Ask Elizabeth: Building Trust Bridges

Elizabeth Brennan

I have recently met a new guy. We seem to have some common interests and there is a definite physical attraction between us. He is keen to explore the possibility of us ‘cementing’ (his phrase) our friendship into a ‘concrete relationship’ (his terminology again). But I am wary.

Twelve months ago, a five year relationship I was in blew up. I felt extremely betrayed. I had given my partner my complete trust and he abused it. He accused me of making promises and not keeping them but this is not the case. It was him who didn’t keep the bloody promises! I don’t want that experience again. I don’t really know if I can trust anyone again – yet also wish I was involved in a good relationship. I feel quite lost – and certainly fearful of any ‘cementing’. Got anything ‘concrete’?

Concrete Critic

Trust is critical to healthy, strong relationships. Of its very nature, our humanity is composed of a deep need for us to rely on others. Graeme Green says, “It is impossible to go through life without trust. That is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all … oneself”. Trust is an amazing gift we both give and receive. The question is, what does trust look like? What are the components of this gift, this trust? Where and how do we find this gift and, perhaps most importantly, keep it, don’t lose it?

Vanessa Hall, from Sydney, published a little book in 2007 called ‘The Simple Truth about Trust’. She cites the ingredients of trust as: expectations, needs and promises; what she calls ENPs. “Trust is something that needs to be built”, she says.

Let’s build a Trust Bridge – in a similar form to a megalithic portal, seen in places such as Stonehenge.

One support of the bridge is expectations. We all bring expectations into our relationships based on past experiences; things we’ve learned, seen, heard, read – our entire basket of happenings. For this support of our Trust Bridge to be sturdy and reliable, we need to take the risk, to be open to vulnerability and communicate our expectations. We also need to listen to the other person’s expectations without judgment or cynicism.

The second support of the Trust Bridge is needs. Again, as humans we all have needs – and, importantly, we have the right to express those needs. That does not necessarily mean we will have all those needs met and we must accept that no one person can meet all our needs. Our needs can be basic: shelter, warmth, food, safety. They can rise to a need to belong, for respect, for love and acceptance and culminate in a need for space to grow and develop. Again, for this support to our Trust Bridge, sharing with each other our needs, exploring how we might assist in helping each other meet these needs is what ‘cements’ that vital support to the bridge.

The lintel – that which connects the two supports – is built of promises. For this lintel to do what it is supposed to – connect – we need to be able to differentiate between implicit promises and explicit promises. Implicit promises are things that are suggested or things we think we have heard. Explicit promises are clearly stated and must be honoured. We then know exactly what we are going to give/receive.

Sitting on top of the lintel, in the middle, is trust. While the two supports and the lintel, the connection, are constantly nurtured and respected, the portal stands its ground. Trust is solidified. When the foundations are not cherished, are not re-invigorated by open, non-judgemental communication, they become shaky – and trust collapses and smashes to the ground.

Your portal does need to be built; it does need to be ‘concretised’. It does not arise miraculously from the ground. If you really desire a life-giving relationship, you – as all of us – need to construct the foundation of a strong Trust Bridge, the elements of which are the ENPs: expectations, needs and promises that are acknowledged as ever changing, always evolving. And this evolution – like all growing things – requires nurture and care which is embodied in honest communication. Trust is then assembled.

Just remember – trust, itself, can never be ‘concretised’. It is always dependent on the strength of its foundations.

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