I've got a new post up at Covenant Eyes this week about building emotional trust. Of course at Covenant Eyes, I'm talking specifically about building trust in a marriage that's been affected by pornography addiction, but I think the principles of trust-building apply to any relationship.
As you know, I love the relationship research of Dr. John Gottman, and a while back I came across a YouTube video, where he talks about building emotional trust by turning toward your partner emotionally, caring about how they feel, and understanding what they experience, in the daily moments of life.
Gottman says that we actually have three choices to make when we're confronted with our partner's emotions:
When we turn toward, we first of all have to notice what's going on with our partner: facial expressions, body language, tone of voice. Then we have to stop what we're doing, and see what's going on. That doesn't mean we have to take responsibility for our partner's emotions or fix their problems. Turning toward means that we see how they feel, and we care.
Turning away often happens by accident. We don't pay attention. We're busy. It's no big deal, anyway. And this is how the Great Continental Drift happens in relationships. You wake up one day and you have no idea how you got so far apart. It happens, one simple turning away at a time.
Turning against seems more obvious, when you see the destructive behaviors Gottman talks about, like contempt and stonewalling. (Check out his wonderful book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.) But I think turning against happens in all kinds of quiet little ways before it gets big and mean and divorce-worthy. Any time there's a sense of superiority, I think you're turning against. Any time there's a sense of entitlement, I think you're turning against.
Turning toward is incredibly simple. No special tools or training or magic words are required. Just pay attention and care.
And yet, turning toward can be incredibly intimidating.
Last night, I was at the Wine, Women and Jesus Bible study. I am not making this up. I'm there every Monday night. It's at the Times Ten Cellar, with Dr. Jackie Roese, and it is the BOMB. I love it!
Last night she was talking about people-pleasing. And of course, with 100 women in the room, there were some expert opinions on how exactly to wreck your life with people-pleasing. I myself spoke with such conviction about it that someone came up to me afterward and asked what my story was.
But I was thinking later about how men get just as wrecked with people-pleasing as women do.
While women are told to be nice, be sweet, and make momma happy, men are told to be strong, be brave, and make momma proud.
It's inevitable, I think that we'll all live our lives to some extent within that cultural framework.
But when we get really sick of it, when all that people-pleasing has left us for dead, we might be ready to bring our real selves forward, just as they are, to give and receive love.
We all, regardless of gender, can learn to be honest and vulnerable with each other. We can put aside our people-pleasing cultural roles and just be who we are with each other, turning toward.
Then, maybe, maybe, maybe, we'll be a part of the great unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17. If that doesn't start in our closest, most intimate relationships, I don't know where it's ever going to happen.