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Trustworthy Suggestions About Trust

Updated on August 9, 2012
Do you "wait and see" if you should invest your trust, or do you learn not to trust when your trust is betrayed? Alice in Wonderland illustration by Peter Newell.
Do you "wait and see" if you should invest your trust, or do you learn not to trust when your trust is betrayed? Alice in Wonderland illustration by Peter Newell. | Source

Defining Trust

When I worked as a drug and alcohol counselor, one question I would ask when I led therapy groups was, "What is trust?" The answers patients offered varied a lot:

  • "It means I can believe what someone tells me."
  • "It means that someone won't betray me."
  • "It means someone is honest."
  • "It means I can tell them things I wouldn't tell other people."
  • "It means someone won't steal from me."

Some of their answers hit pretty close to the mark, while others were way off. In this article, I'll share with you a definition of trust that I think you'll find useful, as well as some ways to protect yourself without walling yourself off from others emotionally. But first...

Your Opinion

What are your thoughts on trusting others?

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Have you ever been betrayed because you misplaced trust?

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If you've been betrayed because you misplaced trust, did you eventually realize you'd ignored red flags?

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When you have ignored red flags, what was the reason?

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Lesson 1: Trust, but Verify

Having a healthy attitude about trusting others is the first step to making sure people treat us well.

"I'll trust someone until they prove me wrong," is one of the worst approaches to trust ever! It's a common philosophy, and may even be the way you view trust, but it's a foolish approach that leaves the believer susceptible to all kinds of betrayal. Lying, cheating, stealing, emotional or physical abuse - leave the trusting person feeling blindsided when they could have avoided it.

Think about it - trust is the act of making yourself vulnerable to another person and believing they will not harm you. When we first meet someone, we have no idea whether they would harm us or not. In fact, we cannot reliably and accurately judge their character until we've had a great deal of exposure to them. Until that happens, we're just exercising wishful thinking. If I showed you three jellybeans and asked you to guess how many I had in a jar in the closet (one you couldn't see), would you be able to give me a reasonable estimate?

Trusting someone without seeing how they behave in a wide variety of situations is like judging the number of closet jellybeans. An introduction and glimpse of a few doesn't provide enough information, and you could be way off base by venturing a guess.

People are complex creatures with many motivations. We don't know the finer points of someone's character until we've spent a lot of time with them.

"But nobody likes suspicious, negative people!"

True enough. Fortunately, allowing trust to develop over time doesn't require any negativity. It's not an either/or question, but one of degrees.

Would you agree to let a complete stranger to babysit your infant? Probably not. Would you agree to let an acquaintance stay with your precious wee one? How about a friend you've known since childhood? Would the age of your child make a difference in your decision?

When it comes to your child, you'd know it's perfectly acceptable to say, "I don't feel comfortable with that yet." The same is true for matters involving trust in friendships or relationships. This is especially important when dating. A man or woman who is deeply interested in you will accept your need to see proof of trustworthiness before you jump in with "eyes wide closed."

In fact, if this turns into an issue between you, it might be worthwhile to ask whether it's a red flag or not. Sure, some of us have so much trouble trusting others that no amount of evidence will convince us to allow vulnerability, but most of us will take a chance if we know it's a small risk.

If we've observed that our partner is honorable in similar situations, the risk is small. If we don't know much about how he or she handles circumstances like the one we're in, then the danger is much greater. If you haven't seen examples of similar situations, and your partner is pushing you to do or think something that's uncomfortable, you're seeing proof that they will not handle your vulnerability with gentleness and consideration.

The good news is, there's no need to be suspicious or negative when you uphold your own right to determine when to let yourself be vulnerable, as you'll see in the next section.

Lesson 2: Honor Our Own Perceptions

During the first few months of our relationship, we're learning about our partners. It's a wonderful time for evaluating their character if we don't try to explain away their flaws. Unfortunately, it's also a time when our brain chemistry is going haywire with the euphoria of new love. Both men and women are susceptible, but females may be especially so. They are socialized to nurture others, placing others' perceptions ahead of their own,

We ignore or justify things that tell us about this new person. We let our hearts make decisions that should be made with our heads instead.

It's only natural. Our new lover is likely doing the same thing. Here are some steps you can take to make your evaluation a conscious one:

Ask about past relationship experiences. You want to know a little bit about both the good and bad they've experienced. Does he blame her for all that went wrong or does he acknowledge his own role in a way that shows he genuinely recognizes and accepts the ways he contributed to that relationship's demise? Does she talk too much about her ex, so that you find yourself wondering if she's really over him? Was cheating involved? If so, who was the cheater?

Consider how someone keeps his word (or doesn't!) What happens if he can't uphold his obligation to his friend or to his boss? Does he make excuses? Has she shirked a prior engagement to be with you? If so, you can expect the same when you're not an immediate priority. When he does break his word, does he go the extra mile to make it up to the person he let down, or does he laugh it off as insignificant?

