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Trust & Disappointment

January 11, 2019

Relationships are messy.  If you want a sanitary, disinfected experience, you’ll need to avoid relationships.

Wow!  Thanks for the encouraging thought, Steve!

Sorry.  I’m a realist.  And I’ve been in enough relationships for enough years to be able to tell you from personal experience that they’re all messy.  Some more than others, but they’re all messy.  Being messy doesn’t keep them from being rich and fulfilling, and even essential to a meaningful life.  But in case the memo didn’t get to your inbox, they’re messy.

And one of the things (maybe the fundamental thing) that makes them messy is disappointment.  Because none of us are perfect, we will disappoint and be disappointed by the people we’re in relationships with.  I see this all the time in my counseling.

Conflicted couples get conflicted because of disappointment.  Everything from one of them disappointing the other by forgetting something that was important to the other, all the way to the other extreme of being betrayed by the other in infidelity.  There’s a ton of stuff between these two extremes.  All of it leaves behind collateral damage to some degree.

No matter what specific thing or things caused the disappointment, the result will be broken trust.  It could be a big break or a small one, but the outcome of broken trust can eventually be a broken relationship.

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  You’ve probably got that on a plaque on your wall somewhere, or on a dishtowel or something.  It’s a nice phrase, and easy to remember.  It’s also the key for healthy relationships.  Not a key.  THE key.

There’s a direct connect here with disappointment.  Trust in a relationship is about faith.  And faith is one of the three things that will remain.  I’m not sure I’d say that all faith is trust and all trust is faith, but it’s a sure thing that faith and trust are joined at the hip.  And when your faith in the other person in the relationship is dinged and damaged, your trust of them is diminished.

Most of my work with conflicted couples is about trying to rebuild and restore trust.  At the front end of the process, especially when the disappointments are long-standing, couples have trouble even remembering what it was like to trust each other.  That makes nurturing a deepening love relationship feel impossible.  Not just hard.  Impossible.

I came across this quote in my archives: The physics of building—or rebuilding—trust is simple: Trust grows as we generate data that demonstrates trustworthiness. Trust will never exceed the cumulative data to date.

This process of generating data that demonstrates trustworthiness is the work of most of my counseling.  It’s also much of the work that every family has to do to stay healthy.  It’s true, in all relationships trust will never exceed the cumulative data.

Rebounding from disappointing and being disappointed is all about generating and receiving data that demonstrates trustworthiness.  If you’re the disappointer, your most important work is generating this data to demonstrate that you’re trustworthy.  If what you did to disappoint was a small thing, this might not be too difficult.  But if you have a long series of small things in play, it becomes very challenging.  The deeper the wound, the longer it takes to reestablish trust.  Deep wounds can come all at once (as in betrayal), or over time with small slices over and over again.  In all cases, reestablishing trust is required for the healing of the relationship.  And that requires generating data that demonstrates trustworthiness.  Lots of it, done consistently, usually over lots of time.

If you’ve been disappointed, your recovery and the possible recovery of the relationship depends on the generation of data that demonstrates trustworthiness.  This isn’t data you generate, though.  It’s data that you allow the other to demonstrate.  Easy, right?  NOT!  And sometimes WAY NOT!

Lots of people who’ve been deeply disappointed by someone they trusted struggle to even permit the one who hurt them to build trust by generating data to demonstrate they’re trustworthy.  “I don’t see how I can ever trust them again.”  And if they’re not able to accept new data, the relationship will either be permanently crippled or dissolved.

But don’t put this thing in a marriage bucket by itself.  This dynamic is true for every relationship in your life.  In your family – your immediate family, your family of origin, your extended family.  In your work relationship and your career.  On any team.  It goes in every direction.  All the way through to your relationship with God.

So what do you do with this?

We’ll talk about that next time.

But one more quote before I’m done.

It’s easy to trust in the land of milk and honey when everything’s working out right.  When prayers get answered and problems go away and the kids’ teeth are straight and your boss likes you, faith is not hard. But the desert has a way of building strength. God is not nearly as concerned with where his people are going as who they will be when they get there.
John Ortberg in Love Beyond Reason



From → Marriage

  1. Marianne Morgan permalink

    I’m enjoying and ruminating on your posts here. Thank you for them. Have you ever shared anything about grief? Of course this is my paradigm of late, and it is not only the toughest season (and I could make a case for another being its close second) of my life so far, but it has changed me in some very fundamental ways.  I’m living and reading and studying it lately and would be interested in any wisdom you might share.  It’s hard being essentially the “last man standing” in a family.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

    • Thanks, Marianne. I know some about grief. Actually, I probably know more about it than I can do with it. It’s a topic I’ll write some on. We’re at the stage of life (can you believe I’m using that stupid phrase?) where we will deal with more and more grief and loss.

  2. Peg permalink

    Like wow Steve. I am NOT a good communicator but YOU sure are. Life here continues with ups and yes downs and thankfully we aren’t alone
    Bless You

  3. Doyle Kinney permalink

    So very true. Thanks, Steve.

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