Staying Out of Your Reptilian Brain to Help Build Relationship Trust

Which part of your brain do you use to manage your most important relationship?

As we continue our blog series on Trust, remember that LIFE has recently released its online course, “Rescuing Trust” where you can learn the principles and skills to grow and restore trust in your marriage. Go to https://lifemarriageretreats.com/rescuingtrust/O

Which part of your brain do you want managing your marriage?

In these past few blogs we have been examining how to build trust through a conscious effort to make and keep promises and to make regular deposits into one another’s Emotional and Trust Bank Account. Another great gift from these interest bearing accounts: Even when something bad or stressful happens in your life or relationship, the end result does not have to be negative or hurtful, depending on how we respond to the challenge. Let’s take a look at our human brain. You see the image above divides our brain into three general areas: The Reptilian Brain, left over from our ancient ancestors, is focused on instinct, dominance, survival, and the need to be right. The Mammal Brain where our emotions are formed, and the Human, or reasoning part of our Brain.

Pop Quiz: Which one of those brain areas do you NOT want in charge of your most important relationship? Right, we don’t want the Reptilian Brain and it’s need to dominate, fight, and survive in charge when having a crucial conversation with our partner. Pop Quiz part 2: Which part of the brain do we humans tend to default to when our marriage is struggling and our fear, resentment, and mistrust are escalating? Right again, that part that pumps all the oxygen out of your brain to your fight or flee muscles, leaving you with the reasoning power of a lizard in your time of need.

Profound results of moving from our reptilian to our human brain

As you consciously move out of the so-called “reptilian” part of your brain that is governed by your reactive survival and self-defense instincts and your need to be right, and instead move to the thinking and reasoning portions of your brain, you will be led to make deposits into your own and other’s emotional bank accounts in challenging times (such as those times of conflict I mentioned in the previous blog post).

As you stay conscious and in your human or Responsive brain you will consider possible results before you speak or act. You will be much more likely to invite ultimately fulfilling and joyful results, not the depressing and stressful ones you might have become accustomed to by reacting with defensiveness or aggression. How would that be to end a discussion with your partner regarding an issue of conflict, in a better more trusting place than when you began? You can!

Don’t fear emotions in your communication, just manage them

By the way, some people who fear their own or their partner’s expressions of emotion might look at the brain diagram and say, “Well, I sure don’t think we should manage our relationship from our Mammal Brain where we experience our emotions.” We often tell couples they don’t have to leave their emotions at the door when dealing with relationship issues, but to process and express those emotions through their reasoning Human brain to help them determine the most healthy ways to express them. Emotions are natural, but we are accountable for how we manifest them.

If Margo ever has what I perceive as a bad moment toward me I might feel a brief stab of hurt or anger, but not for long. I know Margo. She has made so many deposits into my emotional and trust piggy bank that the inevitable issues between us don’t come close to overdrawing the account. I know she is still on the journey with me and that a brief misstep by either of us does not endanger our ultimate destination. That brings a feeling of deep confidence and safety to our relationship.

As we wrap up the discussion on promises and piggy banks, please do not take the simple vision I gave you of a checkbook or piggy bank beyond what it is meant to be, just a simple visualization of the good that comes from making and keeping promises and treating one another with kindness and respect. Don’t turn it into a scorecard and spend your time obsessing over perceived overdrafts and spending limits. If you stay out of your reptilian brain and conscious of your promises and have good intentions, you will inevitably see your relationship accounts grow.

The 5:1 Rule on Building Trust in Marriage

In our previous post we described the rewards of making regular deposits into our partner’s Emotional Trust Bank Account. In fact research by Dr. John Gottman and our own personal experience suggests that what really separates healthy and thriving couples from those in marital misery is a specific balance between the negative and positive feelings and actions toward one another, especially during times of conflict. So for a moment here we are simply looking at how the couple interacts with one-another when the chips are down, when they don’t see eye-to-eye. You can probably identify with those times.

The research is clear that we need to produce at least 5 positive indications and responses for every negative one to find our way to healthy resolution of conflict and re-securing shaky trust. We see this truth borne out at every Retreat we do.

In the heat of the moment

At a recent Retreat I tuned in carefully to a couple, Millie and Tony, as they worked through a very painful and delicate issue that had brought their relationship to the brink. They both harbored hurt and resentment which, if a couple is not careful and aware, can lead to being swept away in negative emotions and blame. They had spent much of the previous year of conflict in a state of emotional and trust account bankruptcy and it was hard to break out of old habits. And indeed, in this conversation, this good couple found their voices rising a time or two, and Millie said once, “Are you blind! What were you thinking?!”

