a person is usually on time.
- Trust involves trustworthy behavior. If someone promises to love you but then treats you poorly they are not behaving in a loving manner. Actions speak louder than words. Behaving in a loving way is part of loving somebody. It is not okay to be disrespectful or abusive toward somebody you love. It is not okay to take frustrations and anger out on a person you have promised to love. That includes children. Love sometimes takes a lot of work and is part of loving. Love is a verb. Taking care of someone is part of loving them. Appreciating who they are as they are is part of the work of loving. We cannot change another person; the only person we can change is our self.
- Trust fluctuates over time. People continue to grow and change over the course of relationships and that can challenge trust. It is important to maintain realistic expectations and reassure each other that you continue to love one another while supporting changes.
- Trusting relationships involve healthy conflict. Learning healthy conflict resolution skills is imperative for any relationship. Any time two people are involved in any way with each other there will be a conflict of interests. Learning how to work through those conflicts is a vital part of loving one another. Love is a verb. Trusting relationships involve listening to one another and respect for each other’s thoughts and perspectives even when they are different. There cannot be trust unless both parties feel heard and respected. Negotiation, compromise, and working through conflict are all part of a healthy trusting relationship.
- Trust involves apology and forgiveness. The ability to apologize is part of healthy conflict. People who have healthy self-esteem are able to apologize with ease. Some people were taught to believe they should not apologize, that apology shows weakness. The ability to apologize shows strength and a relationship cannot have trust without apology. We all make mistakes, we all inadvertently hurt our partners and the ability to apologize is imperative. Forgiveness is also part of trusting, loving relationships. When we are able to forgive a person it is because we recognize and accept that they are imperfect, vulnerable, real human beings. And that is who we love; we love imperfect, real, vulnerable human beings.