It has been a personal belief of mine that no two people are perfectly suited for each other only. In other words, there isn’t this “one perfect person somewhere out there in the universe” that you have to find. Rather, by learning skills, developing tools, and ‘doing the right things,’ couples can have a satisfying relationship. This belief is also the theory in the research of many marriage and relationship experts. Why then, do some couples learn these abilities and skills, and others just can’t put them into practice, or they resist doing them?

The answer appears to be TRUST.

In “The Science of Trust” author and researcher John Gottman found that couples in difficult relationships complained that their partner couldn’t be depended on to be there for them when they were needed. They had too many emotional injuries or betrayals of trust. The relationship wasn’t safe. There was not security, openness, or an ability to be vulnerable with each other.

The central missing ingredient in distressed couples is the ability to build and maintain trust

What does trust sound like?

  • Can I count on you? (to help with the kids, decisions on finances, household, etc.)
  • Do you have my back?
  • Will you be faithful to me?
  • Do you do what you say you will do?
  • Will you be there for me when I go through a hard time?
  • Can we count on each other to create an emotionally safe relationship?
  • Do you choose me over your family, friends, and colleagues?

In a trusting relationship, we believe it is ‘a given’ that our best interests are our partner’s deepest hopes and desires. Not that they are going to be completely selfless of course, but that what is important to us is also important to them. They care about what we care about and what is important and meaningful to us. How then do we build trust in our relationships?

How Trust is Built and Maintained

Consistently show and express acceptance of one another.

In relationships of trust, there is mutual respect and enjoyment of each other. Couples learn and keep building knowledge of each other’s likes and dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams. They hold each other in high regard and express fondness not just in big ways, but in small ways day in and day out. They accept each other’s influence. Take their partner’s opinions and feelings into account in mutual decision making. There is an acceptance that relational problems will happen in any relationship and they learn to accept them. Behavior changes in a relationship are NOT as important as feeling accepted for who they are.

Exhibit deep friendship. 

Friends spend time together intentionally and consistently. Often they talk and help each other with stresses and concerns. They perpetually work to make things better all the time.  Then they learn to live with problems and manage them in order to minimize them. There are no perfect relationships. We learn to accept our friends as they are. We show gratitude for what they offer us in the relationship, and accept their limitations.

 Don’t fight.

Really? Not fighting means we don’t treat each other as enemies when there is conflict. We do not tear them down, name call, or treat them with disrespect or contempt. There will always be conflict. But we do not have to be harsh, hurt our partner, or inflict damage on the relationship. Great couples learn to pre-empt negativity and repair and de-escalate when a conflict conversation begins to go negative or escalate. They approach conflict gently and with great thought and purpose. They dialogue and stay positive in both their words and in their thoughts of their partner when in conflict. Escalation is part of a process of REJECTING your partner’s influence. It shuts your partner down in a conversation. Rather you should seek common ground for agreement and yield where you can.

Awareness and intentionality is a must in the quest for emotional presence.

If we are going to be there for our partners, we must be emotionally intelligent. One of the hardest things for couples is often their inability to tolerate difficult or negative emotions. We are all easily troubled and sometimes hurt in this life. We experience difficult circumstances and have challenging encounters with others at work, school, and at home. Whatever the circumstance, HOW you talk will always be more important than WHAT you talk about! Starting by attending to emotions will keep most conversations from going badly. Rarely is the task we are trying to accomplish more important than the person we are in relationship with.

Trust doesn’t happen once and for all in a relationship. It is built and maintained. Keep at it. Don’t give up. The process of building trust in a relationship comes by intentionality, awareness, and a whole lot of patience.