It amazes me that experts on marriage talk so little about trust. They discuss compatibility, even administer personality profiles to help a couple see how they match up. All fine, and very worthwhile.
One expert who does emphasize the importance of trust is John Gottman. He calls trust one of two pillars that support a strong and lasting marriage relationship.
If the intent of marriage is to build and maintain a uniquely intimate relationship, trust becomes more important than any other quality. We simply do not develop intimacy with someone we don’t trust. In fact, the depth of our intimacy will be in direct proportion to the depth of our trust.
Diane and I met in college and married just after graduation. Both of us felt we were making a good choice, but I wanted to know if there was one quality that gave Diane the confidence to marry me. So one day I asked her. “Diane, why did you marry me?” (Note: Even after all these years, I am still amazed that she did.)
During counseling, we have asked many couples that question. Some common responses:
“He swept me off my feet.”
“She was just what I wanted.”
“Well, it seemed like the thing to do at the time.”
“I prayed and God said he was the one.”
“I don’t know.”
Diane had a different response- one that we rarely hear. She told me she married me because she knew she could trust me. For Diane, that was the core issue.
Yes, she felt we had compatibility. She enjoyed my company. She felt good when she was with me. She liked the way I treated her parents, and I probably did sweep her off her feet a little. But it was trust that mattered most to her. In truth, it should matter most to everyone. For nothing is more important to the long-term health of your marriage than trust.
Diane’s answer led me to another question, “How did you know you could trust me?”
“I know you’re not perfect, Mike,” she said, “but I also know that you honor God.”
When we honor God we take his authority and direction seriously. God isn’t just some idea that we store in a box called Sunday. He is very present and his desires matter to us. As we follow his desires and allow him to build our lives, we become reliable, dependable, trustworthy people.
You can relax with someone you trust. Perhaps that explains the easy comfort many older couples seem to have. They feel safe.
Once a very beautiful woman married a very plain looking man. When someone asked her why she married him, especially when she could have lured a much a richer, better looking man, she answered, “He never hurts me.” That’s safety, built on trust.
Some people make promises with no intention of fulfilling them. They pledge their loyalty to gain acceptance, or to get what they want. To them a promise is only a means to an end- a planned deception for a desired result. Vows? Those are just words you say in a ceremony, not binding promises. Like unethical car salesmen, they promise only to sell, not to fulfill.
Others make their promises sincerely, but as circumstances change so does their faithfulness. Promises are forgotten, trust is damaged, and their partner feels the deep pain of betrayal.
This song, Promises, Promises says it well:
In the beginning
Never a doubt
Trusted too true.
In the beginning
I loved you right through.
Arm in arm we laughed like kids
At all the silly things we did
You made me promises, promises
Knowing I’d believe
You knew you’d never keep.
Promises, Promises, recorded by Naked Eyes
-Byrne and Fischer, writers
Words are like people: some you like, some you love, and some you just don’t understand. Spouse has always been that kind of word for me. I didn’t like it. It sounded too much like mouse, or even worse, louse! I disliked that word so much that for many years I would not use it. Until now, I have never called Diane my spouse.
Like some people who seem disagreeable to you, a word can become your friend when you understand it. That happened when I uncovered the ancestry of the word spouse. It comes from spondere, and that word is full of meaning. Spondere means “a solemn promise.” So a spouse is someone who solemnly promises love and honor to his or her marriage partner.
Two other words share the same ancestor: responsive and responsible. Taken together, these words paint a great picture. A spouse promises to be both responsive and responsible for his or her actions. In other words, a good spouse encourages trust through faithfulness.
But, we are just dating.
Now is the time to think about this guy or gal and their trust. Make the trust question one of your first considerations. Here’s are some guidelines to help you:
- Does he or she keep promises?
- Has he or she ever tried to convince you to do something you knew was not right?
- Has he or she ever shared something personal about you with others, without your permission?
- Does this person have a good reputation for reliability with other people who know him or her?