How do you trust again after you’ve been hurt by someone who you love? At some point in our lives, someone will challenge our ability to trust. It is, sadly, inevitable. AND, we will hurt someone, and they will question our trust. Of course, there are differing degrees to which trust can be affected. Think of it as a scale ranging from one to ten. There are minor infractions and major ones, and we are the ones who decide the degree because all of us are affected differently by different things. What might be a minor infraction to me could be a major infraction to you.
I began thinking more about trust recently. I was in session with a client who has been divorced for several years and has just ended a relationship with someone he had seen for under a year. He ended that relationship because he wanted to be fair to her. He shared with me that while he enjoyed her friendship; he knew that it would not go any further. He didn’t feel the connection that they shared would lead to love.
I asked him why he stayed in the relationship as long as he did. He wasn’t sure why. I suggested to him that maybe it was a “safe” relationship. I told him that you couldn’t be terribly hurt by someone if you don’t have strong feelings for them. He said that this was true and went on to say that he had been thinking that maybe he didn’t need to be in a relationship. He was able to do his own cleaning, shopping, cooking, earning money, and so on. He asked, “Why do I need someone?” (Keep in mind, I knew that this was all coming from fear.) I replied that none of the things he mentioned had anything to do with what we experience in a relationship – such as love, intimacy, and partnering in life with someone. He had that look on his face that people get when they know you are right but wish that wasn’t the case.
He spoke about what he went through when his marriage was ending. He said to me, “You remember what I went through. I could barely function, I was losing weight, couldn’t sleep, and the pain was overwhelming.” I remembered, and my eyes teared. It was an excruciating time for him as he tried to hold on to his marriage. It ultimately ended in a very painful divorce. He looked at me and said, “You are a very empathetic person, you do what you teach.” He doesn’t have many empathetic people in his family and I suggested that he might want to look for mutual empathy in his next relationship. Look for someone who is empathetic, it is a way to begin to build trust, knowing you are with an empathetic person.
When you have been hurt badly enough to be cautious about trusting, whether you stay in the relationship or you are no longer with them, you will carry with you the fear of trust. At some point, however, you need to ask yourself what it is that you need in order to trust again.
Rebuilding trust with our current loved one or building trust with a new person in your life is a collaborative effort. Meaning that both people need to discuss the process of building trust. Many people believe that the person who hurt them should know what to do to rebuild trust.
If you’ve been hurt and your trust has been broken….the first question that you need to ask yourself is: “What do I need from the other person to begin to work toward trust?” Many times people will say:
“I need you to not hurt me”
“I need you to be kind”
“I need you to be honest”
“I need you to not keep any secrets” (Keep in mind that there is a difference between secrets and privacy. Everyone has the right to privacy. You will know the difference between privacy and keeping a secret when you are keeping something from your partner that you feel bad about, often shame).
“I need you to show me that you love me”
“I need you to be thoughtful”
These requests are legitimate in rebuilding trust, but they are too vague and unclear. What do we mean exactly when we say we want our loved one to be kind and so on.
These are some specific examples that may be helpful:
“I need you to not raise your voice when you are upset with me”
“I need you to show me that you love me by asking me to spend time with you”
“I need you to be honest by letting me know when I do something that upsets you – so that I can do something about it”
“I need you to verbalize what you appreciate about me”
But it is so important to remember that building trust is a collaborative effort. One person cannot do all the work. This will result in hurt and resentment. Work together and let your partner know what you need to build trust. All of us have different needs to trust another person. What may be helpful to me may not be helpful to you. It is equally important to recognize that simply because we have asked our loved one to do something for us doesn’t mean that they will agree to do it. This is when the dialogue can work toward compromise.
Keep in mind that most of us want to trust and be trusted. To not be trusted can be painful, especially if they feel that they’ve done all that they can to regain your trust. But if you don’t give them the roadmap, they won’t know what to do and rebuilding of trust will either not happen or will take a very long time.
Recognize that this is hard work for both of you. I always encourage people, “be kind to you and take care of you in this challenging process of building or rebuilding trust.”
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