Trust .. it’s such a big word .. and here’s what the online etymological dictionary has to say about it:
c.1200, “reliance on the veracity, integrity, or other virtues of someone or something; religious faith,” from Old Norse traust “help, confidence, protection, support,” from Proto-Germanic abstract noun *traustam (cognates: Old Frisian trast, Dutch troost “comfort, consolation,” Old High German trost “trust, fidelity,” German Trost“comfort, consolation,” Gothic trausti “agreement, alliance”), from Proto-Germanic *treuwaz-, source of Old English treowian “to believe, trust,” and treowe “faithful, trusty” (see true (adj.)).
from c.1300 as “reliability, trustworthiness; trustiness, fidelity, faithfulness;” from late 14c. as “confident expectation” and “that on which one relies.” From early 15c. in legal sense of “confidence placed in a one who holds or enjoys the use of property entrusted to him by its legal owner;” mid-15c. as “condition of being legally entrusted.” Meaning “businesses organized to reduce competition” is recorded from 1877. Trust-buster is recorded from 1903.
The fact that so many heavy weight words are associated with trust .. reliance, veracity, integrity, virtue, faith, help, confidence, protection, support, comfort, consolation, reliability, trustworthiness, trustiness, fidelity, faithfulness .. how could trust be anything other than staggering in its importance to us? And when trust is violated in any relationship, the sacred web that contains all of these others words within its delicate strands gets a fair shake, sometimes tearing a hole so ragged that it is beyond repair for the wounding it delivers.
Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.
— Stephen Covey
In his decades of working with couples, author and well respected marriage therapist and counsellor John Gottman says that just about all conflicts are about trust. “And you can think of there being a fan that opens up .. where every region of the fan is an area of trust. That would describe all of our conflict discussions.”
In one of his talks Gottman identifies the following trust related issues:
Can I trust you to be there for me when I’m upset?
Can I trust you to work for our family?
Can I trust you to choose me over your friends?
Can I trust you to not take drugs?
Can I trust you to not go back to your bad habits?
Can I trust you to not cheat on me?
Can I trust you to be sexually faithful?
Can I trust you to respect me?
Can I trust you to help with things in the house?
Can I trust you to really be involved with our children?
I would add the following based on grievances couples most commonly report to me when seeking support around their communication styles:
Can I trust you to say what you mean and mean what you say?
Can I trust you to be accountable and use language that is clean and clear?
Can I trust you to speak honestly and vulnerably with me?
Can I trust you to not to use what I say against me?
Can I trust you to really hear what I’m saying and not distort it?
Can I trust you to keep the lines of communication between us open?
Can I trust you to hold a high standard in how we relate?
Can I trust you to let me know when you’re struggling inside?
Can I trust you to exercise responsibility and vigilance when you’re angry?
Can I trust you to hold our relationship as important and sacred?
When we feel unsafe with someone and still stay with him, we damage our ability to discern trustworthiness in those we will meet in the future.
— David Richo
In this inspiring and extraordinary video, it’s clear that the primary question is Can I trust you? and equally important Can I trust myself? Without trust, anything that people attempt to achieve together will fail or at least be poorly executed. The mark of good teamwork is the ever deepening awareness of how each and every move, even when barely perceptible, has a decidedly profound impact on the other and therefore equally on ourselves and the relationship as a whole. In high performance teamwork and marriages, there is great attention to detail, to movement, to response-ability, to the shifting of weight, to what comes next in the unfolding sequence .. each of these must be intelligently considered and respectfully held. In these relationships we find a kind of attunement to the other person and to the relationship itself as well as to what they would ultimately like to achieve. Agreements and promises must be kept because without them, the form crumbles .. it cannot be maintained without the bedrock of trust.
At each juncture in the conversation — at each point when a snap decision has to be made about whether to escalate conflict to protect one’s interests — trust intuitively tips the scale back toward de-escalation and compromise. Simply put, trust alters the mental calculus running in the background of our minds. It makes us consider what we have to lose in the long run if we harm this relationship in pursuit of a short-term victory.
— David DeSteno
Certainly it’s not possible to speak about trust without also speaking to the fact that trust does get violated. It happens regularly. People say they will be there for us and they don’t follow through. A parent dies and a child believes himself betrayed either by the parent or by life itself. The hard lesson comes that one must take big risks in allowing oneself to love and be loved, especially given that someone can be taken away so swiftly. In a different storyline it’s discovered that something shared in strict confidence to a friend or colleague has been let loose .. ouch! .. how do you trust that person again? Or your spouse breaks his or her promise to be monogamous and becomes sexually intimate with someone else .. ouch again! How do you now trust this person? Do you make an attempt to rebuild the trust that’s been violated? Some courageous couples undertake that work and are able to make a remarkable recovery which sometimes even strengthens their relationship while others fail in their attempt and endure even more pain in the process. And then there are those who simply have no faith in a making recovery and so therefore refuse the invitation .. there’s simply too much water under the bridge.
So yes, trust is regularly violated. And somewhere right now as you read these very words, trust is being violated. How do we wound less and love more? For starters we can decide to become increasingly trustworthy as human beings. Author and teacher Miguel Ruiz provides a valuable template in his widely acclaimed book The Four Agreements: 1) Be impeccable with your word. 2) Don’t take anything personally. 3) Don’t make assumptions. 4) Always do your best. It’s basic common sense really and yet these agreements aren’t always easy to be faithful to in a culture that regularly promotes lack of accountability by placing a higher value on winning and commerce than on life itself. Integrity becomes an unfortunate and costly casualty.
Ruiz maintains that the first agreement be impeccable with your word is the most important. He wouldn’t be the first to say so. Where we find ourselves lacking in impeccability, we will also be untrustworthy. And yes we will fail from time to time but over the course of a lifetime, it should hopefully happen increasingly less. We should hopefully become increasingly wise and recognize that is asked of us in terms of belonging to the human race and being in relationship with each other and with all that exists on this planet so that we might live. We should hopefully become increasingly aware of the cost of not being impeccable with our word and how it erodes the bond of trust between us and others. And hopefully too we become increasingly skillful at relationship repair when we break our word. Clearly nothing is more vital to a relationship than trust. It’s a currency we can’t afford to take lightly.
Rachelle Lamb is a speaker, writer, spiritual activist and ‘relationship whisperer’. For over two decades, she has worked in the field of interpersonal relating and conflict resolution employing wisdom and practices found studying cultural anthropology, spirituality, nonviolent communication (certified trainer 2003), social justice, activism, deep ecology, mythology, poetry and storytelling.
Join Rachelle Lamb Nov 7th & 8th in Vancouver for Befriending Conflict.