When we are young and first getting into relationships it is easy to trust blindly. We don’t have a history of heartbreak which causes us to be suspicious of others’ motives and put walls up around our hearts. But a series of relationships that end badly can take its toll on even the strongest of us. To love someone and express our feelings makes us vulnerable. When things don’t go as we had hoped, we are also vulnerable to the pain of loss. In actuality it is not the loss of the person that’s the problem, but the loss of the expected outcome we projected that we grieve for. In order to protect ourselves, our natural tendency, or ego tendency, is to shut down our feelings. Often we are determined never to take unnecessary risks in the future, thereby avoiding this pain from occurring again. So how can we take what we’ve learned in previous relationships and use this wisdom to improve our chances in the next one, rather than become cynical and closed off?
Trust is the cornerstone of any good relationship. Once trust has been broken, or betrayed, it is extremely difficult to rebuild it. Trust starts to develop over time with the little things that we do and say in relationship with another. It begins with your first meeting, in fact. Following are some tips for establishing trust:
- Say what you mean and mean what you say. I hear a lot of people say they don’t want to play games, but if that’s true, you have to be willing to be honest with yourself and the other person. Don’t say things you don’t mean or aren’t feeling. This starts with the smallest of things. For example, if you say you are going to call tomorrow, then call tomorrow, not next week. If you don’t know when you’ll have time to call, say you’ll be in touch soon. Always follow through with what you say you’re going to do. If you have no interest in a second date, don’t make empty promises thinking it will make them feel better. It will always hurt you both more in the end.
- Don’t get ahead of yourself. Getting to know someone requires time and effort. Don’t start making long term plans for what you’re going to do together just because you’re swept away in the moment by spontaneous combustion. This tip is especially important for men, because women are auditory creatures and we remember what you say. If you promise too much too soon, we will question your short-term motives, or possibly feel let down in the future when you don’t come through with your big plans.
- Don’t make shit up. If you’re not yet in a committed relationship and you are still dating other people, don’t make up stories about what you are doing on Friday night when you are not together. It is better to say nothing at all, than to tell him/her that you are taking chicken soup to a sick friend or watching a game at a local sports bar with your friends. If the truth comes out because you are seen out on the town with someone else by a mutual friend, it will be much more damaging to back pedal, and will likely cause irreparable damage to what might have blossomed into an awesome relationship.
- Voice your concerns. Speak your truth. If certain behaviors or something he/she said is nagging at you, address it. We all know what happens when we ‘assume’ things. We can roll stories around in our heads like lottery balls until they are totally blown out of proportion. This is especially true if we’ve been hurt recently and certain words or actions raise a red flag for us. Rather than shutting down, or letting it stew, have a heart-to-heart talk about it. Bring the issue out in the open, even if it means you have to expose your own insecurities. If this is not well received by your partner, the chances of being accepted as you are in the future are slim anyway. So why would you want to waste any more time with someone who is not sensitive to your needs?
- Discuss previous relationships. I’m not saying you should come to a first date with a relationship resumé or go on ad nauseam about your last bad breakup or your ex. In fact, those are definite turn-offs. When you have been dating for awhile however, getting more serious and spending more and more time together, it is helpful to know what you are dealing with. Everyone carries with them the ‘baggage’ of previous relationships and it is easier to establish and maintain trust with someone if you know what their emotional hot buttons are. You may or may not feel equipped to handle these issues going forward, but isn’t it better to know up front rather than a year or so into the relationship?
Honest communication is the fundamental key to building trust in the beginning of any relationship. Let go of your fears and dare to be real. I think Dr. Seuss, whose wisdom went far beyond green eggs and ham, said it best:
“Be who you are and say what you feel. For those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
You are not only doing the other person a favor by being yourself, but you are doing yourself a disservice if you are not being you. It is way too much work to keep up a façade and life is so much more fun and stress-free when we are surrounded by people who accept us as we are.