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.