I want to talk about trust. It is the silent killer of relationships. So a lot of times when I’m talking to people, they talk about different things that happened in their marriage that caused the divorce. Trust is always in there, always in some version or another. But a lot of people don’t recognize that really what they’re talking about is trust. Also, they don’t know how to describe it better than just simply I don’t trust him or her. And so what I want to do is expand on the basic word of trust and show that there are actually there are seven elements of trust, plus explore some of the things that happen in the ways that you can regain trust, ways that you can understand it better in order to actually do something about it.
(On a side note: check out how trust is one of TWO critical elements of relationships)
The 7 Elements of Trust
I’m going to start with just what are the seven elements of trust? Now this comes from Brene Brown. If you haven’t seen her, she’s amazing. She does a video about trust and here’s the link.
I’m going to use what she talks about and expand on it and talk about it specifically around things, around relationships and divorce. So the first thing is that she has is an acronym on trust called BRAVING. So there’s seven elements of trust.
The first one is boundaries. Here’s the definition that Brene Brown uses:
“You are clear about your boundaries and you hold them. Also, you are clear about my boundaries and you respect them.” That is the element of boundaries.
Now, I have a whole other episode about boundaries. So look for that to understand more of talking about all the different kinds of boundaries and what they are and how to deal with them. But in this one, I just want to focus on that. That’s an issue, right? If boundaries keep getting crossed, then that’s not okay. Now, I see this all the time where people talk about some sort of boundary being crossed. I told him that if he goes out with his friends again and leaves me home alone, then we’re done. Or maybe, “If you spend the money that I earned when you know that money is tight, that’s not okay with me.”
Sometimes it’s a financial thing. There can be a lot of different things for boundaries, but a lot of people see this as I can’t trust this person. I don’t feel safe with them in some way. That’s the other way to say trust.
The next acronym letter in Braving is R and it stands for reliability. In other words, do you say what you’re going to do over and over again? It’s simple. Or is it? Are you repeatable? Are you someone that is consistent?
Now, I’ve heard people say, “Can I rely on you?” To rely on someone is another way of saying trust. It comes down to the idea of “Do I feel safe with you?”
All right, the next one is accountability. This is the A in Braving. So when someone is accountable, what that means is they make a mistake, they own it, they apologize and they make amends. Those four things are what makes a person accountable to the other person. And the same thing for you to the other person. Are you accountable to someone else? We all make mistakes. We all know that happens. This is a big one and we’re going to come back to this in a little bit because it is a major factor in divorce. And accountability is the thing that we see so often Is the hardest thing for people to do.
The V in Braving is the vault. In other words, what I share with you is it held in confidence. So I know, for example, that there was a friend of mine, she was in a relationship after she got divorced, and she would share these things about herself with her boyfriend. She did a lot of self introspection and she was learning about herself. Every time they would get an argument, he would attack her based off of exactly what she said. So in other words, she didn’t trust that she could share those things that were deeply vulnerable to her.
Finally they ended the relationship because she felt like all she was doing was weaponizing him for the next time they get into a fight. And they kept getting into fights. And they were together for two years. They kept trying, they kept working on this. But he couldn’t help but not use that against her in their arguments.
The next letter in Braving is I for integrity. And this is that you practice your values, not just profess them. And integrity, to me is one of those things of also explaining that you do what’s right even when no one’s looking. And this is a hard one.
There’s a funny story about the fact that the most stolen book in libraries is the Bible. Why is that? It’s available almost anywhere. You can get it for free. Where’ the integrity of people when they are stealing from the library?
I think it was Malcolm Gladwell that mentioned that. But it’s crazy that so many people get caught doing things like, say, political people, movie stars, whatever, that there’s a lack of integrity, that we think that we’re above something. So even people that we think have integrity because of their position don’t. And the same thing applies in relationships. People think, well, I can just get away with this because we are married. What is she going to do? Divorce me?
Or a person might I can just do this because they’re never going to suspect me. They trust me completely. And then things backfire. I’ve heard of people like, one woman talked about she and her husband were separated, and they were trying to figure things out. She lived in an apartment and he stayed in the house. They had one of those sleep number beds, and she had the app tied to her bed. Well, there was one night where she noticed she could look up the statistics and see that there were actually two people in the bed. And one person adjusted her settings to make it more comfortable for that person. And she knew it wasn’t her husband because he slept on the other side of the bed. It was her side of the bed that got adjusted. So she started watching this.
Every few nights she would adjust the bed settings back and the bed would go back to a different setting. She knew then that her husband was actually having an affair because of the sleep number bed. Those are the kinds of things for integrity. All right.