As the conversation went on I gave them some coaching but, more often than not, they caught themselves in time to right the ship. On the image I have noted some of Millie’s actual words. Her exasperated statement is on the right, and on the left you can see five more positive expressions expressed during part of the conversation that, in turn:

  1. Validated Tony’s feelings
  2. Let him know that she was working to understand his perspective
  3. Apologized for her demeaning comment
  4. Brought up a positive memory and his part in it
  5. Thanked Tony for his efforts at showing her patience

This was an hour-long conversation and there were a couple of more examples of flaring emotions, but far more instances of open, positive, and accountable statements that led Tony and Millie to a sense of unity and trust. They weren’t keeping score of withdrawals and deposits, but they were consciously making efforts to make honest deposits into one-another’s emotional and trust bank accounts and they ended up staying well within the solvency of the 5:1 rule, finding solutions and, more important, forgiveness.

It is worth the effort!

Obviously, when we are getting along with our spouse it feels easier to say and do positive and affirming things. It seems easier to keep a positive cycle of Thoughts, Behaviors, and Feelings going. During those times 8 or 10 to 1 might not be a stretch.

When you were dating that number probably seemed forever attainable, but somehow slowly got turned upside-down to where you find yourself today. How do you get yourself turned right side up again? Well, consciously creating lots of positive trust account deposits, and fewer negative ones will be a big part of the answer. Remember, the Make and Keep promises plan is one way we can consciously create more positive deposits. You will find something powerful in bringing that same level of consciousness, and even planning, to making many other deposits moment to moment every day.

Begin right now. You can choose to dwell on the problems and disappointments in your relationship, and talk endlessly about your partner’s negatives. That is guaranteed to create stress and drain the well-being from both of your accounts and the marriage. Or you can set your mind to be grateful. You can choose to notice and appreciate the good things in your relationship and about your spouse. Instead of making a sarcastic remark, you can offer a sincere compliment, they both take about the same amount of effort, and the compliment will bring a much better result than the sarcasm. Instead of complaining or nagging, tell your partner what you appreciate about him or her. By increasing the ratio of positives in your relationship, you will increase the level of happiness and satisfaction you both feel.The rewards will come quickly.

The Emotional Trust Bank Account- A Key to Trust

(We are celebrating the release of LIFE’s new online course, “Rescuing Trust,” focusing our blog posts on ways to build trust in our blog posts.)

In our previous blog we focused on building trust through making and keeping promises. What you are really doing as you make and keep a promise to another person is making a deposit into that person’s emotional and trust bank account. We all have such an account and just as we are pleased to watch our financial bank account grow as deposits are made, it is equally satisfying when deposits are made into our Emotional and Trust accounts.

 While you might see your account as a bank statement I choose to envision mine as a simple piggy bank, or even a coin bottle, and see coins being slipped into the slot on top and hearing the satisfying clink as they join other quarters, dimes, and silver dollars.

Making deposits into our partner’s Trust Account

Those deposits come not simply by making and keeping promises. You will also contribute to the account through spending quality time together; offering heartfelt acknowledgment and compliments, occasionally bringing home a special gift, sharing meaningful conversations, forgiving mistakes and hurts, remembering anniversaries and other special days, and many more deposits.

Notice on the second image a foundational deposit in highlighted font that will naturally lead you to many other deposits: Commit to yourself simply to not hurt other people’s feelings, then get in the habit of taking a moment before responding to someone in a stressful situation. I promise you that this can turn into a beautiful life-giving habit and will lead to a consistent flow of positive deposits into your spouse’s Trust Account.

By the way, there is big time interest paid on emotional bank accounts because when you make a deposit into someone else’s account, you inevitably make one into your own as well, and that’s important for your self-esteem and life view.

Painful withdrawals from the Trust Account

A bank account or a piggy bank implies that if there are deposits being made there likely are also some withdrawals that might happen. Yuck. I hate seeing my money bank account go down, but it is even worse being involved in a trust account withdrawal.

