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Trust and Mistrust in Love

Synopsis: The case of the nude photos and what’s best to learn from it; a terrible, fascinating truth about romantic-love trust; and a self-strengthening approach to building great, dependable, love trust; more.

The Case of the Nude Photos

“I’m in shock and don’t know which way to turn.  I just discovered nude photos of my teenage daughter on a phone I didn’t know my husband had.

 “Horrible scenarios are running through my head.  Are my husband and daughter involved in incest?  I can’t bear to think about it.  Should I call the police, see a lawyer, file for divorce?  Can I have both of them committed to a psych ward?  Is my husband a sex addict, or is my daughter?  Is everything I believed about my marriage a lie?  Am I one of those parents who doesn’t know what’s really going on with their kids?   I don’t trust anybody or anything any more.  Am I going crazy?  Is nothing the way I thought it was?  Is there anything or anyone I can trust?  Will I ever trust anybody again?”

As you can see Helen was having a huge ‘trust crisis’.  Up to the discovery of a strange iPhone in her husband’s briefcase, life had seemed pretty much normal and OK.  Her adolescent daughter had been a little rebellious but nothing serious seemed to be going on, until now.  Lately her husband had been kind of distant emotionally but also lately his business work-load had been extra heavy.  She, herself, had been stressed with projects demanding overtime at her office but about that there was ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.  Since her horrified discovery life was all panic and gut-wrenching disaster.  Her whole family seemed to be descending into nightmarish chaos – or so it seemed.

Helen said she couldn’t face all this alone so with some help she quickly was able to arrange for her husband and daughter to meet with her and a talented therapist intern of mine that evening in an emergency family counseling session.  She came in looking pale and shaking and her husband and daughter entered looking quite worried.  With fear and trepidation Helen confronted them with the sequence of events that had lead her to the discovery of the nude photos.  She got excellent support, clarification, interpretation, and help with sufficiency and accuracy from my intern.

Slowly the truth emerged and something resembling normalcy began to return.  It was revealed that Kendra, Helen’s teenage daughter, had been taking sexy, nude photos of herself and had been sending them to her boyfriend and her closest girlfriends, who were doing the same thing, like so many other kids at her school.  She explained it was quite a fad.  Bill, Helen’s husband, caught Kendra doing this and confiscated her phone.  He said he didn’t want to tell Helen about this until Helen’s big project at work was over.

Furthermore, Kendra had gotten him to promise that he and she would handle it because they thought Helen tended to over-react.  Kendra admitted she’d sort of manipulated her father into that promise.  Kendra also said she wouldn’t be doing any of this again, especially because her best girlfriend had gotten into really big trouble over this and was being sent away somewhere and she didn’t want that to happen to her.

After a lot of anguished bewilderment, confusion, anger mixed with relief and disappointment this family began to show each other love.  Soon they were able to agree that they should and could be a lot more self-disclosing to one another.  Helen agreed to work on not being so prone to panic, and Bill and Kendra agreed not to keep secrets from Helen.  They all agreed they would aspire to greater, loving communication of their important truths to each other, no matter what it was about, and they set out to do just that.  They made a ‘no big secrets contact’ with each other and that seemed to help a lot.  They further agreed that trust was built on ‘truth mixed with love’ and they made that their family goal.

What do you suppose you would do if you made a discovery similar to Helen’s?  Would your trust in your loved ones be shaken?  Would you lose trust in your own judgment?  Would you do as well as they did in patching things up and recovering from this episode?

Let me suggest the best thing to learn from this example is when experiencing strong mistrust do not jump to conclusions.  Quick conclusions are your enemy.  I can’t tell you how many love relationship problems I have helped people get through that were started by, or made much worse by, people drawing premature, erroneous conclusions.  Related to this is a second, huge, common, trust issue problem.  It’s the problem of keeping secrets.  So many mistrust calamities could have been avoided had the people involved been able to get their truth out in the open and discuss it, even if it hurt.  In successful, love relationships it takes sharing truth and that builds trust.  Hiding, avoiding, denial, distortions and mis-representations of the truth, more often than not, work against ‘trust building’ even when they are done for well-meaning reasons.

Trust Issues and Their Surprising Complications

Trust and mistrust issues are among the biggest problems in love relationships.  Do I trust you to be faithful?  Do I trust myself to remain faithful?  Can I love you and not trust you?  If I forgive you does it mean I have to trust you?  Do I trust myself to keep being loving no matter what?  Do I trust myself to have enough ‘attraction power’ to hold you or should I secretly spy and pry into your life to make sure you’re not betraying me?  Do I trust you not to turn into my mother, or my father?  Do I trust us enough to make a go of it?  Do I trust that our love can be strong enough to hold us together and survive what the world throws at us?   Do I trust in trusting?  Yes, there are great many trust issues that many people give no thought to until they have occasion to experience very upsetting mistrust.

It’s not only with lovers and spouses that we have trust issues.  Shall I trust my kids do what I have taught them?  Should I trust myself to be a good parent?  Can I trust that my family will support me in a crisis?  Will my avowed, true friends be there for me when I need them?  Will I come through for them when they call on me in crisis?  With every love relationship there can be heavy-duty trust challenges.  So, let’s ask this question.  How does healthy, real love guide us in facing all these trust issues?