Can I ask for help and not be judged? In relationships its hard to share when you are struggling with the relationship itself. There’s often a lot of resentment and things like that what the Gottman Institute calls contempt. So contempt is a sense of one person is better than the other. There’s a judgement of who’s right and who’s wrong. Well, if that other person has a lot of contempt that everything you do that’s wrong isn’t okay, then there’s going to be something there we talk about in other things. By the way,
the opposite of nonjudgment is judgment. (duh)
But we talk about in our feelings work is that anger is judgment. Things start to tie together! When there’s anger there’s judgment which means there is an effect on trust. It all comes together!
The last one I really like because it’s such a subtle piece of trust but it’s really important. This is the G in braving and this is generosity.
So when something happens, do you give your partner the most generous option of what could have happened and the same thing for you? This is acceptance, right? This is the opposite of judgment that if you’re accepting if you’re able to see that say, okay, maybe I misunderstood or maybe there’s a misinterpretation but If every time something happens, your partner assumes the worst, then there is something around being generous in the relationship. And we’re going to talk more about this one in another episode because I want to talk about about some things related to different relationship styles and how generosity tends to fall into those. Okay, so that’s it for the basic acronym about talking about trust.
So when you think about these elements of trust: boundaries, reliability, accountability, vault, integrity, nonjudgment and generosity you can start to be more specific.
What we find is that when people are able to talk with each other in a relationship and truly identify where are the places that I don’t trust you, rather than saying, I don’t trust you or I have trust issues or I need to rebuild my trust. If you can break down where that is, it’s helpful. Because in some cases, part of what can happen is you might say, you know what? I realize that you are my vault. You are good at that.
What I say to you in confidence stays in confidence. On the other hand, I don’t find that you’re accountable. You’re not owning your mistakes. You’re not admitting to the fact that you’ve done something wrong and that you’re willing to make amends for it. That happens often.
You might have trust in some areas and not trust in other areas.
What about Infidelity?
The next thing I want to mention is talking about infidelity, because infidelity is by far the most damaging thing you can do for trust in a relationship. There’s just no other thing that captures so many different things. Now there’s a lot of things people can do that lose their trust. I’ve heard of people who find out they have cancer and the next day their partner files for divorce.
(On a side note: I talk more about Infidelity HERE)
I’ve heard of people who get in a car accident and say, you know what, I don’t really want to take care of a paraplegic. I’m out. There’s so many things that people have done that certainly affect trust that aren’t just infidelity, but infidelity in some ways, I think covers more of these categories than anything else. So if we go through those, let’s talk about those.
So the first one is, does infidelity affect boundaries? Absolutely.
There’s sort of an implied boundary of you will not share your body with somebody else. Only with me. That’s one thing.
Reliability. Do you say what you’re going to do over and over again?
Well, if you said at your wedding that you are going to be faithful and you’re not, well, there’s a lack of reliability. Are you going to reliably be in our bed every night, or do you say that you’re going to go out with friends and you actually go out with someone else?
Reliability affected accountability. If you get caught being unfaithful, do you make the mistake? Do you own it before the other person finds out and then do you apologize and make amends?
And I’m going to talk a little bit more about this in just a minute, because this is a really big one.
Vault. What I share with you is held in confidence, and what you share with me is held in confidence. So I don’t think this one is typically affected by infidelity directly. There might be things that maybe you share with or someone shared with their lover or mistress or whatever you want to call it, the person they’re unfaithful with.
But there’s a vault thing that I don’t think that would come up quite as much.
The next one is integrity. This is a big one, too, right. When you profess that your values are that you are exclusive to one person, but then you don’t actually do that. So that’s another really big one.
And then non-judgment.
One of the things that I’ve seen before is that people might say, hey, there’s reasons for infidelity. And some of those reasons that I’ve talked about before in other articles are around the idea of what does the person need. And sometimes they go outside of a relationship because they are not getting their needs met. So in other words, if I’m asking you for I need to be more intimate with you, or I need more communication, or I know I need those things and you don’t give them to me, then I can’t trust you.
And then the next one is generosity. So is there the most generous option? So when someone is unfaithful, there’s not a whole lot that you can be generous about, right? There’s a certain amount of, well, maybe there’s something more that we can be doing. There are some options, but it’s hard to be really generous about that.
Sometimes infidelity is a sign of relationship weakness and that something needs to be done. So let’s work on that rather than just the infidelity.
Now, I want to shift away from Brene Brown’s work and talk a little bit about some other things, because since my divorce, I’ve been in a lot of relationships. I have looked at my divorce as an opportunity to grow and learn.
