"I can't trust her." "She complains that I'm not trustworthy." "He betrayed my trust."
We use the word a lot — trust — but what do we mean when we say it? What aspects of our relationship are we referring to when we use that word?
Here's a way to think about trust*, three questions that define its essence and can help you determine the trust level in your relationship:
Can I count on you? (Do you keep the agreements we have with each other? Do you do what you say you're going to do?)
Are you there for me? (When I really need your support or care, do you come through for me? During my challenging times, do you make me a priority and, as needed, shift other things around in order to be physically and emotionally present for me?)
Do I know I'm special to you? (It's not enough that you tell me I'm special. I need to know it by the things you say and do — your words and actions. When there's trust, I should have no doubt that I'm special to you.)
These three questions capture what trust is all about. When there's trust, "... we don't need to be continually testing our partner to see if this time we can trust him or her to tell the truth, keep promises, and think of our interests. We just assume we can ..."**
If you answered "Yes" to the three questions, you're enjoying a solid sense of trust in your partner. But does your partner feel the same toward you? Find out. Have a conversation where you answer these questions together, with honesty. If either of you answer "No" to any of the questions, discuss why that is, and what's needed to get to "Yes." If either of you find yourselves tongue-tied (which can easily happen on a tricky topic like this), consider a few sessions with a couples counselor to help the conversation along.Trust is too important to neglect when you recognize its absence, and too important to leave to chance.
*Johnson, Sue. Hold Me Tight. Little, Brown. (New York: 2008)
**Gottman, John M. The Science of Trust. W.W.Norton. (New York: 2011)