A withdrawal might be an unkind word, a missed opportunity to acknowledge another person, a broken promise, or a refusal to forgive. Or, in the simple terms I just mentioned, hurting another person’s feelings.  In our human relationships we will all make deposits into and withdrawals from one another’s emotional and trust bank accounts. The key is to make significantly more deposits than withdrawals.

In our next post we will talk about a magical ratio to building trust: the 5:1 Rule.

Making and Keeping Promises–A Building Block of Trusting Relationships

At our LIFE Marriage Retreats we place great focus on the couples making and keeping promises to their partner. Some of these promises are made for the duration of the Retreat and might include offer of some service, such as giving their partner a backrub each night of the Retreat. Other promises focus on conflict resolution and changes of behavior as the couple seeks to bring their marriage to higher and happier ground. Whatever the case, one of the fastest ways to build trust with another person is to consistently make and keep promises, even simple ones, to that person.

Allow me to give you one powerful example of making and keeping a promise. We once worked with a couple, Jason and Michelle, whose trust in one another had been shaky for years, then had finally been shattered through infidelity.

Michelle’s promise to Jason

They had separated before the Retreat and Jason’s main hope in attending the Retreat was to simply figure out how to end the marriage somewhat amicably. They did rediscover some of their civility and friendship during the Retreat but he had no intention of moving back in. But Michelle made a promise at the Retreat that she would take responsibility, even as the processes toward divorce started, to create at least one meaningful interaction per week between them. Jason accepted the promise, wanting to keep some connection at least for the children’s sake. And Michelle delivered on the promise, week after week, month after month.

She arranged to have dinner together once in a while. She invited him to go grocery shopping with her; they went on walks together and talked about the children. She invited him to help her look on the Internet for a gift for his mother. They kept up the communication technique they had learned at the Retreat, and gradually they felt safer with one another and began to trust.

Creating frequent and safe interactions together

Frequent and safe interactions are essential to rebuilding trust, and Michelle’s promise went directly to that need. Michelle and Jason are now back together and happy, because Michelle had the courage to make and keep a promise, and because Jason accepted the promise and supported Michelle in keeping it. Now their promises are about whose turn it is to put the kids to bed, and who is finding babysitters for date night, and they keep those too. Have no doubt about this: their relationship was very nearly dead and now it is thriving, and made and kept promises are one of the keys to that miracle. Think of the power this type of promise can have on any average marriage. Limitless possibilities.

I get it that sometimes trust has been so damaged that it is hard to imagine small commitments growing into something meaningful. But remember that your downward spiral likely started with small broken promises and forgotten commitments and vows. You get to start your exhilarating upward climb somewhere and making and keeping some simple but meaningful promises to your partner is a a great place to begin.

You can find a detailed program for building trust by making and keeping promises in our new online course, “Rescuing Trust,” coming soon.

Six Things the Happiest Couples Say to Each-Other that Build Daily Trust

After 15 years of working with couples at our LIFE Marriage Retreats and through our AfterCare program, we have come to recognize some commonalities among those couples who take their relationships to the highest and happiest ground. Certainly all those couples followed crucial principles and practices to work through the often daunting issues that had created crisis in their marriages, but just as important, they brought simple daily words and gestures into their lives to continue growing their relationship trust and fulfillment into the future.

“I’m here for you.”

Happy couples know their partner has their back. They trust that home will always be a sanctuary from a world that can sometimes feel a little cold and uncaring. They feel strengthened and renewed by a partner who understands their needs and cares about their well-being, and reminds them of that often. Think of how safe it feels to face life’s challenges with someone you can count on.

“I noticed the good that you did. Thank you!”

Acknowledgment and gratitude are powerful love languages for most people. Struggling couples tend to focus in on what their partner does wrong rather than noticing what they do right, leading to frustration for everyone concerned. Grateful couples know that they will influence their partner in positive ways by noticing and cheering their contributions, not by nitpicking their stumbles. All of us want to feel respected and acknowledged, especially by the most important person in our lives. Happy couples find ways to express gratitude for one another every day, not just on the annual birthday or Valentines cards.

“Can I help you with that?”

Offers of a helping hand to a partner faced with a task or a challenge are a clear expression of love that speak volumes to their heart. Acts of service are unmistakable ways of communicating the message “I care.” Happy couples find that place known as interdependence. They are not dependent on one another in powerless ways, but find joy in the unity of being a team and able to lean on one another appropriately.

“I’m Sorry.”

