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Hardest to Gain, Easiest to Lose

September 22, 2021
The Necessity of Trust - Potential Plus International

OK, you saw the picture, so you know I’m not talking about weight loss (in reverse…). Wouldn’t it be great if the pounds we need to shed were easy to lose and hard to get back? Unfortunately, I don’t have the secret to reversing the laws of nature. I’m talking about one of the things – possibly THE thing – that has the greatest positive or negative potential in your life. TRUST.

There’s nothing more difficult to gain and easier to lose in a relationship than trust. You can spend many months building trust and lose it in a minute.

The more deeply you trusted or were trusted, the more devastating to the relationship broken trust is. In these deeply trusting relationships, gaining trust back after it’s broken is sometimes impossible. I see this all the time in my marriage counseling. When infidelity is involved, gaining trust is next to impossible, sometimes. That’s not just a little ding on trust. Betrayal blows trust up. Sometimes to the point that it can’t be rebuilt. It’s not just the huge breakages that do this. Broken trust is really hard to rebuild in smaller issues than marital infidelity, too.

Sometimes (actually lots of times) when the conflict a couple is having comes from or has caused broken trust, one of the partners will talk about how unfair it is that they have to work so hard to earn the trust back. It feels to them like they’ve already done way more work than they should have had to in order to somehow atone for what they did, and even things up. After a while of making effort with little or no positive feedback, lots of people just give up.

Here’s the principle that governs this dynamic: If I’m the one who broke the trust by something I did or said, I don’t get to decide what’s appropriate to make amends or even things up. Another, probably better way to say this is, The offended party decides what and how much will make amends and mend the broken trust.

If you’re thinking that’s not fair, you’re right. But this isn’t about what’s fair. It’s about rebuilding the single thing that the relationship hangs on. Trust is the most important block in the foundation of the relationship. No relationship is deeper or stronger than the trust between the people in it. It can’t be. In fact, there’s a direct relationship between trust and depth. The greater the trust, the deeper the relationship; the deeper the relationship, the greater the trust.

I doubt that any of this is new information for you, even if you wouldn’t use my words for it. I know people who can do a great talk about the philosophical value of trust in relationships, but who have no idea of how to nurture it when it’s present, and even less of an idea for how to rebuild it when it’s been broken.

I don’t have the final word on trust, and I don’t have the ultimate 3-Step Plan for rebuilding it, but I’ve got a couple of ideas that I think are worth passing along.

FIRST of all when you’ve broken trust, APOLOGIZE. Apologize sincerely. Two words will scuttle a sincere apology: If and But. “If I hurt you, I apologize…” Or, “I know I hurt you, but…” Both turn an apology into something else – most often a further disappointment to the person we’re talking to. “If” turns it into a subtle accusation. If the person who was hurt, the implication goes, was more mature, stronger, more resilient, they wouldn’t have been hurt. But since they were hurt, I’ll be the bigger person and make this apology, even though I don’t think it should be necessary. It’s not a real apology, and it’s way not sincere.

When “but” gets into an apology, it becomes an excuse or justification for what the offender did. “I hurt you, I didn’t mean to.” Which is like saying, “Ok, so I hurt you, but because I didn’t mean to do it, it doesn’t count.” That’s nuts, right?

“If” and “But” ruin any attempt to make a legitimate, sincere apology. So get rid of them from your apology vocabulary.

After apologizing, SEEK FORGIVENESS. There is power (and honor) in asking, “Can you forgive me?” When one adult humbly asks this of another adult, it makes good sense. It conveys the sense that you value them as people enough to desire their forgiveness. But Pride will always get in the way of sincerely asking for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness out of pride does the same thing as using “if” and/or “but” in the apology.

When a parent humbly asks their child for forgiveness, it can be incredibly powerful. It reinforces the fact that you value them and what they’re feeling. It conveys such a powerful message. And it gives them a model for their own apology-life. This is HUGE.

Then comes acting out your sincerity. This is best done when you make it your goal to KEEP YOUR COMMITMENTS. Another way to say this is don’t make commitments you know you can’t keep. Sometimes we make promises and commitments just because we don’t want to get into a big discussion and end up in over our head. Sometimes making a promise (even if we know we probably won’t be able to keep it) is easier than truth-telling. Sometimes we make promises we know can’t keep because we don’t want to disappoint the other person. The problem is, when we don’t keep the promise, we disappoint them in a bigger way when we break our commitment than we would have disappointed them by not promising in the first place. But we often make promises and hope for the best, even though we know when we make the promise, we’re probably not going to be able to keep it.

Sometimes people make promises they know they probably won’t be able to keep because they want to please the one who has asked for the commitment. There’s a ton of backfire potential in this kind of promise-making. When you’re unable to keep the promise, you’ll end up with worse than the opposite of what you were trying to get by making the promise in the first place. If you’re a people pleaser, this is something you’ll have to intentionally keep yourself from doing.

So what do you do when you can’t keep your promise? Because there will be these times, even if you promised with the best of intentions. You’ve got to have a strategy for this because life has a way of getting in the way of promise-keeping. There are times when things out of your control happen, and you won’t be able to keep the promise. When that happens, SEEK PERMISSION TO NEGOTIATE OR BE RELEASED FROM A PROMISE. If you discover (or more realistically, when you discover) you won’t be able to keep a commitment, immediately ask if there’s a way you can be released from the commitment, or if it can be renegotiated. And when I say immediately, I mean immediately. Don’t put if off thinking there will be a better time later. There won’t be. So do it NOW.

Anybody can be a promise-maker. Few are actually promise-keepers. You know that making promises isn’t the point. Keeping them is. Here’s the bottom line: BE RESPONSIBLE.

Nothing is more important to the health and depth of relationships than trust. It’s at the heart of our relationship with God. The Hebrew writer wrote, “Without faith it’s impossible to please God.” In a very similar way, the depth and reliability of trust in your marriage, friendships, working relationships is central and essential.

So here’s the challenge: examine the level of trust in your relationships, beginning with the closest and most meaningful. If you need to make some positive moves on this, begin right now, in partnership with Christ, the ultimate and perfect model of the One Who kept and keeps His promises.

From → Marriage

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