Understanding Trust Itself

To answer the above questions let’s first look at a few ways trust is understood to work. Here’s a concept about how trust operates considered to be a little radical.  It goes like this:
All smart trust is really self-trust.  There’s no such thing as trusting other people.  There’s only trusting yourself to handle what others may send your way.  If you do not unconsciously, sufficiently trust your own ability to handle what someone else may bring to your life then you consciously will not trust them.  All trust and mistrust is projected self-trust or the lack there of.  The highly self-trusting find it easier to forgive and try again, while those who have low self-trust don’t.  It’s hard for them to forgive because they secretly know they can’t handle what might be done to them, or so goes this understanding of trust dynamics.  There is some research to support this kind of thinking.

Those who come to re-trust a person after betrayal tend to trust their own ability to handle things well even if they are betrayed again. The more ego-weak a person is the less they trust in others.  This apparently is true of many people, but not all.  Those who have a high self-trust tend to either easily choose to trust or not trust, but they seldom spend much time in uneasy, anxious mistrust of others.  There also is some research which suggests that the most highly mistrusting people are not to be trusted.  The na├»ve and innocent also give trust too easily.  And the frequently traumatized, abused and misused tend to place little trust in anyone.

Another viewpoint on trust goes like this.  All trust is a gamble and should be seen as such.  In love when we trust someone we are gambling on the person we love and on the love in the relationship.  Intelligent people know that some of these love-gambles will pay off and some will not.  Some people gamble on love and win enormously and some lose enormously.  In gambling the saying goes “if you can’t afford to lose, don’t bet”.  However, in love and other great life experiences the truth is "you can’t afford not to gamble".  Consider the old wisdom teaching “it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all”.  For most people that’s probably true.

Consider this concept.  The adventures of love bring people their biggest and most meaningful life experiences, even when they don’t win at love.  Some think nothing defines or develops a person so much as their love relationships.  However, those love relationships take great gambles of trust, or they are far too limited.  Whether it be love of a spouse, a child, a family, a people, a nation, a cause or a deity, to win big takes gambling on trust big.

There are important problems and exceptions to the above thinking.  Quite sadly there are far too many people who make the gamble of love with someone who will literally destroy them one way or another.  So many murders and terrible abuse tragedies are stories of love gone wrong.  So many people who die of a substance addiction were started on that addiction path by way of a poor or false-love relationship.  So many suicides, heart attacks, strokes and other sudden health failures occur after the loss of a love.

All too frequently the trust-gamble of love poorly chosen results in tragedy.  The good news is that people who learn about love and its workings make much better gambles of trust.  They, therefore, win at love more often and far bigger.  Another good news factor is that the vast majority of people win more than they lose when they gamble on love.

Romantic love, or mate or spouse love probably is the most problematic when it comes to trust issues.  Pet love and grandparent’s love of grandchildren probably are the types of love with the fewest, trust foul-ups and the most, trust related, good results.  Still every kind of love relationship can have trust problems.  Therefore, every love relationship deserves some thinking and probably talking about trust issues.

Mistrust In Love

One view of mistrust holds that the more untrustworthy you are the more you will not trust the people you love and who you hope love you.  If you are highly prone to deception you will suspect others are likewise deceptive.  Suspicion and mistrust can ruin an otherwise good love relationship.  Here’s what Marcia said, “You tapped my phone, secretly went through my things, had me followed, read my diary when I ask you not to, and now you’re asking me to trust you.  Not a chance!  I thought we had a good thing going.  Now I see how sneaky you are.  If you can’t trust me I don’t want to have anything more to do with you.  We are through, and that’s final!”  Love often demands that we gamble ‘trust in another’ and if instead we rely too much on mistrust, and the behaviors that mistrust leads to, a love relationship can become poisoned.

Romantic Love and Trust

In romantic love there is a terrible, fascinating truth.  The more we don’t trust our own worth, value, love-ability and attraction power the more we can become insecure.  The more we are insecure the more we subconsciously believe someone better than ourselves will come along and be more desirable than we are.  That "more desirable person" will steal our loved-one away from us and we will be abandoned, alone and unloved.  Therefore, we must mistrust and guard against our loved-one looking at other attractive people, talking to them, being around them without our supervision, looking at images of attractive sexy others, etc. and generally we must keep our loved-ones ‘on a short leash’ to keep them to ourselves.

That indicates we might feel like our loved-ones are our property like a dog, or a slave, who is going to run away.  With this kind of thinking any suspicious involvement with another must be punished severely and the leash shortened.  Usually the final result of the ‘short leash approach’ is to drive our loved ones away and possibly into the arms of someone better than us.  Mistrust frequently is, in effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A Self-Strengthening Approach to Building Love Trust

The best way to build trust is to become ‘psychologically big and strong’ enough to handle being very truthful in a loving way.  To be big in healthy self-love so as to be able to own up to one’s mistakes and problematic behavior is a highly desirable part of the trust-building process.  It also is important to become big and strong enough psychologically, and especially emotionally, so as not to be destroyed or irreparably harmed when a loved one disappoints, betrays or otherwise dishonestly deals with you.

Furthermore, it is quite important to grow big enough to maturely and magnanimously handle the truth when it comes your way, no matter how much it hurts, bothers or scares you.  Trust is built on truth-telling, truth-hearing, truth-sharing and generally dealing from strength.  Mistrust is built on weakness, deception, inability to accept and compassionately, lovingly deal with truth.  So, build your psychological strengths, especially those having to do with love and you will be able to handle your trust challenges far better.

As always – Go and Grow in Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question Are you as love trustworthy as you want the people you love to be?

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