As we are counseling with couples early in their journey to healing we often sense moments when, if one or the other could simply muster up the humility and courage to express a heartfelt apology, we know the walls that have build up between them would begin to crumble. It’s hard to stay silent and allow them to work to that point in their own time. But as they communicate and reconnect at the Retreat the time finally comes when the cleansing apologies can be spoken and forgiveness extended. With that experience, a couple learns that a consistent willingness to take accountability and express regret for a misstep will keep the air clear and prevent the inevitable hurts and frustrations from festering.

“I feel…”

Vulnerability is a powerful way to build trust with your partner. Sharing feelings, hopes, dreams, and concerns with one-another helps bring an accuracy to our feelings and expectations. Struggling couples find it hard to trust enough to be vulnerable so they are left to write their own scripts about what their partner might be thinking or feeling, and almost always those stories they tell themselves will be inaccurate and even damaging. Happy couples know what this beautiful quote about friendship means: “A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”

“I would like it if…”

The happiest couples are willing to talk about their wants and needs, and listen to those of their partner. Even after years of companionship they don’t take things for granted or believe they know everything that is important to one another. Helping each other fulfill legitimate physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs is one of the most effective trust building practices for a couple. Such caring and giving inevitably leads to a depth of trust and emotional and physical intimacy and connection that remain unavailable to those couples that are too busy or afraid to share honestly about needs and what helps them to feel valued.

Stay conscious of opportunities to speak such words of peace regularly in your marriage

If you have gotten out of the habit of acknowledging and thanking your partner, apologizing for the inevitable stumbles, and sharing your thoughts, feelings, and needs with one-another, set a goal to get into those good habits again. It might feel hard to break through the ice and walls that have built up between you, but stay true and both of your hearts will soften and the way will be cleared to take your relationship to higher and happier ground!

You can read more about other relationship-building daily expressions in Kelsey Borresen’s book, “11 Things the Happiest Couples Say to Each Other all the Time.”

Effective and Lasting Ways to Build Trust in Marriage

LIFE will soon be releasing a new online course focused on Rescuing Trust. This blog series on trust gives a taste of some areas the course will explore.

At our LIFE Retreats we sometimes ask our couples, “What is the fastest way to build Trust with another person?” This is always a remarkable experience for us because we see a reservoir of wisdom in our couples and receive deep insights into some of the specific things they are struggling with. Here are some of their answers. See if they might be mini-lessons for you:

What Builds Measurable Trust?

  • Be Authentic and Honest. Don’t hide behind masks or defensiveness. (Remember, honesty does not have to be impatient or unkind)
  • Be Empathetic. Seek to understand, to see more than just your own Perspective.
  • Listen with your Heart, as well as your Ears. People can tell the difference.
  • Be Accountable for the things you say and do. Step out of justification and defensiveness.
  • Be unfailingly respectful
  • Be Vulnerable and invite vulnerability. Share your feelings.
  • Be Accepting of others (this does not mean we accept negative behavior, but we always accept others as people of worth and value).
  • Show Compassion.
  • Serve the other person. What a great tool service is to breaking down walls.
  • Have an attitude of Selflessness, not self-centeredness.
  • Seek to Forgive through times of hurt or disappointment.

Trustworthiness is a way of being

Aren’t those wonderful insights spoken from yearning hearts? As I hear them at Retreat after Retreat I still feel little chills in my spine as good people speak truth brighter than diamonds. As you experience life and marriage deeply you learn that trust comes not so much from a to-do list, but are found in our ways of being, how we are in our hearts.

All of the principles just mentioned can be powerful aids in building relationship trust, and different relationship circumstances might call for specific ones to rise to the top of the list for you, so go back and review them if necessary. We will touch on some of these and others in greater detail in future posts. Next time we will give you a very simple but crucial key to build trust and create measurable and fast positive results in your relationship.

The Marriage Dance of Trust-Part 2

Real change or “pretend” change?

In the previous post I introduced you to Matt and Cindy, an actual couple that was grappling with maintaining hope in building relationship trust even as they worked to resolve the negative realities of the past. Their so-called marriage dance had turned to something awkward and disconnected with plenty of stepping on toes.

When we left Matt and Cindy, Cindy was expressing doubt that Matt’s new-found attention to her and the relationship would last. Matt felt frustrated that Cindy could not see what he felt was “real” change from him.

