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Boosting Trust

"Trust is the foundation of a truly healthy marriage." Relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman

Years ago we toyed with going to the Galapagos, but the idea eventually fizzled due largely to my lack of enthusiasm. Blue footed boobies, bah.

Before you judge me, know that I had a change of heart and we did go to the Galapagos and Ecuador. The change didn’t have anything to do with the allure of the Galapagos, but rather with my desire to be more trustworthy.

Galapagos, trustworthy? What’s the connection?

I’ve been reading about how vital trust is for communities, for our businesses, our wider world, but most especially for our close relationships. Political scientists like Robert Putnam (author or Bowling Alone) keep telling us we are basically going to hell in a hand basket because trust and relationships are eroding.

Trust IS a big issue because it seems to have a significant affect on the good life – on crime, longevity and health in general, academic achievement, prosperity, and on quality of relationships.

What is trust actually and how do we build it? That was a confusing issue for me until a few years ago.

I thought that trust is about being reliable, but reliability is only a part of it. Perhaps, if you are a professional or business person, you think that trust is primarily developed through showing your expertise and that’s a bit of it too, but not the whole enchilada according to Dr. John Gottman.

Gottman, along with his wife, heads the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle. He is not only a psychologist, but also a physicist and mathematician.

By using observation and mathematical models, Gottman ascertained that a person becomes more trusted after he or she repeatedly acts in ways that makes it clear that he or she is not just looking out for numero uno, but also cares about others.

Here are four behaviors that send powerful signals to others that we are not just out for ourselves.

  1. We are reliable. We keep our word. We repeatedly do what we say we will do even at some cost to ourselves. (There’s the reliability piece)

  2. We look for win/wins. We look for ways that we all can get at least some of what we need. We listen, we ask questions, we consider others’ perspectives.

  3. We are kind. We notice what others are doing right. We express appreciation. We don’t act superior, we don’t make fun of, or show contempt for others.

  4. We are fair. We share our mutual resources and we do our share of the work.

As I mentioned earlier, evidence of expertise also makes a difference if we are being sought out for that. That does not seem as important as the other, “softer” areas.

Gottman emphasizes that it’s not the big betrayals which cause the most damage to trust, but rather it’s the small instances of continually choosing one’s own interests over others’. I have a choice that comes up over and over again - will I just look out for myself or will I consider your needs and dreams? Will I continually read my spell-binding book when you look sad, or will I close my novel and see what’s troubling you?

Circle back to me, my husband, John, and the Galapagos. John had been talking about his desire to see the Galapagos for years. When he talked about the Galapagos, I acted like I was listening, but really I was humming in my head to drown him out.

As I thought about though, it dawned on me that we had mostly been to places that I had wanted to go – like Europe, Tennessee ( in case you are wondering see my mother), the Virgin Islands. Let me just say it straight out. I had been self-focused. Not good, if I want to be a trusted partner and reap all those trust-associated benefits.

Luckily, there’s hope for people like me. Now I have a vision of what trustworthiness looks like, how trustworthy people actually behave. I can see the error of my ways. And I know how to do better. As my friend says to keep my spirits up when I acknowledge my failings - loosely quoting the fabulous poet Maya Angelou, "When you knew better, you did better."

In general, I have worked harder to build trustworthiness by thinking more and asking more about others’ needs and dreams.

Specifically I have worked to increase my trustworthy behaviors by doing what I say I will do; being kind; sharing not only what I have, but doing my part of the work too. Especially I diligently look for, aim to create the win/win, ways we both can get our way – that’s the clincher.

And this isn't just about healthy marriages, but relationships in general. When we continually look for ways we all can win, we make a substantial leap forward toward not only trusting each other, but also in becoming wiser (more on that later) and living the good life together.

How might we journey to The Good Life by becoming more trustworthy?


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