Trust (Part 1)
By Laura Hull
Trust. It’s such a small word that holds so much power. The foundation of every meaningful relationship in our lives is greatly determined by our ability to trust someone else. Please note the very intentional point I made of every meaningful relationship in our lives is built on a foundation of trust. We certainly have relationships in our lives that are not contingent on trust. I have a relationship with my bank. I may trust my bank enough to deposit my money every week, but I still check my balance frequently because I do not completely trust that they will not make a mistake with my account. We don’t necessarily trust those that we work with/around, but it’s helpful if we do (and in my case, I do!). However, without trust, those kinds of relationships never develop into anything that adds something positive to our lives.
Some people have an easy time trusting others, while others struggle greatly. Our ability to trust is largely determined by the experiences of our young years. If we grow up seeing the world and those around us as being trustworthy (consistent, truthful, honoring commitments, respecting boundaries), we have an easier time trusting others. However, if our life experiences show us that those around us, those close to us in particular, are inconsistent and untruthful, frequently breaking promises or breaching boundaries, then it greatly inhibits our ability to trust others. The inability to trust has the potential for a very negative impact in many, if not all, areas of our lives. This is the first in a series of articles I am writing about trust, and the impact it has on our lives when trust is broken.
When I made the decision to pursue graduate studies many years ago, it did not take me long to decide my focus would be on marriage and family therapy. I have always been fascinated by family dynamics. It’s a spider web of sorts; every significant movement of every member of the family impacts every other member of the family in some way. In families where both parents are present, that relationship is the center of the web, with the strength of that relationship greatly impacting the family as a whole. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is not possible to have a healthy family environment if the marital partnership is in trouble. Due to the intimacy and demands of the marriage relationship, a deep and unwavering trust in each other is necessary in order for the marriage to be happy and healthy. So what happens to the marriage structure when the support beam of trust is breached? The foundation of the marriage and the family unit begins to shake. REAL trust is something that takes a long time to establish in a meaningful relationship. It’s amazing how something that can take a long time to create can be demolished in such a small amount of time. One bad choice or foolish decision can destroy the trust it can take so long to establish. As a therapist, I can testify to the fact that it’s ALWAYS a sad thing to witness. Nothing blows a hole into a marriage like when trust is lost through infidelity.
Adultery is a major problem in marriages in our society. If the statistics are to be believed, somewhere between 30-60% of married individuals will cheat on their spouses at some point in the marriage. If we consider the low end of that statistical spread, 30% of people will cheat. Maybe it’s 10-20%. But think about that. Even if 10-20% (and it’s probably higher) of individuals cheat at some point in their marriages, that’s a staggering number of people who breach the trust of their spouses in a most grievous way. And for those that feel a certain protection from those statistics because we are under the Christian umbrella, those percentages hold true for believers and non-believers, across all socio-economic lines. It’s a problem, folks.
When couples come to me for counseling to try to work through the discovery or revelation of infidelity, often times the emotions of the couple are intense, with the wounded party vacillating between intense anger and despair. There’s a desperate need on one or both sides to understand “why this happened”. In the case of a one-night stand, the motives behind the incident are often impulsive, maybe involving alcohol, and often with little or no forethought. An affair is a different animal. Affairs, most often, are far more damaging than a one-time lapse in judgment. Affairs involve habitual lying, habitual betrayal. Often there are emotional bonds formed in affairs that are not easily broken merely by the discovery of the affair by the betrayed spouse. There’s a ripple effect from adultery that tears at the fabric of the family, and often strains relationships outside the family, such as with close friends, who struggle to deal with the disappointment of the actions of their friend, or even co-workers if the affair was in the workplace, potentially changing the dynamics of the workplace. Depending on how the situation is handled and the emotional state of the parties involved, the effects on the children can be profound.
With the fallout from adultery often being so profound, it can be hard to understand why someone would risk so much pain and heartache for the physical thrills of an affair. This is a very complex issue. There is no clear-cut answer, because each situation is so unique to the individuals and personalities involved. There are some common threads we see in counseling, things that are often identified: “midlife crisis”, “I was bored in my marriage”, “my spouse does not value me”, “I am not happy with/or ‘in love’ with my spouse anymore”, “married sex is not exciting anymore”. The list of excuses is as long as the number of pages I could choose to write. Through counseling, it is often revealed that there have long been communication problems in the marriage, or one spouse is having self-esteem issues. Sometimes the spouse feels that both the physical and emotional needs are no longer being met in the marriage. Some are thrill seekers, and love the danger involved, of potentially getting caught. These would not be the majority. More often than not, people who find themselves in the middle of an affair never imagined it would ever happen to them. But it does happen. It happens to good people, too. It happens to people who do not guard against it. It’s imperative that we guard against it. Anyone who blindly walks through married life thinking “this could never happen to me,” or “I would never do that,” without affair-proofing his/her marriage is taking a chance.