He responded to Cindy, “But it’s different this time. I know things I didn’t know before. I see more clearly how close we are to losing our marriage and family. I will never go back to how I was!” And as he says it, Matt believes it. And indeed, it might well be true this time. But as Matt was talking Cindy was probably envisioning something like this cartoon of a man saying to his wife, “Look, I can’t promise to change but I can promise I’ll pretend to change.” Most of us can probably relate to one or both sides of this cartoon.

The fact is, Cindy had some work to do in encouraging Matt and his changes, and in making her own changes to contribute to the success of the relationship, but she was correct in her observation. How was she supposed to trust Matt when promises had been made and broken before? How could she overcome her doubt and past disappointment to trust again? There is always risk in trusting another person but sometimes it is difficult to even want to take that leap again.

Matt and Cindy came to understand an important concept during the Retreat and in the following months as we continued working with them in our AfterCare program. They realized that while there can be a wonderful sense of hope and mutual support as a couple seeks a better relationship, ultimately for trust and true safety to grow, Matt and Cindy would need to experience long term changes that would be manifested through measurable Results in their marriage.

Rebuilding trust calls for effort from both partners

While it is appropriate for us to expect to see results before offering our full trust to another, in personal relationships both parties must contribute to the process. In the case of Matt and Cindy, even though Matt had made positive changes (yet to be determined if temporary or permanent), Cindy was standing back, skeptical of Matt’s commitment and having little faith that he would stay true to his promises. Like it or not, this negative energy led Matt to wonder for a while, “Then why should I bother? You have me tucked into my little pigeon hole and you are never going to see me differently.” Sound familiar?

You might be surprised to discover how often you inadvertently invite the very behavior from your partner that you so want them to change.

Do you hear the Thoughts, Behaviors, and Feelings cycle we mentioned in previous posts going on with both Cindy and Matt? As Cindy thought her skeptical thoughts, she would quickly get pulled into feedback and behaviors guaranteed to undermine hers and Matt’s efforts, and she would unconsciously invite the old negative behavior from Matt. If Matt lost himself in self-pity or righteous indignation he would lose his momentum and enthusiasm for positive change, leading to Cindy’s self-fulfilling prophecy, “I knew you couldn’t do it.”

There is a crucial principle that can help us bridge the gap from doubt and fear to inviting growth and trust. To build an atmosphere within which trust can grow, we must move to something beyond teeth gritting tolerance, hurt feelings, and hopeless waiting, such as Cindy and Matt were experiencing.

We must find Acceptance for one-another

We all recognize that everyone needs tolerance in a marriage. But tolerance is meant to be something transitional, not permanent. Tolerance helps us to take the time we need to seek to understand another person and their behavior, and to find solutions to issues and challenges that arise.

But the key transition that tolerance helps us make is to acceptance of other people. If we remain in only tolerance, it will eventually harden into resentment. So while we do not excuse or accept negative behavior from another person, we always strive to see them as people of value, deserving of our respect and consideration. Without acceptance in a relationship the parties will fall into varying levels of defensiveness and aggressiveness, or just checking  out, leading to a breakdown of connection and trust.

Just as a couple on the dance floor is taking risks in potential stumbles and losing the rhythm, the risk of giving in a relationship without the certainty of receiving back is real. But if you have ever felt the pure joy of giving your all on the dance floor, even with some awkward steps along the way, you have one tiny glimpse of the surpassing joy that comes from connecting with another person, even if imperfectly, in the amazing dance of marriage.

The Marriage Dance of Trust–and how to Recover from Stumbles

Invite and Inspire Your Partner to Join in the Relationship Dance

If you have worked with LIFE Marriage Retreats before, or read some of our blog posts and other materials over the years, you will note that the accountability to create positive results and grow the trust in your relationship starts with YOU. You don’t need to wait for your partner to be prepared or for them to make the first step. This is about Invite and Inspire. You invite your partner to trust you through the building of your own trustworthiness, and at the same time you Inspire them to build their own trustworthiness.

Dr. Dana Fillmore compares marriage to a dance. When one dancing partner changes the dance step or rhythm part way through a dance, their partner will likely try to adjust to match the new dance. In marriage, one partner can enormously influence their partner by changing their own intentions and behaviors, thus inviting their partner to join in this new and joyful marriage dance. Your influence is powerful.

