What Makes a Successful Long Term Relationship? Part 1: Trust
What makes or what does it take to be in a long term relationship? I believe that based on my experience working with hundreds of different couples one of the most important things in having a long term and successful relationship is to have trust. Sometimes people think “well of course I trust my partner! They’re not going to cheat on me; that would never happen.” And that's 100 percent probably true but that's not the only thing that you need to trust your partner about. Trust is a very complicated concept and it's based on being vulnerable. If you fully trust someone you can be open, vulnerable and still feel safe. That is what real trust is. It's being in a very high-risk position emotionally and not being afraid. So when we're in a successful relationship we want there to be a lot of trust. Does every relationship have 100% trust? Not that I know of. There needs to be or it's best to have high levels of trust but you're never really going to get to a position where you're 100% trusting of the other person. It's just too dangerous and nobody's perfect. So we can't always 100% of the time be trusting or be trustworthy; it's just not human nature. But we can always try our best.
How Do You Build, Rebuild or Repair Trust in A Relationship
When we're talking about trust we're thinking of what are you doing and not necessarily what you're saying. I hear this often in couple sessions. One partner will say well he/she said they were going to stop doing that thing. She was going to stop yelling at me for leaving the bathroom light on. And then a time comes and she can't help herself and she yells at him for leaving the bathroom light on. Although that seems really silly that's a breach of trust. When there's a breach of trust sometimes it piles up on each other. When these breaches of trust pile up on each other it becomes a bigger issue and that's what leads to conflict. That's what leads to many people feeling unsupported, unsafe or just not comfortable in their relationship. How then can you either build or maintain trust? Whenever clients come into my office it's very common to be in a situation where they want to repair or rebuild trust. Or if they are in a new relationship they're just trying figure out how to build trust.
Respect is the Cornerstone of Trust in A Long Term Relationship
Here are some things that you should consider in being a trustworthy partner and what to look out for in having a trustworthy partner. First I like to think about respect. Respect is huge. If you are not respecting your partner and if your partner is not respecting you there is no way that you're going to be able to get to that very vulnerable place and feel safe. Respect is incredibly important. Now respect doesn't necessarily mean that you just do or agree with whatever the other person says or does. You can always disagree in a very respectful way. If you're not respectful that's going to wear down on trust big-time. So the number one thing to be mindful of for yourself and look out for in other people is do they respect you.
Establish Trust in Your Relationship by Keeping Promises
Keeping promises is essential to building trust in a relationship. Don't make promises that you don't intend to keep. When you make a promise you really do need to keep it. In my previous example about the wife yelling at the husband for leaving the bathroom light on and she said she would stop but she couldn't help herself. Well that could be a situation where the wife needed to decide “I think this is going to be harder than it seems. I don't know if I can stop myself from yelling at him for leaving on the light in the bathroom.” And it might also be a case where she shouldn't have made the promise. Maybe she forgot that she made the promise. Promises are a big deal! Don't make them lightly. If you cannot keep a promise don't promise it because it just erodes trust. It makes things much more challenging in a relationship.
Keeping Secrets Can Erode Trust in a Relationship
Let cover secrets. To have a trust filled relationship or to have a successful relationship filled with trust keeping secrets is probably not a good idea. If you have a secret it's really hard to keep it because you're going to be seeing your partner day after day, week after week, month after month. Keeping a secret really erodes something inside of you as the person keeping a secret. The other thing is many times no matter how hard we work our secrets get found out and that creates a huge rift in a relationship. Trust is devastated when there's a secret kept and then found out later on. Do your best and try not to keep secrets. This also goes back to being respectful. If you're respectful you won't need to keep secrets because you'd be able to communicate in an appropriate way. You won’t have to worry about admitting to something that you may have done that was not so good. Again we are all human, we all make mistakes, and we all have moments where we don't make the best choice. The best thing to do in a trusting loving and successful relationship it's to own up to our mistakes, talk it through and not keep it a secret. When you communicate do so in a calm and clear fashion. Trusting and successful relationships are two people communicating openly and clearly. Again no secrets, no empty promises, no yelling, no screaming; you're just talking. You can talk in a very heated manner and still be respectful. You can still make your points without being mean or nasty. It takes work believe me but that's what a really solid and successful relationship is built upon. The trust that you can open up to each other, say things that are hard and still be okay together.
How to Disagree in a Relationship and Not Lose Trust
This leads to my next point which is being able to disagree in an appropriate manner. No relationship is ever going to be 100% in agreement all the time. It's just not realistic. So be prepared that in a successful and long-term relationship you're going to have some disagreements. Again it goes back to respect. If you can respectfully disagree, talk things out, negotiate to try to figure out if there's some kind of a middle ground; that's building trust. Being able to talk about hard things and not being afraid to disagree is a trustful relationship. Remember to always try to disagree appropriately or as I also like to think of as “do not cause harm.”
Build Trust by Not Taking Things Personally
The last thing that I'd like to talk about in having a successful long-term relationship based on trust is don't take things personally. When you trust that someone has your best interest at heart and what they're saying isn't maybe coming out in the most eloquent way, let's trust that their intentions are good. They may not be saying it the right way in the moment but let's, if you can, trust that their intention are good. It makes it a lot easier to not take something personally. When we start to take things personally it automatically fires up into a huge argument. It becomes a back and forth “he said, she said” and it can get really ugly fast. Trust deteriorates quickly when we take things personally. Again it’s not easy to do. I think that building trust or having trust in a relationship sounds easy. You think “Of course I trust my partner.” But it's really not that easy. It takes a lot of work on your end to be in a nice trusting relationship and it takes a lot of work on your partner’s end to be in that trusting relationship. It's dangerous being vulnerable. You can get really hurt. Trusting that the other person has your best interest in mind and that they want to try to work with you to resolve whatever thing is happening it's going to make the happy times even better. You don't have to worry. So my prescription for being in a happy and success full long-term relationship is to get some trust, keep the trust, build the trust. You have to make trust happen because it doesn't just happen on its own. It’s about respect, keeping promises, not keeping secrets, communicating clearly, disagreeing in an appropriate manner and not taking things personally. Focusing on these things is going to help you really develop the relationship you have now or help you to find the relationship that you've always wanted.
(Transcribed from a 6/20/19 Facebook Live)