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Building Trust in Any Relationship
A little while back, my wife was on a walk while I was out taking the kids to school. At one point she swore she saw our car, same stickers and everything, turn down a different street in our neighborhood.
Maybe you see where this is going. If not, good for you. I admit it would be a little suspicious. She didn’t chase after the car and peak in the neighbor’s windows or anything. She shrugged it off and went home. But the seed had been planted.
We’ve never had a problem with infidelity, not even the suspicion of it, in all the time we date or have been married. But it’s hard not to think about something like that once you start. It eats at you, gnawing at the back of your brain. She called me to see where I was. She checked the credit card statements, just to be safe, and later my text messages and emails and whatever else. I don’t blame her. You can’t go on worrying about something like that. You have to do everything you can to get rid of it.
Nothing came of it, of course, and we laughed it off in the end. I was working at Panera by myself, as I said I was. I don’t lock my phone. The only person who emails me with any regularity is Amazon. I get more text messages from my company VPN than anyone except my wife. I work from home and go to the same lunch spot every day to write alone.
However, questions like this can all too often tear apart a relationship. Everyone has a doubt at some point, but nothing will divide two people more quickly than a constant feeling that they are hiding something. Fear, suspicion, doubt, these are relationship killers. It’s true on every level, whether its within a family, an office, or a nation.
Dads, if you want to have a strong relationship with your wife, if you want your kids to follow you, if you want your employees or your boss to listen to you, if you want to be a good citizen, it’s important for you to be trustworthy.
How? Trust is fundamentally about honesty. To trust someone is to know that they are who they say they are, will do what they say they do, and always tell you the truth.
If you repeatedly tell your boss you’re going to get a project done on time and then you don’t, he’s probably not going to trust you with big projects in the future. If you assure your kids you’ll be at their game or recital and then you always stay late at work instead, they probably won’t bother looking for you in the stands next time. If you promise your wife you won’t get angry if she criticizes you, but then you get upset about it anyway, she’s probably not going to trust you enough to speak her mind again. The more you lie, the more people will just stop assuming you are ever telling the truth.
To build trust, keep your promises, follow up on your commitment, tell the truth. Sounds easy, right? Actually, it’s impossible. Everyone makes mistakes, or falls prey to unexpected circumstances, or gets defensive, or just forgets. Trust will at some point be broken. Doubts are inevitable, even in the best relationship.
When that happens, the best way to restore trust is to admit you were wrong. Maybe that sounds counterintuitive. If you admit to lying, or forgetting what you supposed to do, or letting your emotions overcome you, isn’t that giving people are reason not to trust you? Isn’t it offering up a way to attack you?
You see this all the time in public settings, especially politics. When’s the last time you heard a public figure admit they were wrong about anything (other than an insensitive old tweet) or give more than a half apology? The tendency is to defend yourself to the death, to never, ever admit you made a mistake or a bad decision or a policy that didn’t work out, lest your opponents pounce on the opportunity. Maybe you’ve had a boss like this, who would never change course even when it was a clear a project was headed in the wrong direction. Or maybe an employee who always had some excuse for poor performance. Do you trust those people more for their refusal to correct? Or less?
The problem with this way of thinking is that it assumes the problem is in the reaction rather than the action itself. If only you can control the response, if only you can give a good enough reason, if only you can convince people you were right all along, everyone will trust you again. But the opposite is true. Because trust isn’t about being right; it’s about being honest.
Everyone understands you won’t be right all the time. No one is a more obvious liar than the man who says he never makes a mistake.
Believe me, your wife knows when you messed up, when you’re wrong, when you’ve lied. You won’t fix anything by telling her she doesn’t understand. You’ve already lost trust, and you’re just digging the hole deeper. Soon everything you do will be looked on with suspicion, even when it isn’t deserved, and it will push you farther than farther apart.
Instead, admit to your failure. It’s hard, and she may rightly be upset in the moment, but she will respect you for it in the long run and be more willing to trust you next time.