Compassionate Communication: Building Trust
By LaShelle Lowe-Chardé
Often couples talk about rebuilding trust. The idea of rebuilding something you had before is a critical mistake in thinking. When you imagine you need to “re-build” trust, what you really need is to create something completely new. If your relationship fell apart, then it is going to need a new foundation to thrive.
If you are deciding to build trust with your partner, then there are some key distinctions to make. First, you want to ask what it is that you already trust your partner about.
Trust is contextual. You may trust your partner around many things; for example, to drive safely, to fix the plumbing, and to be a caring parent.
Second, ask what you would like to be able to trust? Here are some things I have heard couples name over the years:
-to tell the truth
-to manage anger rather than giving vent to it
-to listen with attention and curiosity
-to identify reactivity when it comes up
-to consider how one’s behavior will impact family and partner
-to work through judgments and get to feelings and needs
-to express love in a way that meets the need for love
-to see each other’s core goodness
Third, once you have named the kind of trust you want to build, check-in with yourself about how you are blocking or cultivating that trust.
Let’s use the first one as an example. When I have worked with couples who are suffering from one partner’s infidelity, the other partner usually says, “I want to be able to trust that s/he will tell the truth.”
Tragically, I often see that when one partner dares to share the truth of a hurt and unmet need the other partner reacts with his or her own pain and unmet needs. The conversation quickly spirals into a contest in suffering. Telling the truth in this kind of dynamic does not create trust.
If you are asking your partner to tell the truth, ask of yourself, “What am I doing that makes it easy or difficult to express the truth?”
Truth telling happens at many levels. If the mundane truth telling of present moment experience is embraced, trust is built for more complex or vulnerable truths to come forward.
For example, when your partner expresses his or her truth about hating their job, you have the opportunity to respond with compassion rather than offer advice, make your own complaints, or tell him or her to be thankful to even have a job.
Lastly, it helps to make very specific requests of your partner. Let him or her know exactly what would build trust for you. For example, in building trust in regards to telling the truth, as your partner shares events from work you might ask her to also share how she was affected. It is these types of small and specific requests that you may make many times over, that, when your partner responds willingly, can build trust over time.
Remember requests to your partner that sound like this, “Be more open, talk more about your internal world, be more considerate, be less reactive, etc.” usually won’t be helpful because they don’t point to a specific and do-able action in the present moment.
Take a moment now to consider what you already trust with your partner, what you would like to build more trust around, how you are blocking or cultivating that particular kind of trust, and what requests you would like to make of your partner to build that trust.
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Communicating with Family
Whether you come with family members or on your own, you will have the opportunity to learn and practice applying compassionate communication with family members. Read more »
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