Today we had a meeting. Sigh… The dreaded meeting!
Being a couple and working together is complex. We’re both strong-willed and passionate about what we do so it’s easy for us to slip into a mode where we single-mindedly pursue what we believe is the best course of action.
It triggers us both for different reasons and our defences go up. There’s nothing concrete about what was said or done during the meeting itself but there was a tenseness to it, and even though it met its goals it left us feeling unfulfilled.
We are two individuals but being single-minded to our individual goals is totally counter to the higher purpose of being united as a couple. We need to be couple-minded rather than single-minded and like everyone else in that department, we are still a work in progress.
Thankfully, our guardedness with each other dissipates outside the context of these ‘work meetings’, but for many couples, the experience of unease is not episodic or context-dependent like this, but rather persists throughout their relationship. It makes for a very untrusting and ultimately toxic environment.
Being guarded or defended around each other is a sign that there is an absence of trust in each other; we don’t trust the other to be looking out for us, having our back, accepting us for who we are, or simply being interested in us. Trust is essential for genuine intimacy in any relationship, especially so in marriage.
A solid foundation of trust enables us to be vulnerable with each other, to be willing to share our inner life with the other. A trusting relationship also frees us to focus on self-improvement instead of our energies being absorbed defending ourselves and looking for fault in the other.
While women tend to complain more than men about not being able to trust their spouse, the truth is that trust is an issue for both. So how do we deepen, build and restore trust?
1: Deal with your anger
We once talked with a young mother who lived in fear of her husband’s temper. He had never physically threatened let alone harmed her or their child. In fact, she could only point to one incident months previously where he had really lost his cool in an angry outburst and made her fear for her child’s safety who he was holding at the time.
Unregulated anger leaves persistent scars. It’s very hard to maintain a sense of trust with someone who is angry, even when that anger is directed at a third party.
Men are equally vulnerable to a woman’s anger as women are to male anger, although they often experience it differently. Women are more likely to feel physically unsafe, whereas men will more likely feel emotionally unsafe. Either way, if you have an anger issue, deal with it and get professional help if necessary.
2: Priority for truth
Withholding information out of shame or fear of making the other worry intensifies the sense of betrayal when the truth eventually comes out and is almost always counter-productive.
Jesus said he was ‘the way, the truth and the life’ and the prohibition against lying is one of the Ten Commandments. If you want to be trusted, make a radical commitment to the truth.
Give full disclosure; no half-truths or deliberate misrepresentation. No secret habits or private spends. Volunteer information before it’s requested. You made a commitment to share your all with each other, so be an open book.
3: Keep your promises
It sounds simple, but the reality is that we don’t trust someone who breaks promises. Obviously, breaking our wedding vows is a major trust-buster, but even small things, like not arriving home at the time we promised or failing to meet a commitment to keep a confidence, all have an impact. These small missteps might seem trivial, but they have a cumulative effect so that the net impact ends up being very significant.
4: Do it promptly
If your spouse asks you to do something, and you can do it, and you intend to do it, say so… and then follow through promptly. Don’t put it off so that they have to remind you again and again to get any action. Everybody hates doing that. Don’t put each other in the situation where they’re compelled to be the nag.
This is especially so with parenting. If your spouse asks you to change the baby nappy doing it tomorrow isn’t going to cut it. The kid’s sitting in poo, if you’re not up and on to it in under 10 seconds your spouse will do it themselves and you’ve proven that you can’t be trusted to follow through.
When your spouse asks you to do something, ask what the timeframe expectations are and then do it in the time expected as a minimum. Do it faster if you want extra points!
5: Apologise for stuff ups
You will stuff up. When it happens, you can undo a lot of the damage by promptly and humbly apologizing and doing what you can to rectify the situation. Nothing builds trust quite like accepting responsibility without making excuses or diverting blame.
Humility goes a long way in building trust but you also need to demonstrate your sincerity with reparative action. So follow up your verbal apology with concrete action.
Trust is a precious commodity in a relationship. When absent, it sucks the positive energy out of a marriage as each spouse expends energy keeping their defences intact.
Conversely, when trust is strong, the relationship thrives and allows both spouses to be vulnerable with each other. It allows us to be more authentically ourselves, to grow and develop into the people we are created to be.