“I don’t know if I can ever trust them.” Finding a way back after a breach of trust.

“I don’t know if I can ever trust them.” Finding a way back after a breach of trust.

When I graduated high school I was so excited to move into an apartment with some friends. The idea of moving out of my parents house for the first time was so exciting! Before school had ended everything was in order. The lease was signed, I had a job, the rent was cheap, and my responsibilities were at an all time low. The only problem was, I had no transportation. Just before I left my parents house a neighbor found out I was looking for a car. He offered me a 1981 Chevette. If you aren’t familiar with that car, give it a quick google. Suffice it to say, it was not a car that was designed with longevity in mind. When receiving the keys from my very kind neighbor I believe his exact words were, “you can have it for free, it’s just been sitting in our cow field for the last 5 years”. In fact there was a big dent in the hood that judging by the size, was probably due to one of the cows using it as a chair. Still, I gladly accepted the car and drove away with a smile. About a month later, to the surprise of no one but my 7 year old sister, the car broke down. How an inexperienced 18 year old and his friends got the car back to his apartment is it’s own story. For now let’s just say, being stranded once was enough. I immediately lost all faith in the car. I was so sure that the car was “not worth it” that I didn’t even attempt to figure out what went wrong. I just drove it very short distances, always parked on a hill, and ditched it at the end of the summer. I have had other cars since then. Some of them were reliable, some were lemons. The reliable cars were consistent. When they broke down or something went wrong, they were worth fixing because I had faith that they would continue to perform with the same consistency as before. The lemons were the opposite. These were the cars that would overheat, then after I poured a couple grand into repairs, they would overheat again. I just could not trust them, so I got rid of them. Now is about the time you may be wondering, “why did this guy lure me into an article using a title about trust just to tell me a story about his old car”? First off, that’s the only way I can get people to listen to my stories. Second, this story is a metaphor for relationships and the choices we are faced with when our partner does something to break our trust. 

When you start a relationship, whether it be with a car or a human, you bring certain expectations. As those expectations are met the relationship continues and consistency is established. Consistency is important because it is the foundation of trust. When you trust it is because consistency has allowed that confidence. You start to feel like you know what will happen before it does. For instance, my wife trusts that when she opens her arms and walks toward me I am going to hug her because she has gotten a consistent response from me for 15 years of marriage. If the next time she opens her arms and walks towards me I instead do a little dance, step on her foot, then walk away, she will wonder what will happen the next time she tries to hug me. Another example comes from a couple I knew. They were in the early relationship sweet spot. They were old enough to have grown up jobs but young enough that neither of them had kids. They were having a blast with each other and as the relationship progressed both of their expectations were being met. They were consistent in how they responded to one another’s affections and after a couple of months, began to date exclusively. They were really into each other. After they had been dating like this for about 6 months, one of them decided to get drunk and kiss someone at a wedding. This broke the trust that consistency had built. Never before had either of them kissed a different person since they became exclusive. This behavior was new and the partner who thought they knew what would happen if their partner went to a wedding without them was shocked to realize that they in fact did not know. Needless to say, it was a very painful experience. Had kissing other people been a consistent part of their relationship, this would not have been a big deal. It might have even been expected. I know couples who have had long and successful relationships all while kissing other people. The behavior in and of itself is important but what is more important is the deviation from what is agreed upon and expected. For this couple, trust was gone. Because of their history, they both still valued the relationship. This was a “good car”, a fun and reliable mode of transportation that was worth fixing in hopes that it would again be something reliable. I was not surprised when they told me they were going to stay together. Even after this decision they wondered how they could repair their relationship. Or more specifically, “how can I ever trust them again”? My answer was consistency. 

Consistency is what allowed trust in the first place and consistency is how trust is allowed to return. In an oversimplified nut shell that does not do all the hard work justice, the kisser needs to be consistent in refraining from kissing others long enough to allow the other partner to once again feel like they know what is going to happen. It is unrealistic to ask someone to just trust, and hope that through sheer willpower they can force the confidence and emotions required to create trust from thin air. They might decide to stay in the relationship, but as anyone who has been cheated on will attest, you cannot force trust. 

This couple had been together for 6 month, and for 6 months no one had kissed someone else. So statistically speaking, kissing someone 1 day in every 182 shouldn’t be that big of a deal. At least this is the argument that some make in an attempt to make amends and relieve their own shame. The problem with looking at this through the lens of mathematical probabilities is, there are more than one equation when it comes to trust. As the length of consistency and importance of the expectations increase, so does the damage of the inconsistent behavior. To demonstrate, if you woke up tomorrow and your parents informed you they have been tricking you this whole time and they were in fact two actors from California named Steve and Barb, you would lose your mind. Possibility of recovery minimal. If your one crazy friend decided to scoop out the inside of a watermelon and wear the giant rind as a hat you might say to yourself, “that’s weird, but he has done some pretty crazy things in the past”, and move on. In the first example, these people had consistently acted like your parents for as long as you have been alive and the importance of your expectations regarding what that meant was tremendous, hence the losing your mind. In the second example, there was very little consistency and you never really had an expectation that they would not put a watermelon on their head, so no personal impact. In relationships, that one kiss can have a tremendous impact, especially in long term relationships with high expectations of monogamy. You might need to consistently not kiss someone other than your partner for years for them to feel like they have enough consistency to know what is going to happen, to trust. Even then, weddings will be uncomfortable. 

When you find yourself wondering, “can I trust again”? Think of consistency. Can you and your partner be consistent in your behaviors long enough to allow trust to return? Does your partner have the patience to be consistent for as long as you need, ignoring what they think is “long enough”? Are you going to take your car into the shop for repairs or trade it in for a new one? These are hard, personal questions and whatever you choose, along the way there will be a tremendous amount of pain. Healing from a breach of trust takes time, is often confusing, and requires dedication. There are also times that feel rewarding. Don’t put a time limit on when you “need” to trust. Keep your head down, always maintaining consistency, and allow trust to return naturally. If you can wade through all the late night conversations, emotional triggers, and feelings of uncertainty that you are doing the right thing, the consistent behaviors will rebuild trust and you might find that your relationship becomes stronger.    

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