The Alphabet of Trust

Trust is like love. It’s one of those super dense words we seldom unpack. So, for a start, what does it mean to love? What does love look like?

I think that’s why 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is such a popular wedding verse. It offers a set of “How To” guidelines:

  • Love is always patient and kind;
  • Love is never jealous;
  • Love is not boastful or conceited,
  • It is never rude and never seeks its own advantage,
  • It does not take offense or store up grievances.
  • Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.
  • It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.

Absent these suggestions, we might think love is just a fuzzy feeling.

So how about trust? Is trust just a fuzzy feeling, or are there behavioral guidelines that show us how to behave in a trustworthy manner? Or how to demonstrate our trust in someone else?

And if so, what are they?

Relationship researcher extraordinaire John Gottman has a fascinating article on Trust & Betrayal. If this is an area you are interested in, I highly recommend checking this link.

Meanwhile, I decided to take a stab at my own list of behavioral guidelines for how to cultivate trust.

Your character (who you are ) and your competence (how you act) show up in many ways of course, but the list below, if practiced, will help your relationship in two powerful ways.

  • You will become more trustworthy
  • You will become more trusting.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve had a few clients lately who were raised in less-than-trustworthy environments. They were abused sexually, emotionally or physically and never learned what a trustworthy adult looked like. These young people can’t call upon an inner experience of trustworthiness. They have to think through the huge issues of “Whom can I trust?” and “How do I trust?”. They could use some behavioral guidelines.

This Alphabet of Trust is for them

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ACCEPT influence ~ from your partner. If you show them you accept (which does not mean you have to agree) their views and opinions, they will be more inclined to accept, and trust, yours.

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BELONG to one another ~ reassure your partner you are there for them, they belong in your heart, there is always a space for them.

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CONTROL ~ is an illusion in all but two places: your thoughts and your behavior. So, by all means take responsibility for all you think (and the stories you tell yourself) and all you do (how you show up on the planet with words and actions). But release any temptation to control or manipulate your partner. Trying to manage the outside world to protect your inside emotions never works.

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DUMP DEFENSIVENESS ~ if you make a mistake, don’t use excuses or be defensive. Own your error and simply say you are sorry. Be clear. Be true. End of conversation!

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ENJOY EYE CONTACT ~ lean in, look into each other’s eyes, whether you’re chatting over a beer or making love. Eyes seldom lie.

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(be) FAITHFUL ~ to whatever promises you make. If you’ve pledged monogamy, stay monogamous; if you’ve pledged to move after med school, move after med school; if you say you’ll take kid duty all Saturday, do that. Keep your commitments. If you absolutely need to change things, negotiate. Don’t  just drop the ball.

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GIVE thanks ~ be grateful for little things; a bed made, a meal served, a wound kissed, a knotted shoulder rubbed.

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(be) HONEST ~ tell the truth in everything . Little lies are a slippery slope to big lies. Tell the truth even when no one will know otherwise.

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INITIATE connection ~ reach out frequently. Little and often is great. A text. A smile. A hand squeeze.

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JUDGE with your heart ~ it’s too easy to tell ourselves negative tales about why our partner did this or that. Suspicion is like a poisonous worm – it will eat you up from the inside out. If you have a worry, it is better to confide that you have a worry and get it out in the open.*

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KEEP their secrets ~ if your partner shares something with you in confidence, guard it fiercely. The alternative is a fast track to betrayal.

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LISTEN deeply ~ tune in, seek to understand, paraphrase what you heard and ask “Did I get that right?”

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(be) MINDFUL ~ when you speak and act. It’s crazy-making to live with someone who says or does hurtful things and then denies having said or done them crying “But I didn’t mean it!”

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NEGOTIATE WITH A WIN-WIN MINDSET ~ in partnerships, that old win/loose idea is actually loose/loose. It does not feel like a simple win/loose, it feels like win/betray. Get creative until you find a solution that works for both of you. See How To Negotiate The Small Stuff for tips on how to do this.

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OWN up ~ if you blow it, say so. Offer an apology. Excuses suck!

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(be) PREDICTABLE (but not boring!) ~ a fine line, I know! Create certainty in the big stuff, like your values and dependability. Bring variety to the small stuff, like where and how you “eat, pray, love” (Thanks Ms. Gilbert).

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QUESTION ~ what you do not understand, don’t make assumptions. Ask your partner to clarify things so you can get to know the truth, not your fantasy.

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RESPECT ~ who your partner is, take his/her thoughts seriously. Never be dismissive.

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SPEAK ~ carefully. Not all the time of course, the warm friendly banter between two lovers needs no scripting nor censorship. But if something is bothering you (from a small irritation about making the bed, through a huge gut-wrenching fear your partner may have been unfaithful) HOW you approach the issue is key.  Huge topic of course – you may find my series on communicating helpful. It begins with The Five Conversations,

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 8.17.01 PM

(be) TRANSPARENT ~ be upfront about your motives, reasoning and opinions.

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USE “Us” & “We” ~ not “I’ and “You,” as in “We’ve got a problem between us”  rather than “I want this and you want that; I’m right & you’re wrong.”

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(be) VULNERABLE ~ let yourself show up warts and all. We all have aspects of ourselves we are afraid of, or embarrassed by. It is a huge vote of trust to share these aspects of who you are.

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WAIT ~ and count to 10 if you must, before you express an angry emotion. Being with a partner who flies off the handle is emotionally frightening. Calm yourself down before you talk about a difficult subject. If this is an issue for you, see The 7 Deadliest Fights.

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(E) XAMINE ~ your life and conscience from time to time. Are you as trustworthy as you can be?

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YIELD ~ your desires and wants sometimes. It can feel very reassuring to feel prioritized by a partner.

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ZIP-IT ~ sometimes stopping all the noise, all the words, all the “communicating”, processing, planning, commentating, justifying and explaining to simply be still in the presence of one another is the biggest boost to mutual trust there is.

  • CAVEAT

These guidelines are not always wise. It will depend upon whether or not you are in a relationship with a more or less healthy individual. Be sure to come back next week and we’ll explore what to do when your partner is not yet deserving of trust.

  • Is learning how to trust rocket science?
  • No.
  • Does it require the dedicated life long practice of heart, mind and soul?
  • Yes.

And well worth it it is.

(Thank you to  Jenn Erickson for the delightful vintage alphabet images.)

NEXT WEEK?

Can we ever be too trusting?

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

  • The Alphabet of Trust

16 thoughts on “The Alphabet of Trust

  1. Janette

    Beautiful Gemma- i don’t know how you find so many great pictures alon g with your wise counsel. I so enjoy reading your posts. Janette

    Reply
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