Re-Building Trust

Thursday, May 10th, 2012 at 11:56 am

How To Re-Build Trust


As you can see by the title, the word “re-build” implies that the trust between the two of may have been damaged.  The damage may range from minimal to substantial.

The range of events that can have a negative impact on trust goes from minor things that we say we will do but don’t do all the way on up to physical violence, infidelity.

What follows are a few things to consider when repairing it.

There are three fundamental elements that effect restoring trust:
1.  Family of origin impact on the brain

2.  The couples’ talking and listening process

3.  Lies of omission and lies of co-mission

Family of Origin Impact On the Brain

Obviously, we all have our own separate, distinct, individual brain. In general, most of us are raised in one of the two possible early, family of origin states: one in which family trauma predominated. This trauma can come from the severely or chronic alcoholic or drug addict, frequent physical abuse or domestic violence, or something that beset the family that made the children and the parents live in a state of fear.  In general, the environment did not feel safe.

The second situation was that of fundamental stability. The usual ups and downs occurred, there was conflict, but it was usually managed effectively, and the basic homeostasis in the family was one in which there was relative calm, the ability to learn, and each of the individuals felt that they were valued, loved and cherished.  Most of all, the environment felt safe.

Here is why these situations are so pivotal later on in life in our primary relationships when we’re faced with the task of rebuilding trust:

If you come from the first situation, your brains is accustomed to looking for danger,  and are unable to see  what’s not dangerous. i.e., that which is good or positive. The state of alertness feels “normal.” This is the brain that is not able to find relief, and is typically in a constant state of vigilance.

In the survival state your brain looks for real or imagined threat. In some situations is unable to distinguish between the two.
Ofttimes people raised in this high alert state are criticized for being negative, cynical, pessimistic, and angry. In fact,   these are individuals who are always in a chronic state of pain and fear. They are so used used to being in that state of pain that it feels normal to them.

Later on during typical difficulties in their relationships, difficulties we all face from time to time, their tendency will be to look for what the partner does wrong, and avoid seeing and/or pointing out what their partner does right. You can begin to see now how that’s going to to make trust very difficult to build. The bottom line is this:  if you are trained for survival, you will notice danger, even in place where it does not exist.

In that context it makes it very difficult for the partner, after having been criticized for doing something wrong, and who then makes an effort toward correcting their behavior, to trust their partner will see them for who they truly are. When the survival oriented partner sees the other as quasi enemy, trust takes a back seat.

The Couples’ Talking and Listening Process

Rebuilding trust with a couple involves the couple’s process itself.  By process I mean how a couple actually talks and listens to each other when they’re dealing with a difference.  If the process between the couple involves interruptions, outbursts of anger, withdrawal, getting up and leaving the room, etc., the process is flawed, and trust will suffer.

It is not unusual for couples from relatively safe backgrounds to have process difficulties.  One process issue that comes into play for couples is elevated reactivity. If you are an interrupter, find a way to listen; if you get loud or yell, work on reducing the impulse to yell;  if you get silent and withdraw, take a risk to speak up These are very common process issues at all couples face to some extent or another.

Lies of Omission and Lies of Co-mission

The third element that goes into building trust has to do with lies of omission and lies of omission.

A lie of omission is something that is not said, but, had it been said would have provided a more accurate or honest picture to the listener.  Typically a lie of omission is conscious, although not always.

A lie of co-mission is something that is said that is not true. The lie of co-mission is the is the purposeful distortion of a fact or a element that is put forth to purposely keep the truth from the listener. Obviously, a steady flow of either type of lie will not help building trust.

1.) So, what do you do? You check in with yourself and your family history and if you have a family of trauma, go figure out how to start to look for the stuff that’s good instead of being on the alert. That may take some counseling, but do it is worth it.

2.)  Next check the process between the two of you. See where you need to make improvements in how you listen and how you talk to one another so that your messages are put across in a way they can be heard, and when they are heard whether or not they’re heard accurately. If you need help with that, seek counseling, especially if you need help reducing your reactivity.

3.) Stop lies of co-mission and lies of omission. If you’re telling little white lies or big fantastic lies, trust will always be damaged. On the other hand, if you’re omitting things that can help your partner better understand you or situations, which prevent a clearer picture of what’s going on, you will have trouble building trust. Remember,  in many instances what’s not said is just as important as what is said.

Trust is a complicated matter. There are several elements that go into building the trust. These are only three elements to look at that can help advance the two of you on the road to greater trust, intimacy and connection. Bottom line, however, is that without trust, love is usually painful.

If you run in to roadblocks in your effort to rebuild trust, seek professional counseling–it can significantly speed your progress.


Wishing you a satisfying relationship,

Jim Hutt, Ph.D., MFT


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1 Comment »

  1. I really like your discussion here about trust and dealing with trust related issues. Especially in your perspective of the importance of lies of omission. In my practice, I work with many individuals who really struggle with this, because it is suiting their desires at the time. Great advice.

    Comment by Michael Salas — November 27, 2012 @ 1:15 am

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