Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Faithfulness and Trust
Faith is the confidence of what is hoped for and the certainty about things unseen. Written 2000 years ago, this Biblical definition has a surprisingly modern ring when used to describe faithfulness in marriage. To be full of faith means to believe in and trust our partners. We want to know that they will not hurt us, leave us, or disappoint us.
How Trust Builds
Expecting a guarantee against hurt is a sure route to a life of fear in-stead of joy. Most people marry believing they could never hurt each other because they are in love. Eventually this naïve trust collapses with the experience of marital hurt. Whether they tell a little white lie about the credit card, make a sarcastic joke at our expense, or have an extramarital affair, eventually our partners let us down and disappoint us. At this stage couples either shut down and start on the path towards marital estrangement/divorce or discover the real truth about trust: it has to be earned.
Solid trust in marriage develops over time. Surprisingly, trust builds faster during the bad times than in the good. In a study reported in the August issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, Mari Clements and colleagues followed couples for 13 years. Couples who acted respectfully and really listened to each other during conflict built trust and had happier marriages years later than couples who used intimate information to hurt and insult each other.
Blame Your Parents
Many of our beliefs and expectations about trust in intimate relationships are formed in early childhood –before we were verbal. Studies completed twenty years ago at Johns Hopkins University by Mary Ainsworth found that parents who responded quickly and consistently to their infants helped their children build trust and secure attachment toward both their caregivers and people in general.
Babies who develop basic trust during that critical first year have a good chance of turning into confident and trusting adults. Babies who don’t develop that kind of trust have more insecurity in adulthood but they can still have a corrective experience if they marry a spouse who is proactive about building trust.
Blame Your Spouse
The best opportunities to learn whether or not spouses have other’s best interests at heart are during the tough times such as crises, losses, and conflict when the risk of getting hurt is the highest.
- Building trust means taking healthy risks such as:
- Self-disclosing important information that makes you feel vulnerable
such as things you are afraid of or not good at.
- Cherishing vulnerable moments.
- Approaching conflicts as win-win by asking yourselves: “How can we
both get what we want here?”
- Trying travel and new fun activities together where you can develop skills you are not naturally good at like ticket details, planning tours, etc.
- Self-disclosing important information that makes you feel vulnerable such as things you are afraid of or not good at.
- Building trust means avoiding unhealthy risks such as:
- Developing more intimacy with a work colleague than with your spouse.
- Getting in touch with an old flame. You might ignite more than you
- Withholding or distorting information that affects your spouse’s
welfare such as your health or financial status.
- Spending excessive amounts of time on work or hobbies that take you
away from your spouse.
- Revealing confidences to friends or children.
- Talking down to or about each other in front of others.
- Developing more intimacy with a work colleague than with your spouse.
Broken Trust Through Infidelity
In her recent book on infidelity, psychologist Dr. Shirley Glass wrote that most people are unaware of these truths about infidelity:
- It is normal to be attracted to other people and does not mean that you
have fallen out of love with your partner. However, allowing yourself
to engage in a fantasy about what it would be like to be with another
person is a danger sign.
More husbands start affairs while still happy and in love with their partners while more wives start affairs after being unhappy with their marriages for awhile.
- Good people have affairs because they fail to recognize the danger
of the slippery slope to affairs. They don’t just get up one morning
and decide to be unfaithful; the infidelity sneaks up on them. The
incidence for affairs has been estimated by various researchers to be
30-40% for women and around 50% for men. Forty to sixty percent of
affair partners started out as workplace colleagues and another 20-40%
are acquaintances and neighbors.
- Emotional affairs are characterized by secrecy, emotional intimacy,
and sexual chemistry. You do not have to have sex with someone to be
unfaithful to your spouse. Spending energy that belongs to your spouse
on another person is a failure of fidelity.
- Internet and secretive friendships are high risk behaviors.
- While many but not all marriages can recover from affairs especially with professional guidance, infidelity is better prevented than recovered from.
- Dr. Glass’ recommendations for pro-trust behaviors:
- Maintain appropriate boundaries with others. Flirting crosses the
line because it is an invitation indicating receptivity.
- Share more of your hopes, dreams, and emotional feelings with your
spouse than with anyone else.
- If you experience chemistry with someone other than your spouse,
put up barriers to prevent emotional intimacy (eg., lunch with just
the two of you).
- Invest in giving to your spouse especially when you are tempted.
Researchers Scott Stanley and Howard Markman found that people less
dedicated to their marriage increased their risks to affairs by
spending more time thinking about alternatives to their marriages.
Dedicated spouses who give more to their marriages especially during
tough times and consciously avoid thoughts about alternatives
- Make sure friends in your social network are happily married and support fidelity in marriage.
- Maintain appropriate boundaries with others. Flirting crosses the line because it is an invitation indicating receptivity.
- Additional recommendations for earning trust from each other:
- Accept that marriage always includes the possibility of getting
hurt. In a faithful marriage, partners may hurt us out of ignorance
or accident but not purposely and vindictively.
- Be mindful to keep your partner’s best interests at heart especially when you are stressed.
- Build trust by taking healthy risks and avoiding unhealthy ones.
- Protect intimate self-disclosures by never using them during an argument. The momentary pleasure of retaliating against your partner can wipe out years of building trust.
- Accept that marriage always includes the possibility of getting hurt. In a faithful marriage, partners may hurt us out of ignorance or accident but not purposely and vindictively.
If you are lucky you realize that real trust must be built over time. When actor Hume Cronyn was asked the secret of his long and happy marriage to Jessica Tandy, he answered: “It’s simple, I think. We never said an impolite word to each other.”
Copyright 2004 Drs. Susan & Philip Robison. Feel free to copy and reproduce as long as you print with contact information.