As the garage door closes, our teenagers start their drive to school and my husband and I sink into our respective chairs with a nice cup of coffee. Catch a breath. Sigh. I smile at this moment, grateful for 25 years, a wild roller coaster of dating and marriage.
Twenty-five years… the exhilaration of falling in love, learning about one another, painful moments, fun moments, intense loss, small children, exhaustion, moving to new places, difficult job situations, and so much more. We are different people than we were on the day we met.
I sit here and wonder, “How do we still love each other after all these years?” As I look back, I know it has taken hard work to build trust that we will continue to be here for each other.
Trust is Built Slowly
Trust is built slowly over time. During those first weeks, months, and years, we did not know each other well enough to be sure. We had hopes, doubts, and experienced concerns that are common for any new couple:
- Can I trust you to be here for me when I am upset?
- Can I trust you to choose me over your family and friends?
- Can I trust you not to take drugs?
- Can I trust you to work and co-support our family?
- Can I trust you to help me around the house?
- Can I trust you to be involved with our children?
We needed to keep showing up for each other. As the years passed, moment-by-moment, trial and error, good times and bad, we built a relationship of trust.
How Do I Build Trust in My Relationship?
The following are four powerful ways to build trust in your relationship. The great thing about relationships is there is always room to experiment and grow.
- Listen – When my husband tries to understand me, I feel loved, seen, and heard. “Tell me more” is another way of saying, “I love you.” When we first got married, we did not have a clue how to listen to each other, so we tried a couple’s workshop and practiced some helpful listening skills. We still use those skills, and it helps. There are a number of great communication exercises to try. One of my personal favorites is “L-O-V-E Conversations.”
- Gratitude – Several years ago, we decided to add the habit of gratitude to our marriage. I am not overstating the case when I say that this practice alone has become one of the major contributors to our level of satisfaction. I began to notice the little things that mean so much: a cuddle before bed, an evening walk, the bristle of my husband’s whiskers on my face, the sound of his laughter, the warmth of his presence when I feel sad, etc. A recent Psychology Today article affirmed my personal experience. Gratitude makes a difference:
“New studies support the idea that gratitude is an integral part of healthy relationships. As marriages move past the honeymoon stage, couples go from appreciating and loving every little detail about each other to taking each other for granted. Researchers concluded that a nourishing cycle of encouragement and appreciation provides extra incentive to maintain our relationships. In other words, when we appreciate our partners, we develop trust and respect. When we feel appreciated, we feel needed and encouraged.”
- Turn Toward – In a recent lecture, relationship expert John Gottman shared the most important component of trust, “Turning Toward.” This has been such an important practice in my own marriage. Although, I have occasionally missed my husband’s signals, I really try. When he says, “Look at the beautiful sunset,” it is a cue for me to stop what I am doing for a moment and share something that is meaningful to my husband. Or when I say, “I feel sad today,” he has an opportunity to “turn toward” and comfort me with his presence, or turn away and avoid a potentially uncomfortable conversation.
Gottman explains, “Trust is built in very small moments, which I call sliding door moments. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connection with our partner or turning away from our partner. Trust is a collection of “turning toward” moments: turning toward and connecting with your partner, instead of just thinking about what I want. If you always choose to turn away, trust erodes.”
- Boundaries – Creating boundaries around the marriage is essential for building trust. When you talk openly about potential pitfalls, you can create practices that protect your relationship. Let’s be real. At some point, you might be attracted to someone else. It happens. But that does not mean that your marriage has to be put in danger. Talk openly with your partner and come up with ways to be transparent and accountable. When we were first married, my husband knew that he would sometimes be alone with a woman in his office. He purposefully installed a window in his door and made sure that his assistant was present when he had appointments. Shirley Glass, author of “Not Just Friends,” offers a brief list of suggestions to consider:
- Know that attraction is normal. But just because you feel it doesn’t mean you have to act on it. Being attracted to someone else doesn’t mean you’ve chosen the wrong person. One of the measures of true commitment is that you don’t allow yourself to be pulled away from your priorities by distractions.
- Don’t let yourself fantasize about what it would be like to be with that other person.
- Don’t flirt.
- Avoid risky situations. (Glass, 2004)
As I take another sip of coffee, I remind myself that trust is an essential element of a healthy relationship. It takes a lot of work. It does not happen immediately and takes intentionality.
In my next post, I will explore four more practices that have been shown to build trust and have been helpful in my own marriage.