two kinds of trust

So you've been betrayed.

By a friend, a parent, a spouse, a pastor.

And it was bad.

And now they've apologized.

And you're working on forgiveness, and you're wondering what happens with trust.

You know that the person has to truly change.  

You know that you need to see trustworthy behavior over time.

 photo:  Michael Bruner

photo:  Michael Bruner

I want to suggest, however, that building trust in a relationship extends beyond behavior.  

It has to include emotional trustworthiness as well.

Here's why.

The act of betrayal is an act of turning away emotionally from the relationship, to meet your own needs.  

  • Soothing your own anxiety by lashing out at me.  
  • Quieting your own fear by looking at porn.  
  • Maintaining your own power in the pulpit by controlling parishioners.

To rebuild trust, to rebuild the foundation of the relationship, the offender has to change that emotional habit from selfishness to selflessness.

The offender has to stop turning away emotionally, and turn toward instead.

Here's John Gottman, renowned relationship expert. 

 "Trust is built in very small moments... In any interaction, there's a possibility of connection with our partner, or turning away."  John Gottman

When I heard this Gottman bit for the first time, it was a real aha moment for me.

It helped me understand how Andy and I got better after I discovered his porn addiction.  

It wasn't just that he worked hard at getting past his addiction, although that was very important.

What really helped us rebuild our marriage was that he turned toward to me emotionally.

He grew to be trustworthy on a practical, behavioral level, and he also became emotionally trustworthy.  He wasn't all about himself any more.  He was willing to do the hard work of connecting emotionally.  He listened to how I felt.  He listened and listened and listened.  And then he listened some more.  And he still listens now.

As much as this model helps me understand how relationships are rebuilt, it also helps me gauge when people are not trustworthy.

As I work with victims, we'll often hear from the offender: "It was just the one time" or "I've been miraculously healed, and that will never be a problem again" or "Nobody's perfect."

And often at those times, the offender is on his best behavior, and the victim desperately wants everything back the way it was.  

But when I see somebody holding up their good behavior as a trophy, without much interest in really hearing out the hurt they've caused, that's not emotional trustworthiness.

The person who's emotionally trustworthy doesn't try to retain their position of power.

The person who's emotionally trustworthy doesn't demand that the victim forgive right this minute.

The person who's emotionally trustworthy doesn't hold the mike and keep talking about how much they know about the word of God and how their theology is perfectly fine.

The person who's emotionally trustworthy will SHUT UP AND LISTEN to the victim.  (Or to other victims, if his particular victim is unwilling to continue the conversation.  The victim always gets to choose what the relationship looks like.)

The person who's emotionally trustworthy will leave the outcome of the relationship in the victim's hands, without making demands about forgiveness and reconciliation.

The person who's emotionally trustworthy will make amends, not just brush over the real harm his actions caused.

Think about the prodigal son, when he finally turns toward his father.  (Luke 15:11-32)

He doesn't have a big long speech about how he was well within his rights to take the money and run, and it was only special circumstances or poor planning that left him in the pig pen.  

He doesn't demand to keep his position in the household.

In fact, he's asking to become a servant, maybe make up for some of the cash he stripped from the family coffers.

That's an emotionally trustworthy stance:  humble, undemanding, attuned to the other person's needs rather than his own.

Here's what's happened for us in this process of turning toward.

By turning toward, Andy has rebuilt my trust after years of betrayal.  

And you know what else?  His emotional needs get met in the process.

It's about as close to magic as anything I've seen on this earth.

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