As a veteran therapist, I came to appreciate long ago how crucial trust is to establishing a healthy and positively impacting level of rapport in therapy. The admonition to “never share your innermost secrets with anyone who can’t be trusted with them” has proven its wisdom time and time again. But trust is not just a prerequisite for a sound therapeutic relationship. It’s an essential ingredient – perhaps the single most important ingredient – in any relationship, especially our more intimate relationships.
By far, the most common reason I’ve seen relationships fall apart is because trust has been violated in one way or another and to a significant degree. Trust violations are among the more reliable indicators of character dysfunction in your relationship partner. And the first time it happens you might be taken by surprise. But when it happens over and over again, you know you’re in for trouble. Oddly, sometimes you can become a bit desensitized to chronic trust betrayals, not affording them the importance they have. You might even dismiss minor trust breaches as simply inevitable or normal for any relationship. And you might even fault yourself for being overly sensitive or expecting too much. But there’s no bigger red flag for character disturbance and for the eventual fate of your relationship than a partner’s untrustworthiness.
Of course, honesty is a prerequisite for trust. And as I point out in Character Disturbance, impaired characters have a big problem with the truth. They not only tend to be dishonest with others but also many times dishonest with themselves. Sometimes, they even get to believing the falsehoods they propogate day after day. But other times, as in the case of the more manipulative, covert-aggressive types I describe in In Sheep’s Clothing, they just want to pull the wool over your eyes. If you knew who they truly are and the real capacity they have for healthy loving, they might not be able to get what they want from you. So, they turn on the charm, say all the right things, do things that ostensibly bespeak positive regard for you to win you over, and you only learn how innately selfish and untrustworthy they really are (i.e. what they’re really like in character) after they’ve finished using you.
In the coming weeks I’ll be presenting some illustrative vignettes that demonstrate the crucial nature of trust and how to best protect yourself from the kinds of damage that accompanies various trust betrayals, whether it be the betrayal associated with marital infidelity or any other matter of trust ciritical to the survival of an intimate relationship. Now, we all do things both knowingly and inadvertantly that can damage trust. But individuals with a sufficient modicum of character integrity are willing to “own” their trust-damaging behaviors and work sincerely and ungrudgingly to repair the damage they’ve done to earn back some trust. So in some of the vignettes, I’ll try to illustrate how you can tell when someone has a sufficent level of character to trust them with your heart, even if they’ve been less than noble at times, and when, for the protection of your very soul, you simply have to sever ties to keep a person who is really one of those “people of the lie” from inflicting a fatal emotional wound.
I hope the series on trust and character will spur a robust discussion. And in addition to folks sharing their experiences in the comments, I’m open to those who have a firsthand experience they think is particularly illustrative of the damage that can accompany trust betrayals and which they want not only to share but also to get both my own and the commentators’ input on to submit their stories via the back channel, using the “Contact Dr. Simon” feature.
Some big news on several fronts will be coming in the next couple of weeks as will be some big changes in the appearance and functionality of the blog (which should vastly improve the blog’s performance on tablets, phones, and other mobile devices), so stay tuned! And I’ll be doing a lot of talking about trust and relationships and the influence of our culture of agenda-driven misrepresentation and “spin” has had on the problem of honesty and trustworthiness on Character Matters over the next few weeks.