There’s a quote I found recently that said, “My love is unconditional, my trust and my respect are not.” Intimate partner and family relationships suffer the most confusion with the concept of love, trust and respect. It’s a mistaken belief to assume that someone we love is also someone we trust and respect. I can love and bless someone, but that does not mean that I rely on that person nor that I will want to emulate them.
For now, I’m going to zero in on trust. Our character may be on the line with many people, who believe that loving, while not trusting, is unfaithful, judgmental and grudge-holding. I want you to ask yourself, “Would I want a child I love to trust someone who’s offended them without their offender proving that they care about what they’ve done?” If your answer is no, well done. Now, it’s time to apply it to you.
Specifically, I want you challenge yourself to see that in intimate and familial relationships, we are not designed to be oppressed by the tenuous anxiety that love equals trust. Trust by definition as a noun is firm belief, reliability; and is synonymous with conviction, assurance, confidence. Trust is also a verb, which means to rely on, bank on, be sure of. Reputations are built on a person’s ability to prove their trustworthiness.
Trust is a dynamic condition that is either being strengthened or broken. And if we’ve had our trust broken, it is a fact that it only grows in certain conditions. Thus, trust is conditional.
Even with God, there is no such thing as knowing God and being intimate with him without pursuit and faithfulness. We can knock on the door and God will open it, but that’s not the same as searching for him with all our heart. When God says, “When you look for me with all your heart, you will find me,” (Jeremiah 29:13) is in fact a whole-hearted process, a singular focus that does not make excuses, blame others, feel sorry for oneself, begrudge the process, self-indulge, and so on.
God loves us and we are inherently worthy, but the degree to which we are trusted by him is conditional to the level we are faithful to uphold his reputation and his purpose. If this is true for God—and he’s not considered a grudge-holder or unfaithful—how is it not appropriate for us?
Those who minimize us often minimize themselves. That’s their problem, not yours. Stay focused on what is real for you. More specifically, ask what broke your trust and what do you need to see happen to restore it?
Acknowledgement and restitution from the offender are ongoing and communicated in tandem or together. Written below are some ideas written by Leslie Vernick, LCSW, in her book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage that identify what trust building involves:
- Full admission to the wrongdoing—no justifications, wrongdoings are not excused as a loss of control due to life history, illness, fatigue, your behavior, et al.
- Detailed recognition of how the wrongdoing impacts you and your children.
- Devotion of effort for the long-term growth of trust without complaint or resentment. This needs to be seen as a life-long pursuit.
- Effort will be spontaneous and creative without expectation that they are off the hook.
- No demands for forgiveness of wrongdoing.
- Detailed identification of patterns of controlling behaviors and entitled attitudes.
- Life-long accountability, accepting feedback and criticism; does not wait to be in trouble and caught but honestly confesses that they regressed into behavior that harms your trust.
(I have condensed Vernick’s ideas in the above list.)
When we don’t hold trust-breakers to this conditional dynamic, they get sicker, we get sicker and the generations of children who witness no accountability for mistreatment remain confused about safety in intimacy and family. We can end that confusion as we remain wise to hold trust-breakers to the same standards God has for us.
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.