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The Four Stages of Trust
Riki Robbins, Ph.D
evolves. We start off as babies with perfect
trust. Inevitably, trust is damaged by our
parents or other family members. Depending on
the severity, we may experience devastated
trust, in which the trust is completely
broken. In order to heal, we must learn when
and how trust can be restored. As part of this
final step, if we cannot fully trust someone.
then we establish guarded, conditional, or
people besides ourselves that we learn to
trust or mistrust are our parents. If they
behave with integrity, tell us the truth,and keep their
promises, then we are inclined to believe that
other people will do the same thing. If our
parents tell us to trust them, and then break
their word, we may never learn to trust at
a college professor, was betrayed, she
experienced total mistrust at first. She asked
me, "Can I trust anyone: myself, other
people, or even God?" I asked her if she
remembered feeling this way before. She
thought for a moment and then replied,
"Yes. When I was a little girl. My father
was a minister devoted to spreading the word
of God. Yet he beat me and my brother
regularly. It seemed so crazy to me. How could
someone who was supposed to be so good act so
bad? If I couldn't trust him to back up his
words with actions, then I couldn't trust
anyone else." Since I fully empathized
with how Cathy was feeling, it was difficult
to disagree with her. But I did tell her that
unless she changed her attitude she wouldn't
have healthy love relationships in the future.
None of us
become adults and retain the perfect trust we
were born with. But that doesn't mean we have
to go to the opposite extreme. As my good
friend author and public speaker Cheewa James
puts it, "I trust everybody at the
beginning. I assume everyone is loving until
proven otherwise". For best results,
start off a relationship with the assumption
that the other person is trustworthy. Be
careful to protect yourself, but give him (or
benefit of the doubt.
the person you love will violate your trust.
The most common warning signs include:
vital information. You say, "Where were
you last night until 2:00 A.M.?"
says, "I was working late," but when
you called his office, there was no answer.
mixed messages. He denies your accusations but
doesn't look you in the eye.
negotiate. When you ask, "Will you
promise to stay away from her?" he says,
"Leave me alone," and walks away.
your heart you know that trust has been
find out about a betrayal immediately after it
happens, trust is broken. But it is not
necessarily devastating. Especially if it is a
mini-betrayal, you and your partner can talk
about the incident, agree that it won't occur
again, and reestablish a bond of openness and
partner violates your limits and behaves in a
way you find morally unacceptable, your trust
is completely broken. Typically this happens
after a betrayal when you've been cheated on,
lied to, and treated with profound disrespect.
trust is a crisis. The first time it happens
you may totally regress. You feel as if you're
five years old as you re-experience your
original fundamental loss. You ask yourself,
just as Cathy did, "Whom can I
trust?" You may answer your own question,
"Not my mother or my father, not even my
partner. Who's left?" Before you can
think about trusting yourself and other
people, you have to deal with the situation at
hand. Can trust possibly be restored? If not,
you will have to end the relationship despite
any remaining good qualities.
happens if you suddenly find out that you've
been betrayed long ago? This happened to
Edith, a newspaper editor. After her husband,
Joe, returned from a weekend personal growth
seminar, he decided to "come clean"
about his previous sexual infidelities. Late
one night, he told Edith that when he had
visited an old out-of-town girlfriend five
years ago, the two of them had sex.
Furthermore, they had both discussed the
possibility of ending their marriages so they
could have a serious relationship together.
"I could never trust Joe again after
that," Edith told me. "If he had
told me at the time we might have been able to
salvage something. But to find out five years
later? All this time he'd been withholding
vital information. How could I possibly know
what else he is hiding now?"
a computer technician, was offered a choice.
Her husband, George, told her, "During
the early years of our marriage I committed a
few indiscretions. I'd like to tell you so I
can get them off my chest. Is this all right
with you?" Francesca thought for a while
before she responded, "You can tell me if
you like. But if you do I'll never believe
another word you say again. The time to tell
me was when it happened,
not now." Of course, simply by bringing
up the subject, he shattered her trust
suspect that your partner betrayed you, you
should confront him as soon as you can. You
may rationalize, "I don't want to hurt
him, get into an argument, or rock the
boat." Short-term pain is long-term gain.
Every moment you wait, trust is eroded.
Conversely, if you betray your partner, either
reveal it at the time or else take a vow of
eternal silence. Sharing a betrayal farther
down the road devastates trust.