And so I’ve done what we call growing relationships. Each time I try and get into do better next time and get better at what it is to be in relationships. In one of my relationships, the person was unfaithful to me. I found out about it by chance on her phone, and I saw these text messages that indicated she clearly was having an affair with someone else. And I thought we were exclusive.
So when I approached her about being unfaithful, I knew about this, but I wanted to see what she says. She admitted to being unfaithful. And I said, who is it? She told me about someone else. Now there were TWO people she was sleeping with.
That was a trust issue for me. Not only was there infidelity and therefore crossing boundaries, accountability, all of these things that we talked about, but then there was a certain level of, wow, there’s not just one person, there’s two. And that was when I saw my trust vanish. There was nothing left.
Nevertheless I still wanted to try and figure things out see if there was a way to rebuild the trust. For a while, I tried to see if I could make the relationship work. There was clearly something wrong. Clearly the relationship isn’t working. And so I stated clearly these are the things that I need:
BOUNDARIES and an APOLOGY
1. I set some boundaries. I told her I needed to know she was sorry. And Esther Perrel talks about the key indicator for whether a person can even start rebuilding trust is if one person expresses that they’re truly sorry. And I don’t mean just says I’m sorry, they show it. They need to break down. They need to be really sad. They need to recognize I’ve done something that’s unacceptable if that’s the arrangement in the relationship. Right. Well, this person I was with, this is what she said, I’m sorry. Like a 4 year old that got caught but isn’t really sorry.
So in that moment, I knew that she wasn’t really sorry. So that’s one thing I needed to see – that she really meant it. Now this gets to the accountability I was talking about before. So did she own it?
No. Now the next thing was, did she apologize? Yes, sort of, but not really. She kind of said, well, sorry, whatever. So it didn’t matter to her.
2. And then I asked her as well, here’s the things that I need. I need to know where you are. I need to know who you’re with. And I need you to stop seeing these people. And she agreed to all of those for a while.
But I think the first elements that were missing there was just she wasn’t really sorry. Now, another thing that comes up about infidelity that’s really interesting is the fact that there’s a study that just was released that showed that people that cheat once are three times more likely to cheat again. So in another relationship I was in, I was with a woman. And while she was married, she had an affair. And it lasted months for her.
She was very unhappy in her marriage for six years. They didn’t have sex at all. So she was really just desperate for outside touch. She’s a very physical needs kind of person. She really liked touch.
That was her love language. And so what she told me was when she told me about this, she said, Is this okay? And we were just in a relationship that was we weren’t really highly committed to each other. But one of the things I noticed was just knowing that she had done it once before and we talked about this makes her more likely to do it again. If things aren’t right, if things aren’t okay, she knows that she can go outside now.
I was able to be okay with that because that was in her marriage and she really was a REALLY GOOD person in a lot of ways. I saw integrity and all of these elements of trust. It was just that she got to the point that she didn’t know what else to do and she wanted to try it. She didn’t want to break up her marriage.
That’s another element, which is there is the phrase “once a cheater, always a cheater’. It IS more likely. But this is where generosity comes in, is that you have to find whether can you be generous with that person if there’s been infidelity can you do again? And this applies to people out there who have been unfaithful as well.
Recognizing in yourself, is this something that I’m okay with or not? And being open about that maybe you’re not a person that really wants to be in a fully committed relationship. It’s okay. It’s just a matter of being honest with yourself and with others.
Here’s the ways I trust you, and the ways I don’t…
I think trust is such a cool topic in a way, because I noticed in my relationships that I’m better able to pay attention now to my trust levels. And I would say that trust is never perfect at high elements, but I can know that I can look at something that happens and recognize and say, I’m not sure that my trust level for reliability is super high right now.
He or she did something that says, I told you I’d be there at this time, or I told you I would call you, and they didn’t. So my repeatability trust level goes down a little bit. Those are the kinds of things that happened, and it’s super cool to be aware of that because this is what makes relationships work or not work, is that if you can communicate, hey, this happened, you did this, and it affected my trust in terms of X, then can we talk about that? I think that there’s just some really amazing things to incorporate into relationships about what is your trust levels. And you can do this exercise by looking at different kinds of the different relationships you have in your life and just evaluate, how much do I trust this person?
I’ve put together a Trust Checklist that explains this a little bit more and gives you tools to be able to measure your trust levels with different people if you’d like that, click on the link in the description and I’ll send that to you.
HERE’S THE LINK to get the Trust Checklist
That’s all for now. Take care. Good luck with your trust.