What is trust in a relationship? Trust is the assurance partners have in each other’s commitments to one another. I use the plural form of commitment because relationships are full of them. All relationships are built on various commitments and trust. It’s actually pretty simple.
When I hired the plumber to fix a leak under the slab, he committed to doing the job. I trusted him to do it and paid him when he was done. Americans elect leaders who make commitments they can keep. Some people trust God to show up when they need him. In marriage, partners make various commitments to each another and trust they’ll be fulfilled. The primary commitment is usually monogamy.
A monogamous relationship, sexually and emotionally, can be highly rewarding. That’s if both partners are committed to it. Being in a monogamous relationship means they’re the only person you have sex with and the only person you find emotionally arousing, if you know what I mean.
Speaking personally here, my trust was betrayed in a prior relationship. We were committed to each other, or so I thought. I trusted her commitment to me until it was too late. It’s always too late. Trust runs all the way up to moment of betrayal, when I found out she had sex with someone else.
Once that happens to a person, after a significant betrayal like that, there’s no safety in the relationship anymore. It’s replaced by something more sinister and corrosive—the fear of being hurt, the absence of safety.
When I’m safest I’m not afraid of being hurt, like the harness they strap me into on the Skywalker at Cinergy. It’s connected to the highline so that if I slip off the rail, I won’t fall 20 feet onto someone else’s pizza party.
Safety is always the reward. In a trusting and committed partnership the treasure you find is safety and security. It’s a basic psychological need that all human beings have. When a person’s sense of safety and security is compromised their well-being declines tremendously. Years after betrayal, some people carry the fear of being hurt into future relationships, projecting it onto their new partner. This suffering sometimes manifests in ways that can be clinically diagnosed, such as anxiety and/or depression.
My wife has never betrayed my trust in her commitment to a monogamous relationship with me. However, I haven’t always believed that. I brought the damage from a prior relationship into my marriage. I was afraid of being hurt again. I didn’t feel safe, and I didn’t know how to communicate that to my wife.
It didn’t go well, at first. I had trust issues and we went to couples counseling to resolve them. We learned how to communicate, talking through our trust issues. Not only was I safe in trusting my wife’s commitment to me, but she also made it safe for me to share my fear with her. Any emotion that I feel, ever, when I communicate it properly, she provides a safe space.
Safety and security are the real rewards when trust and commitment are both intact. The psychological benefits of that are tremendous, at least anecdotally. People are usually happier when their sense of safety is grounded in a healthy relationship with someone they trust is committed to them.