If trust is
repeatedly broken can it be restored? No.
Harriet, a registered nurse, had a tumultuous
courtship. Her fiancι, Ira, left her to go
back to a former girlfriend. When they broke
up, he returned to her, promised her an
engagement ring, and asked her to marry him.
Two weeks later, he spent the weekend with
another former girlfriend. Upon his return, he
announced that he wanted to postpone their
engagement because he wanted to continue
dating. Harriet waited patiently until he gave
up his second girlfriend. Six months later,
she married him. It was a mistake. Harriet
said to me, "I actually believed that Ira
and I could 'start over'. But it wasn't true.
I had lost all respect for him. My trust had
been violated so often that I found myself
waiting for it to happen again. And Ira
continued his habit of having other sexual
relationships behind my back. For our
relationship to survive it was up to him to
take the lead in restoring trust. And he
restore sexual or romantic trust once it is
damaged or destroyed? It's possible, but
difficult. You don't get past a betrayal
overnight; it takes months or even years.
news is that the aftermath of a betrayal is an
opportunity to strengthen your relationship.
If you and your partner openly talk about what
happened, you will open the gateway to deeper
intimacy. While you cannot be positive that
you won't be betrayed again you can certainly
minimize the chances.
your partner's motives for betraying you and
your own involvement in the cause. Honestly
share how you feel, and what you need
at the present moment. Express your concerns
about the future, let each other know what you
expect from now on, and state your limits
about what you will and won't put up with. If
you can't have this kind of conversation by
yourselves, then get professional help right
away. Don't wait; mistrust can become a habit.
A qualified therapist, psychologist, or
marriage counselor can guide the two of you as
you explore why the betrayal happened and how
to prevent another one. Gradually you'll start
trusting each other in small matters and
then in bigger ones.
for sure: You can't turn back the clock. You
and your partner don't feel the same way
toward each other anymore. Trust has been
broken and it's difficult to fix. As you put
your relationship back together, both of you
see each other differently. You think,
"Maybe I can trust this person again but
from now on I need to be careful." Your
trust is not as complete as it once was. It
trust. You think, "I'll trust you
again, but I'll be on guard for another
betrayal. If it happened once it could
trust. You think, "I'll trust you
again under certain conditions, such as if
you never communicate with the accomplice
trust. You think, "I'll trust you
with money but not with sex. You can
continue to write checks on our joint
account as you have in the past. But I want
detailed information and frequent
reassurance that you're being faithful to
one of these agreements, you take a big first
step in the right direction.
you can't restore trust? What if you feel that
you can't trust anyone ever again? Janice, a
writer-editor whose trust had been recently
devastated, answers: "Since my husband
cheated on me I realize that I can be betrayed
at any time. In one split second my life can
turn upside down. But I don't choose to focus
on the uncertainty. If I did, life would be
too difficult. I couldn't have a love
relationship with anyone. So while I'm aware of
the danger of trusting other people, I don't
obsess. I continue to reach out even though
part of me shouts, 'Watch out'."
Trust is a
choice. While there is no ironclad guarantee
that you will never be betrayed, you have the
power to create trusting romantic and sexual
relationships. The moment you meet someone,
you can begin to deliberately nurture trust.
integrity with yourself. Get in touch with your
real needs and feelings so you can disclose
them. Know who you are and what you want from
a relationship. If you are honest with
yourself, you will be honest with other
people. If you tell others the truth, they
will tend to reciprocate.
trustworthy person. Let your intuition be your
guide. If your inner voice gives you a green
light, follow it. Observe and listen
carefully. If you perceive signs of danger
(white lies, black lies, broken promises),
heed them. An untrustworthy person isn't going
to change overnight even with your good
trust moment by moment. Whenever an issue
surfaces where you feel your trust is being
violated, talk about it. It may make you both
uncomfortable in the short run, but it will
bring you closer together in the long run. If
you have serious questions, ask them:
"Where were you yesterday evening when I
called and got no answer?" "Why were
you two hours late for our date tonight?"
"Who was that woman who came to your door
this morning?" "To whom does this
necklace on your dresser belong?" If you
feel there's something wrong, you're probably
right. Always follow your intuition.
trust you need to reveal your feelings both
the bad and the good. You need to share the
truth about who you are, what's going on for
you now, and your intentions for the future.