In truth, there is no way to 100% affair-proof a marriage. However, there are things that can be done to greatly reduce the risk of an affair.
- Firstly, it is imperative that the lines of real, meaningful communication remain open. Honesty is everything. Never lie. Always remember that the consequences of a painful truth are more tolerable than the pain of a discovered lie. Also, it is not sufficient to remain on “auto-pilot” for long periods of time. Conversations involving more than “how was your day?” and “who’s taking the kids to soccer practice?” need to happen often.
- Time must be given to the relationship. MAKE TIME. Date nights are important, plugging back into the activities and feelings that brought us to the doorstep of marriage to begin with keeps the relationship fresh and, dare I say, fun!
- Maintain healthy, well-defined boundaries with members of the opposite sex. I cannot emphasize this enough. A wise person does not put himself/herself in a position where intent can be questionable. With most of us working outside the home, we inevitably interact frequently with members of the opposite sex. Oftentimes, we form friendships with these individuals. But there must be boundaries in place, which will inhibit these relationships from crossing any emotional or physical lines. Is it wrong for members of the opposite sex to go out to lunch together? No, not necessarily. But is it happening every day? Is it a problem to go to an after work beer party without the spouse being present? Maybe. Maybe not (depending on individual perspective). But it is not wise. The potential problem in these scenarios lies in the fact that it puts us in situations where the lines can begin to blur if problems arise in the marriage. It is easy to develop an attraction to someone who is kind to us, shows interest in us, and laughs at our stupid jokes. And if the person is physically attractive to us, ramp up the danger by a factor of five. If we find ourselves attracted to someone in a way that is more than platonic, it’s time to take a major step back. Better yet, step away all together. Continuing to go down that road is a set up for potential problems. It is better to never be put in a situation of having to exercise good judgment in a questionable moment, than to trust that we will make the right decision when confronted with that moment. If we begin to confide in, and bond with members of the opposite sex, it COULD be problematic. Please understand that I am not saying this is an absolute. But it would be naïve to think this does not have the potential to be a slippery slope. In summary, JUST DON’T GO THERE!
- And lastly, but certainly not least, we need to have a healthy physical relationship with our spouse. Sex matters. It just does (to most people). God designed us to be sexual beings. Sex in a healthy marriage is a bonding experience in profound ways. It is a physical, emotional, and mental connection we are to have only with our spouse. We must take care that that component of the relationship remains strong. We may not need that in our marital relationship every day, or even every week, but we do need it. It is easy to let weeks or months go by without connecting in this way. The demands of job, kids, and the aging process itself can sap every spark of energy we can muster. But neglecting this area of our lives can be dangerous to the marriage. The Bible instructs married folks to not let long periods of time go by without addressing that need. Why? Because if we are not getting that need met at home, there’s a greater chance we’ll get that need met outside the marriage. And that, my friends, can have devastating consequences.
We change as we go through life, but it is imperative that we change together i.e. with our spouse. We need that relationship to remain strong.
So, what can be done to repair the marriage if one spouse has already cheated? There must be a willingness on both sides to work through the issues in the marriage. Honesty, sometime brutal honesty, is required. The wounded party must be allowed to express the anger, and at times, anguish, that he/she is experiencing. This issue is not something that most people can just “get over” quickly. On a couple’s wedding day, when they stand before God, friends, and family, they make an oath to remain faithful for life. That’s a promise they each expect the other to keep. The revelation that the promise has been broken can be a hard thing to forgive.
Forgiveness is a process. It takes time and cannot be rushed. This requires the patience of the offending party. Once forgiveness has been given, it can still take a long time for trust to be re-established. Trust is something that takes a long time to build and even longer time to try to rebuild. Trust is rebuilt through patience, consistent words and actions of the parties involved. It can happen if both spouses want it, but it will take time, and that can be utterly frustrating when both parties just want their lives to feel “normal” again. Counseling can greatly help this process.
I strongly encourage anyone who is struggling with the fallout from an affair to seek professional help. A counselor can often help open windows into a relationship that help give a clear picture of the real issues within the relationship. There are certainly couples that survive the effects of an affair without assistance, but the odds of a good outcome are increased with the aid of a trained professional. Marriages can survive an affair if both spouses are willing to commit to the marriage, and are willing to work to re-establish trust.
Trust is the key.