Matt and Cindy’s Difficult Dance

We worked once with a couple named Matt and Cindy. They had experienced a long decline in their marriage relationship. Over the years they made promises to each other to change and improve and indeed there were brief periods of happier times, but things always settled back into previous behaviors and patterns. While they both were responsible for the relationship mess and Cindy had plenty to work on, both agreed that Matt had the more difficult time sticking to new relationship plans and commitments.

He would, for a time, be conscientious in spending time and having meaningful communication with Cindy, and being his word more completely, but then seemed to drift back into spending most of his free time with friends, or tinkering out in the garage, and slipping on his commitments, placing minimal energy into the relationship. They had both reached a point where they felt they had only one chance left to break through and find happiness so they came to a LIFE Marriage Retreat.

In the weeks leading up to the Retreat Matt worked hard to engage more fully in his relationship with Cindy, taking time for dates, helping more around the house, and even taking some initiative to engage in meaningful conversations with her. It was easy to see at the Retreat that Matt was feeling good about his efforts and the progress he had made.

He was surprised when, in one of their private sessions with us, Cindy expressed her hurt and disappointment over his lack of effort in the relationship over the years and how lonely she felt. Matt seemed genuinely mystified by her words and responded by pointing out positive contributions he had recently made. He concluded by asking, “Haven’t you seen the changes I have made? Don’t you notice the difference in our relationship?”

Cindy responded with the words we have heard hundreds of times over the years working with troubled couples. “Matt, I have noticed your efforts. But I have seen them before for a few days or a few weeks, but they never last. You always go back to the same old Matt. Then, as your efforts fade, I find myself retreating behind my walls to protect myself from being hurt again. How am I supposed to trust a couple of weeks of better behavior now?”

The Dilemma of Matt and Cindy that We all Share

Matt and Cindy were in a place where both of them wanted to believe and take the next big steps to relationship trust, but they didn’t know how to get through the past of broken promises, hurt, disappointment, resentment, and fear.

We will continue their story in the next Post, but for now consider these questions for your own relationship:

  • “What am I carrying from the past in my marriage that keeps me from trusting or being trusted?”
  • “Am I willing to take full accountability for my part in the decline of trust?” (don’t take more than belongs to you)
  • “Am I willing to change my part of the marriage dance for the better, seeking to inspire and invite my partner to join me?”

As you consider and answer these questions you will find the Cycle of your Thoughts-Feelings-and Behaviors (see previous post) becoming more positive and bringing an uplift to your life and marriage results. Check back soon for the rest of the story of Matt and Cindy!

What do You Want to Trust?

A Craving for Trust

We often instruct our couples to ask themselves a couple of questions: I invite you to ask yourself and answer these same questions. They will give you a sense of direction in your quest to build a trustworthy and trusting marriage.

The two questions are, “What do I want to be able to trust in my partner?” “What would I like my partner to trust in me?” Take a moment to answer those questions in your own mind. Set some of the negative feelings and emotions aside that might have built up over time, and quietly state to yourself how you want to be trustworthy and what trustworthiness would look like in your partner.

Do some things come to mind? Now see if any of your trust yearnings and issues might match up with heartfelt desires expressed by our many couples over the years.

The Three Baselines of Marriage Trust

There are basic expectations that all of us should be able to experience in our most important relationship. The first three of those we refer to as the Baselines of marriage trust. Certainly a human mistake in one of these need not doom a marriage, but any breaking of them must be recognized and resolved in a healthy manner or our relationship trust will be seriously damaged:

  • Respect and Civility. We must have an expectation of being treated in a civil and manner, and a deep commitment to offer the same respect to others There is excuse for disrespect. Ever.

 

 

  • Next is Fidelity. We want to know our partner will be faithful and loyal, both physically and emotionally. We crave to feel that we are one-another’s top priority.

 

 

  • Charity and Forgiveness. We want to know that we are in a caring relationship where each partner freely gives without keeping score. We want, through forgiveness, to be able to cleanse the toxic air and debris that build up in marriage and family relationships as a result of human mistakes.

 

 

Other Areas of Trust that Breathe Life Into Marriage

  • To know that our partner puts us first in their life and shows that through behavior and words.
  • We want to trust that we will receive emotional support and understanding, through thick and thin.
  • We want to feel confident that our partner will be their word and follow through on promises and commitments.
  • We want to trust that our partner will embrace their agreed-upon roles and responsibilities in the relationship.
  • We want to know that we will not abandon one another in the face of inevitable conflict and disagreements. We want to feel safe to talk about and resolve differences without fear that divorce or walking out will be threatened or implied.
  • We want to trust one another to never harm, reject, or control. We want to be accepted by one another.
  • That our partner will be loyal to and accept us for who we are at this point in our journey (while still holding us accountable).

