Updated: May 6
Part 2 in the What love is all about series
The paradox of trust in love. Trust is the foundation of love. But trust is incredibly fragile. And so it’s as if all our happiness in love were dependent on the integrity of a beautiful delicate vase sitting there on a wobbly shelf in a house full of cats and toddlers. Which is why trust issues drive people crazy all the time.
If we don’t fall in love with someone because we discover they’re someone we can really trust, then we should. Because the cancer of betrayal and mistrust—once it takes hold—can eat away at love like nothing else.
In the words of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s—the book, not the movie—at the end Holly Golightly says, tragically,
“I’m very scared, Buster. Yes, at last. Because it could go on forever. Not knowing what’s yours until you’ve thrown it away.”
And the thing is, in a sense we can’t fall in love with someone because we trust them because trust has to be earned over time. And that’s the paradox. It’s the most important thing—if only because, like a bridge, if it collapses you lose everything. But only time will tell that you really have it.
And—here I am with another caution—when we do have trust, too often we take it for granted. When is the last time you reveled, rejoiced, delighted, became sexually aroused because of how trustworthy you found your partner to be? No, sadly, in a relationship trustworthiness is a chair-like thing. What we need most from our chairs—not to collapse under us—is what we take most for granted and are least grateful for.
In a way, in relationships it’s even a little worse. A chair usually either just collapses or not. But people, well, we’re just imperfect. Is my husband a granite mountain of trustworthiness? No!! For one thing, he forgets things. He always has. He’s also not as perfectly tuned into my moods and needs as I’d like him to be, the bastard! When our kids were little he often had the nerve to disagree with my ideas about how to deal with them. And he’s too often seemed to me to be flirting with other women, although he says he’s just being friendly. (Hah!)
Betrayal, betrayal, betrayal.
Or! He’s just a normal guy, a good and loving man who’s dedicated to me and whom I can truly count on. And I would know that except for the fact that his imperfections plus my innate suspicious nature add up to less of a sense of trust than I might have.
Who knows where reality lies?
We sure don’t talk about chairs like this!
The point is the paradox of the tremendous importance of trust in the face of its tremendous fragility. It’s as if all our happiness were dependent on the integrity of a beautiful delicate vase sitting there on the shelf in a house full of cats and toddlers.
And yet, in spite of all this, our vulnerability and blindness, love is trust because even if we only realize it when we’ve lost it, it’s still true. We don’t give daily thanks for gravity, either, but take it away and life on earth would be over in a flash. Like gravity, trust is the kind of invisible glue that makes it possible to feel okay in our lives, to share our deepest feelings with this one person, to know that there’s someone who has our back, to feel that our feeling loved is not a fleeting thing.
So that’s what it means to say love is trust. So what do we do about it?
First of all, if you happen to be starting a relationship, prioritize the qualities in a person that add up to trustworthiness. Character. Honesty. A track record of reliability. No track record of irresponsibility. I know that none of this stuff is sexy or romantic, but it’ll sure as hell count towards making your relationship last.
Second, don’t screw up the trust part of your relationship. I know this sounds obvious. But this goes way beyond infidelity. It means never promising anything you can’t deliver on, and then it means always delivering on your promise. In fact, guess what? It’s lack of follow through that’s the biggest source of people feeling they don’t trust their partners.
Third, the things to fix first in your relationship are any of the ways that trust has been broken. And broken trust, however minor, is the breaking of a sacred bond. So make the healing of it a sacred responsibility. Now you don’t have to make a huge doom-and-gloom big deal about it. Just take it seriously enough to cover these steps:
Make it clear that what you’re talking about is trust. “It’s not that I need you to call me. I need you to call me if you say you’re going to call me.”
Make sure that the other person understands that the issue you guys are talking about is trust, not your insecurity, not your need for phone calls. Trust. “Yeah, I get it. I said I’d call and I didn’t. That’s on me. I can see how that did a number on you.” It has to be understood between you that people aren’t crazy for getting upset when trust has been broken.
Work out a do-able, sustainable plan for the future. Maybe getting your partner to promise to call is a setup for failure. They really want to do it but amidst the pressures and distractions of their job they just can’t. The key is simplicity itself: don’t make promises you can’t keep, and then work out a way to keep them.
And fourth, acknowledge and celebrate the trust and loyalty you have with each other. It may not be sexy, but it is the solid ground under your feet, and you are disloyal to it if you don’t celebrate it. It’s so easy to notice all the little ways you’ve both forgotten things or made mistakes. But don’t let these micro-failures blind you to the true and solid reasons you have for trusting one another.
For more on this, do check out our book, “I Love You, but I Don’t Trust You.” Whatever depth of mistrust or betrayal you may have fallen into, our book will help you get out of it.
Trust may be the foundation of love, but the ultimate betrayal is not working to maintain that trust and heal the betrayals that afflict all relationships between imperfect people like you and me.
Note: the two movie stills are Newman and Redford in The Sting and Claudette Colbert in the great 1939 movie Midnight.