How to Build Trust in Relationship

“In any relationship, the essence of trust is not in its bind, but in its bond. So hold the hand of the person whom you love rather than expecting them to hold yours…“ -Unknown

The Possibilities

What would life look like if trust was not an issue? How would you relate to yourself and others? How would you describe your inner and outer world?  What would your relationships with your family, friends, and the most intimate partner in your life look like?

When I let my imagination take me beyond all that distrust brings, this is what comes to mind:

  • I would be free
  • I would feel safe and secure
  • I would let people lean on me and allow myself to lean on others
  • I would openly share myself without the apprehension of being misunderstood or judged
  • I would have an intimate, loving relationship without the fear of losing it
  • I would be happy and satisfied
  • I would feel loved and know my love was also received
  • I would know that we all are connected and that our inherent nature is good
  • I would not blame or judge myself or others
  • I would not see the world as a harsh or suspicious place
  • I would live in peace and harmony
  • I would celebrate life
  • I would see every human being as magical

Our Humanness

Unfortunately, like most of us, I learned to distrust and expect betrayal while growing up and that rippled through my life in many forms.

My trust was violated at a very early age. I distrusted my mother who was disappointed that I wasn’t born a boy.

The image is vivid. As a baby, I reach out to Mom. She turns her face and body away from me. I try to get her attention again with no response. I don’t give up. I reach out again to see her expressionless, cold face. I give up. Disappointment turns to despair. I need her and she is not there. My trust in her is broken. I decide I don’t need anybody because people let you down when you need them the most.

My father was an alcoholic and very unpredictable.  I kept many secrets of painful events that I was not able to share with anyone. There was no trust in that parental relationship either.

My relationship to God was also broken. I was told that God sent mothers who did the work for Him. He loved people who were good, but bad people were punished in a “unique” way.  I was sure I was the latter.

The person I trusted most growing up was my father’s sister, and I couldn’t even be totally open with her, that I was molested, sexually abused at a young age.  I thought I might, but she died at age 55, leaving me with a deep-seated loneliness.

My world was split. My inner world was full of wonder and curiosity, eager to be shared and recognized, while my outer world was dangerous, scary, and judgmental. To survive, I approached life with a fearless, rock-solid heart and never showed sorrow on the battlefield.

Life was gracious to me. I was surrounded by great guidance and led to a spiritual path, and life became a question to explore. For instance, “How can I improve my relationship with the phenomenal world I am immersed?  How can I have joy and happiness and make the world a better place to live in?”

Distrust has significant impact on both parties in a human relationship. Without trust, there is no intimacy or love, and conflicts are either avoided or erected constantly from nowhere.

What is trust? We learn from past experiences and determine who we are today and how we relate to each other.  “I am scared to get hurt entering into a new relationship,” or “I have to protect myself, and be emotionally withdrawn.”

Osho, a spiritual teacher, says “Trust is a quality in you… Trust is your inner growth…Trust is certainly a higher value than love… Trust cannot be without love. But love can be without trust, and a love without trust is ugly; deep down it has all kinds of jealousies, suspicions, distrust.”

The Journey that Starts with You

When trust is deeply violated,we first lose trust in ourselves.  We believe something is wrong with us because otherwise the people who harmed us wouldn’t have in the first place. Regaining trust in myself and others has been a process in my journey.

The process of recovering trust began when I started my daily meditation practice.

In meditation, we make friends with what we reject, with what we see as bad in ourselves and in other people. Sitting on the cushion, we see our thoughts rise, we touch them, and we let them go without judgment. This daily practice allowed me to develop more compassion for myself.

I was surrounded by people who supported me for who I really was, which supplanted my own negative assessments, judgments, and opinions about myself.

They related to me as a “real person” rather than the victim of my circumstances. I saw my past as series of painful events that had left scars around my heart but did not make me a bad person.

The Journey with Others

In my marriage, my distrust was more of a challenge and it took some time for me to recognize it. Regaining trust was like learning to ride a bicycle that had only one wheel.  How I perceive love, comfort, support, and protection from my husband is completely colored by my childhood experiences.

Most conflicts have been based to some degree on trust and betrayal.

  • Are you going to be there for me when I need you the most?
  • Can I trust you will listen to me when I am upset?
  • Will you share difficult times with me, not just fun and joy?
  • Can I trust you will not leave me when I get out of shape after childbirth?
  • Will you respect me?
  • Will you accept me when I make mistakes?

I am working on the computer. All of a sudden I am not able to continue my project. I hit a wall with my writing and there is no way I can finish in time. I am in a panic. I frantically call my husband for help. He responds, “I am busy. I can’t help you now.” “But I need help now.” My anxiety soars. “Sorry, I am in the middle of something,” he says. My frustration and anger erupt like a volcano. “You are never there for me when I need you!”  I shout uncontrollably. At that point my younger self, the one betrayed by her mother, has kicked in.A major fight seems unavoidable.

My husband and I have a particular pattern in our interaction when conflict surfaces around trust. I attack my husband, he defends and justifies. At that point it is really hard for him to be responsive to me.

If I settle down, I make a different kind of request of my husband and acknowledge my pushy behavior as a reason for his defensiveness. He can then listen to my frustrations and feelings of not being supported.  Our emotional bond is reestablished.

I recognize now that my mistrust was disguised as anxiety and my angry outburst was fueled by fear. By being responsible for my own feelings, I allow my husband to be more responsive.

And I must not forget how it occurs for my husband. When I raise my voice, he feels in trouble. He also feels guilty about his inability to be there for me. “I feel guarded and push you away,” he has told me.

As Dalai Lama said, “Trust only comes by showing genuine concern for other people’s well-being.”

By sharing and listening to each other’s vulnerabilities with empathy and acceptance, there is no more need for justification. When justification stops, blame disappears and a sense of trust develops.

As distrust leaves me, I can risk being vulnerable with the people I love. When I am able to go beyond my fear (abandonment and rejection) and take the risk to share, there is freedom.

The more either trusts themselves, and
The more either trusts the other,
The more their trust in each other grows,
And the more they trust themselves and each other.