Did you hear some of your hopes and desires regarding trust in that partial list?

Perhaps you heard some items that you feel safe and secure about. That should provide you with a sense of hope that other foundational trust areas can also be strengthened. But you likely heard some trust issues that afflict your most important relationship. Have hope. Recognition is a big part of the battle toward change. Your commitment to that change will be the most important part of finding trust and trustworthiness.

Learn more about these challenges and beautiful opportunities in LIFE’s upcoming online course, “Rescuing Trust.”

Trust and the Cycle of Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

(In anticipation of LIFE’s upcoming online course, Rescuing Trust, we are dedicating some of the next few weeks blog posts to the principles of restoring marital trust. This is part 2)

Martin and Bonny

We had the opportunity at a LIFE Marriage Retreat to work with Martin and Bonnie, a down to earth couple from the Midwest who were carrying scars and emotional baggage from their lives and relationships. Their trust had been deeply eroded by behaviors, words, and attitudes.

Bonny felt that Martin was unsympathetic of the pain she felt and that he really did not acknowledge his part in that hurt. Martin, on the other hand, felt that he had offered support to Bonny in the past but believed that Bonny was mired so deeply in her own feelings that she was unable to see how much he was hurting and frustrated by their relationship coming off the rails. Even as we worked with them we could see they were hardened in their own self-centered perspectives and deeply mistrusted each other in terms of ever being able to understand and sympathize with the other’s feelings and perspectives. 

Before I finish Martin and Bonny’s story let’s pause to examine a little closer a cycle they had been experiencing in their marriage, a commonality among every struggling marriage, including Martin and Bonny’s. This is a cycle, a result of allowing unhealthy thoughts, behaviors and feelings loose, first in our minds, that then show up with tooth and claw in the relationship. By the way, in my previous post I mentioned the brain chemistry that leads to how we process the loss of trust and the awful feelings related to that loss. This cycle plays a big part in triggering that chemistry.

The Negative Cycle of Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

The ways in which we think, feel and behave are all linked. It’s helpful for us to understand how each influences the other. For example, when I think I can’t rely on my partner for support, I might behave in ways that push my partner away, and stop them from offering support with the result that my feelings and emotions are affected. I feel unsupported, angry, and probably lonely. These feelings then influence my thoughts. I think I can’t rely on my partner and so I continue to behave in ways that stop my partner from supporting me. And so the circle rolls on and I become more and more fed up with my relationship, more critical of my partner and their attempts to help me and increasingly hopeless about anything changing. In those spaces in the negative cycle we can insert the words, “damages trust.”

Can you see Martin and Bonnie in this cycle dilemma? Bonnie feeling unsupported and misunderstood, and telling herself stories about Martin’s lack of empathy, leading to resentful behavior and more negative thinking. And Martin feeling rejected, and telling himself stories about Bonnie’s self centeredness, and retreating into hurt isolation, also feeling misunderstood and unsupported. And both of them feeling lonely.

Remember, we all have some experience with this cycle of Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors. But for couples in times of struggles, the cycle is accelerated and more prevalent, and is self-perpetuating.

The Power of the Positive Cycle

But there is some Great News for us all! We don’t have to give ourselves and our relationships up to the negative aspects of the negative cycle, because we can choose to create positive cycles in our lives.

The good news is that because thoughts, feelings and behaviors are linked, if I want things to change I can enter that circle at any point and any change I make is likely to start a series of changes. So if I change my behavior by letting my partner help me (or express a desire to help them) I am likely to feel more supported and that my needs are being noticed. And this in turn will influence my thoughts, I’m more likely to think that my partner respects me and cares for me. As the circle rolls on, my changed behavior will show my partner that I am turning toward them rather than away, and they will feel needed by me and sense we are getting along better, and so on…

To hear the full story of Martin and Bonnie tune in to our online course, “Rescuing Trust.” You will learn how Martin, at a certain point in the Retreat, replaced his knee-jerk negative judgments and thoughts about Bonnie with more openness toward her painful experiences, and the enormous process of healing that began from that effort.

Thoughts are powerful things, but we have the power to control them as we stay conscious and aware and create positive cycles with relatively simple shifts.