“Trust”. It’s one of those sacred words in relationship lingo that automatically projects an aura of goodness and wholesomeness. Conversely, “mistrust” seems to reek of evil and pathology. If you ever want to evoke visceral and mindless reaction from someone, just ask “Don’t you trust me?” Most people will reflexively and thoughtlessly reassure you that “Of course” they do. The won’t take the time to define the various ways in which they mistrust you as well. “Healthy mistrust” seems close to being an oxymoron like “military intelligence”…or “unhealthy trust.” That’s unfortunate. It’s also the reason why a lot of people get hurt.
In my line of work, I find it sad to see so many people separating themselves from the tools necessary for their welfare. Mistrust, like fear and anger, has its utility. The trick is to know where and how. Think of it this way: Trust is really expectation. When we trust someone, we expect that he or she will behave consistently with what we envision. We expect good faith and responsibility in fulfilling commitments. But what happens when our expectations aren’t realistic? Let’s try a scenario:
You’re romantically (and sexually) involved with someone who recently has become separated. You’re aware that over the course of his or her previous marriage your partner had several affairs. Every time you raise the topic of commitment, your partner seems to divert the discussion and emphasize instead how much he/she really feels for you. You have little doubt about his or her passion. So why create problems with your mistrust?
Many of us naively fall into such a tar pit and helplessly flounder for years. It would be an oversimplification to say that we do so merely because we’ve been over-indoctrinated in trust. It’s probably more true that we childishly over-estimate the power of love as being able to surmount all obstacles. This kind of blind trust allows us to avoid having to make painful choices. However, it also prevents us from evaluating courses of action necessary for our own welfare. The question of whether or not to have sexual relations is especially important for this reason. Many of us have naively trusted that our passion will bring about commitment while we ignore the person’s stated desire for less involvement.
We may even ignore a long history of inconsistency and broken commitments. We “trust” that we can let ourselves become sexually and emotionally dependent before we realistically weigh the probable risks. Are we really so powerful that our mere hopes and desires can forge a new reality? In this assumption lies the seed of addictive relationships.
One of my most cherished tools has been the ability to give myself the permission to feel trust and mistrust, hope and fear, all with the same person. This permission-giving is not naïve. It’s not the unqualified permission for my “inner child” to play hopscotch on the busy freeway of uncommitted relationships. Instead, it is permission to be free enough from myth and taboo to see the way things really are. With this freedom comes clarity and with clarity comes safety. When my “inner parent” has responsibly attended to the realistic dangers, then I can maintain a more steady and realistic trust.
Perhaps you are one who would be better off by being more cautious in the early stages of a relationship. Instead of incurring a string of “betrayals,” you might instead experience some “close calls.” Giving yourself permission to avoid naïve trust can help you make the difference.