When you notice something that's going on
inside you must honestly report it. You must
resist the temptation to lie at all costs.
Lying kills trust.
If lying is
so deadly why do we do it?
good. We choose to present an image of
ourselves as attractive and desirable. We are
afraid to share information that may make us
look bad because we think we may lose the
person we love. Actually, the opposite is
true. Intimacy begins when you stop pretending
to be perfect and start being real with your
unpleasantness. We conceal information that we
believe may cause conflict. We want our love
to last, so we go to great lengths to create
false, superficial harmony. This is another
self-destructive myth. We get to
know each other better as we reveal and
negotiate our differences.
hurting our partner's feelings. We don't want
to upset our partner by saying something that
might make him angry. We want to protect him
from upset. This is another self-destructivestrategy. Yes,
you may cause an upset by saying something
your partner may find offensive, but sometimes
you have to air your negative feelings to get
an honest, positive dialogue going.
In his book
Honesty", Dr. Brad Blanton recommends that
couples share their complete sexual histories
with each other. I agree. The more honest
information you have about your partner's
sexual preferences, habits, and style, the
easier it is to satisfy him. And to protect
yourself. For example, if your partner is
uncomfortable with monogamy and you know it
can agree to go your separate ways or else to
use condoms to protect yourselves from
Secret of Creating Trust
A friend of
mine posed this question to me: "If I
tell you the truth that I lied to you
you still trust me?" Clearly the answer
is "yes". The secret of creating
trust right from the beginning is to have a
conversation that goes something like this,
"I have betrayed other people. I may
betray you sometimes and you will probably
betray me. We will try to avoid it, but when
it happens we will deal with it
I have been
in relationships with people who proved
untrustworthy. They could have spared me and
themselves a lot of grief by being honest
about their untrustworthiness. They might have
said to me, "Sometimes I tell white lies;
often I tell black ones. I might even sleep
with someone else and not tell you about it.
Do you want to have sex and romance with me on
these terms?" If I had answered
"yes", I would have gone into the
relationship with my eyes open. At least I
would have had a choice.
people who want an extramarital affair can
clear the air by being honest with their
accomplice and with their partner about their
intentions. When an attractive married man
invites me to have sex with him, I reply,
"Go tell your wife. If it's okay with her
it's all right with me." Most of them
reply, "If I tell her, she'll kick me
out." My answer is, "At least she'll
know what you're up to. Then the two of you
can make a decision about what to do
I believe that ongoing and complete sexual
disclosure is the most powerful building block
of trust. Granted, you have to be a very
secure person in a very strong relationship
very few of us are to share your complete
sexual self with your partner. But if you can
manage, it works. For example, a married
colleague of mine had extra-marital sex
without intercourse with another woman while
we were attending a convention. He insisted on
calling his wife (who was at home taking care
of their children) and telling her the
details. Naturally she was furious. When I
spoke to him a couple of weeks later he
reported that they had a huge argument,
cleared the air, and decided that she had
equal rights to sexual pleasure with other men
(and that they would hire a babysitter).
people take an even more radical position. I
recently received a letter from a former judge
which posed this question: "If you know
your partner is going to have sex with other
people would you rather he did it behind your
back or with your knowledge? Or would you
prefer that he was miserable repressing his
desires?" Then he answered his own
question, "Of course you'd rather have a
satisfied partner and know what's going
sexual honesty is the antidote to betrayal.
You and your partner can share your fantasies
and your experience. It may be painful, but
it's also liberating. Your emotional intimacy
will skyrocket. In the long run, you will feel
infinitely more relaxed. You will no longer be
afraid of being betrayed.
This article was excerpted and reprinted with
permission from Betrayed! How You Can Restore
Sexual Trust and Rebuild Your Life ©1998 Dr Riki
Robbins. Published by Adams Media Corporation.http://www.adamsonline.com
Another article by this
excerpted with permission from the book:
"Betrayed! How You Can Restore
Sexual Trust and Rebuild Your Life"
Riki Robbins, Ph.D.
Riki Robbins, Ph.D. is a sex and relationship
consultant in private practice in California. She is the author of:
"Betrayed! How You Can Restore
Sexual Trust and Rebuild Your Life", "Negotiating
How Women and Men Can Resolve Their Differences", and
co-author of "Let
Me Count the Ways: Discovering Great Sex Without Intercourse".
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