One of the questions that I get asked by my coaching clients is “How do I learn to trust again?”
However, we first need to define trust, demonstrate how it can be broken, and illustrate how this needs to be on the “red flag” list.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, trust is
- to rely on the truthfulness and accuracy of: believe
- to place confidence in: rely on
- to hope or expect confidently
Many marriages disintegrate because trust has been broken. Trust can be broken in a multitude of ways. I believe we can categorize “how” trust gets broken into three main categories: lying, unclear expectations, and a lack of respect.
It isn’t always the big stuff that breaks down trust. Often over time it is the little daily things that break it down. I think there is usually a sense of distrust even before major lies or infidelity are in the picture.
In my situation, my ex did not live up to his word on a regular basis which broke down my trust in him way before our marriage completely fell apart. Upon reflection, I can see how a general lack of respect, lies he thought were jokes, and not fully clarifying my expectations created the breakdown of trust over time.
On the surface, some of the events I am going to describe don’t seem like a big deal (and they shouldn’t be a big deal). However, when they are constantly repeated (hello patterned behaviors!) your confidence and hope that the person will follow through disappears.
Lying can take many forms. It can be an omission of details, half truths, or a crazy tale.
My ex more than once told me tales…..big tales. He would go on for 45 minutes about something, and all the while I would be asking, “Are you serious? Are you joking?” These events would get me stressed, confused, and questioning him. Later he would say, “I’m just joking.” However, these mind games (I realize now that’s what they were) left me bewildered and not believing much of what would come out of his mouth.
Here is an example of one lying tale that I remember vividly.
Days before we were meant to relocate to a new country, my ex told me, “I quit my job.” Our home contents were already packed up by movers. He showed me a resignation letter that he apparently presented to his boss. I was in a panic, crying, and stressed and he continued to go on about this change, until an hour later he said it wasn’t true. I then asked why he said all of that, and he said, “No reason,” and chuckled.
These “jokes” were not funny to me, because they were outright lies that went well beyond the joking/sarcastic point. Frankly, it was really messed up and not right.
These tales (yes, there were more) invalidated my ex’s word. I never knew what to believe with him, and still don’t.
Lying rips trust apart and needs to be a deal breaker. If lying is present, the relationship has no foundation.
Words and actions need to align for trust to flourish.
Unclear expectations can erode trust. I can see now that I likely did not always clearly communicate my expectations and therefore was disappointed when my ex didn’t meet them. We often assume another person, especially our spouse, will parent the same as ourselves. This is not the case, as we are all individuals and had different upbringings. How could he meet my expectations if I didn’t tell him what they were?
Expectations that are not communicated, clarified, and agreed upon are bound to lead to disappointment.
When my daughter was about 4 years old, I went away for the weekend to attend a friend’s baby shower. During the weekend, I spoke to my daughter a few times on Skype. Here are a few of the things that she told me; “We had cereal for dinner, again.” “I’m just watching tv, daddy is still asleep.” (Since I knew what time she wakes up in the morning, I also knew she had been watching tv and playing by herself for around 5 hours and her dad was still asleep!!!).
Now don’t get me wrong, she survived, had fun, and wasn’t complaining to me. She was pretty much just stating the facts. I, on the other hand, was upset because he wasn’t parenting as I would do it.
I see my own fault in this scenario now. I never said what I wanted or expected, and when he didn’t meet it I became disappointed. I felt like I couldn’t count on him to properly do the job at hand.
A healthy relationship needs trust and respect to thrive.
A general lack of respect is the third way to break trust. When expectations are clearly set and agreed to but simple requests get perpetually ignored, it leads to a lack of confidence in your partner’s ability to follow through. This tells you that you can’t rely on them, and you have no confidence when he/she says, “Sure, I’ll do it.” That answer simply turns into empty words with no substance.
Here are some examples of how lack of respect played out in my daily life and also fed my distrust in my ex.
As I was a stay at home mom, I did the bulk of the household chores and I was ok with that set up. However, I did ask for help with a few simple tasks so as to not feel like a maid and to model positive behaviors for my children. My requests were simple, but they never got done. Or if they did get done it was beyond the time frame that I needed it done. I remember on a regular basis asking my ex to not leave his dirty clothes on the floor and bring his dishes to the sink.
If I would go out for the evening with my girlfriends, I would prepare dinner for my family and request that the clean up was done. He would say yes. Unfortunately, when I would get home the kitchen was never cleaned up.
For me, I would rather someone say, “No, I’m not going to do it,” than keep saying yes and never follow through. I might have still been pissed off if he had said no, but at least he would not have been lying.
Often my ex would ask us to pick him up from work at a certain time, and the children and I would end up waiting in the car for 30 or 40-plus minutes. This was not a one-off situation of something unexpected happening at work. It was a regular occurrence. I would get frustrated and then drive home (as my children needed to get to bed), only to get a phone call saying, “I’m in front of the office, where are you?”
These examples all illustrate a lack of respect and my ex not being true to his word in these simple tasks. I have learned that our issues are often found in patterns, and I now can see that there was a pattern of disrespectful behavior.
Basically, I felt that my ex was the complete opposite of the definition of trust.
I could not:
- rely on the truthfulness and accuracy of his word, or believe in it
- place confidence in or rely on him
- hope or expect confidently that he would follow through
Trust can gradually break down, or it can be broken in an instant.
Upon reflection, these events or patterns of behavior should have been the red flags or warning signs for me. These red flags were signaling that something was really off in the marriage and were a predicator for future events.
If you are in a situation where you do not trust your spouse, please investigate what is causing it. Look at the patterns. Seek support if needed, see if it is fixable, or let it be a sign.
Just make sure you listen to the signs!
Check in next week to learn the key factor to trusting again.
If you have had a major trust broken, did you have warning signs? Let me know in the comments below.