Lies, lies, and damned lies. Like it or not, almost everyone lies from time to time. The reasons for lies reveal a lot of important information. Does it often? What kinds of lies does he tell? You may want to be extra cautious if someone lies easily, convincingly, or frequently. Also recognize when lies are designed to manipulate others so he or she can control circumstances. People don't lie to you because of you - they lie because it's their instinctive response to certain circumstances. Understanding the circumstances that will cause your man or woman to lie is an important piece of information to have.

Here's an especially critical tidbit to observe about lies: A person who lies to avoid discomfort, will become deceptive when you're the source of that discomfort - which will always happen in long-term relationships.

(For Women in Particular)

How does he respond to other women? A man who never looks at other women or claims not to is suspect right off the bat. Yes, he should be respectful enough to avoid drooling when you're with him, but if he's pretending that no other woman could possibly capture his imagination, then you'd be foolish to believe him. Knowing what kind of physical attributes appeal to him could be important to you if you later have reason to doubt his fidelity. Also, he has to place some trust in you in order to reveal his interests, so if he's refusing to trust you with this information, it reveals something about his feelings toward you.

On the other hand, if he openly ogles attractive women when you're present, flirts with the waitress, or maintains friendships with women that don't include inviting you along, it should be taken as a warning. Any man whose self-esteem depends on attention from women is a bad bet. (Remember my overseas husband? He felt good when I was available, but doubted his worth when he was alone. When he was sent away and found ample proof of his desirability, it proved to be irresistible to him.)

Lesson 3: When Trust is at Risk

When you've offered trust and later find yourself questioning whether you made the right choice, it's not too late to take corrective action.

We all make misjudgments. Instead of berating ourselves over them, seek a solution that restores our ability to believe in ourselves. This may or may not mean continuing to believe in the person who betrayed us.

When we find ourselves doubting, our instinctive response is to ask for a validation or denial of our perceptions. Of course, an untrustworthy individual wants you to mistrust your own perceptions rather than being the so-called bad guy, so this is one of the worst ways to address doubts.

For one thing, it creates arguments. If we're wrong, the relationship has been damaged by our mistake. If we're right, and he or she has been doing wrong, we've invited conflict that erodes our self-respect and makes us feel crazy when our perceptions don't match the explanations we hear.

That means a better approach would be "Don't ask, do tell." Let's pretend that you're feeling insecure because your guy leaves the room during some phone calls but not others. Make a simple request that changes the playing field, like "I've noticed you stay in the room during some phone calls but not others, and it makes me question your integrity. I want to feel confident about us, so will you please stay in the room when you take your calls if I promise not to interrupt you?" Let him know what you dislike without being demanding.

Of course, he may not agree or change his behavior. This is when you'll have an important decision to make about what level of privacy is necessary and desirable in a relationship. Before you decide, consider whether your viewpoint is fair and reasonable. It shouldn't impose anything on your partner that you're not willing to apply to yourself. If you want to see your lady's phone records, be prepared to open yours, too.

What is Reasonable?

Reasonable privacy options can be:

- To honor individual privacy more than relationship health.

- To honor relationship health more than individual privacy.

I firmly believe that to succeed over the long term, a relationship's needs mustsupercede individual preferences, but for some people, independence is a basic characteristic of the relationship they want, and anything that restricts either party's independence is inherently bad. If this describes you, accept that you've chosen to be vulnerable to your partner's integrity and wait to see what happens.

If, like me, you believe that privacy and independence are desirable traits that should be honored but not worshiped to such a degree that the relationship is harmed, then put your perceptions to the test, but be mature and responsible when you do.

Don't open every e-mail he's ever had if you're concerned about his phone calls, but go ahead and take a peek at the numbers he's called or read his contacts list. If you find something genuinely suspicious, dig deeper. Stop when you have enough information to give you a solid idea of whether your fears are right or wrong.

If you don't see validation that shows her doing something wrong, stop and chalk it up as a mistake on your part, but if you discover that she's betraying you, take appropriate action.

What's Your Story?

Have you been betrayed before? What did you learn from it? Is there something you do differently today as result of your experience? Have you recovered from a betrayal?

What advice would you give others? Your story matters.

All comments are approved, so please share your story, your strength, and your wisdom. Also, if you have a friend who might benefit from this page, please click share and let them know about it.


Submit a Comment
  • jellygator profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from USA

    Thanks, Christy. It's a bit controversial, too. Everyone has their own unique way of deciding when, who, and how much trust to give!

  • ChristyWrites profile image

    Christy Birmingham 

    7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Trust really is hard to get back once it is gone. I was able to identify with some of the points and it is an important topic.

  • jellygator profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from USA

    Thanks! I will look forward to getting to know you.

  • pooilum profile image


    7 years ago from Malaysia

    This is real good. Keep up the good work. Voted up and followed you


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