Is It Safe? (Six Characteristics of Emotionally Unsafe Relationships)

“Sweetheart, that’s not safe. Be careful. You might hurt yourself.” I, along with countless other parents, have said many variations of the above statement. As a parent, one of your main jobs is to keep your little one safe. You point out the things that may be a danger- the sharp edges, the deep holes, the hot surfaces. Sometimes kids instinctively know what is safe and what is not safe, but often they have to be taught either from their own life experience (yep, the stove is hot) or from someone who has already walked the path. That is how children learn what is safe.

Adults aren’t much different. Only in adulthood, hot stoves and riding too fast on our bikes aren’t the only causes for concern. Relationships can be the real danger lurking around the corner, and they can do all sorts of damage to our hearts and minds. In adulthood, are hearts can be as easily broken as our wrists and ankles. To heal our hearts and to protect them, we need to know what is emotionally safe and unsafe. It seems like this would be common sense, but in reality it can be very difficult to know what is safe and unsafe behavior in a relationship. Love has a funny way of disguising the unsafe people in our lives. So we end up wondering Is this normal? and staying way too long in drama filled relationships only to find our hearts tattered and our voices silenced.

Do you know what makes a relationship emotionally unsafe?  Do you know when you are in an emotionally unsafe relationship? If you find yourself feeling that you’ve lost your sense of self, are always walking on eggshells, or wondering if a relationship is supposed to be this stressful, then chances are you are not experiencing the safety and security you need and deserve in your relationship. Here are six characteristics I have observed in my years as a therapist that create an unsafe environment in a relationship.

  1. “Me?? What about you?”- Defensiveness

We all get defensive, but defensiveness in a relationship blocks any vulnerable communication. It is difficult to share anything with someone who reacts defensively. Such a reaction immediately changes the course of the conversation. Defensive people need to be right, which also creates a power struggle in the relationship. If the defensive person needs to be right, then you are wrong… you are always wrong. This is so dangerous to our sense of self because it leads to doubting our own thoughts and feelings. We lost touch with our intuition and gut. When we have been in relationship with a defensive person too long, we eventually stop speaking up and are riddled with self doubt.

  1. “You think your day was bad. My day was much worse!” Lack of empathy/always making it about them

It is hard to feel emotionally safe enough to be vulnerable in a relationship if the other person is always making it about them. This can occur in a variety of way- the person doesn’t give empathy but instead one-ups your experience, he takes on your emotion and makes your experience about him, she always focuses on her life without learning and knowing more about you. For example, let’s say you try to share something that is going on with you- you’re feeling sad, you’re frustrated with work- and then your loved one may talk about how much worse his situation is than yours OR he may become annoyed with your emotional expression. This type of pattern of communication leaves little room for sharing and vulnerability. When you are on the receiving end of this dance, it can feel like there is no room for your feelings or experiences because it always comes back to the other person. Overtime, we share less and less of ourselves because we are afraid what we say 1.) is going to be dismissed, 2.) is going to be twisted, or 3.) it is once again going to be about the other person.

  1. “You didn’t ask so I didn’t think I needed to tell you the whole story.”- Dishonesty

Unsafe people in relationships often don’t see the danger in dishonesty/half truths. They may say they didn’t tell you because they were trying to protect you or didn’t want to make you mad. And then when the truth is revealed, they will often minimize the event writing it off as “no big deal” or “you’re overreacting which is why I didn’t want to tell you in the first place.” These types of rationalizations for dishonesty are highly controlling and manipulative, and they put you back in the position of feeling you are wrong for being upset that the person you care about withheld information from you.

  1. “I apologized! What more do you want?”- Apologizing without action to back it up

Apologies are important but meaningless if they aren’t backed up with a change in behavior. An unsafe person may apologize but they will be reluctant to follow through with changing the behavior that caused the hurt in the first place. A healthy apology is one in which the wrongdoer acknowledges her actions, how her actions impacted you, and follows that up with committed behavior change. This sustained (that is a key word… one week is not sustained, by the way) change in behavior shows there is true recognition of the harm done. It is the changed behavior that rebuilds the trust that was broken.

  1. “You should trust me!”- Demanding trust rather than earning it

Where there is drama and unsafety in a relationship, you are also going to find broken trust. The two just seem to go together. In repairing a relationship, you must repair the trust, but trust CAN ONLY be repaired with time. An apology is a step towards repairing trust but it does not/should not completely restore trust. Feeling entitled to someone’s trust is an indicator that the person is not willing to do the long, hard work to rebuild trust. If entitled trust is an issue in your relationship, ask yourself shouldn’t the person who is demanding your trust be more concerned about why there is a lack of trust (in other words, why you feel unsafe around them) rather than immediately wanting your trust back.

6. “If you weren’t the way you are, I wouldn’t act this way!”- Holding others responsible for thoughts, feelings, actions

Unsafe people often do not take responsibility for themselves. Instead, they blame others for their feelings, thoughts, and actions. If you would just do this or that, THEN I wouldn’t get angry, have to have a drink, etc. When the unsafe person blames you for their actions, this creates yet another cycle of guilt and manipulation. Over time you begin to believe that the other person’s anger, drinking, feelings, etc. are your fault in some way, and if you just do this or don’t say that, then everything will be okay. You begin to feel responsible for the other person’s emotions and you work harder and harder to keep the peace. This pattern is the ultimate control and manipulation tool. It is how you find yourself walking on eggshells no longer knowing who you really are.

See, that’s the dangerous thing about an emotionally unsafe relationship. Yes, it’s stressful. Yes, it’s hurtful. But the long term danger is that you lose you. You lose your voice. You lose sense of your needs, likes, dislikes. The relationship, and trying to keep the peace, trying to be who the other person finds acceptable so that you can win his/her approval, buries your true self.

On the other hand, emotionally safe relationships invite us to be all that we were created to be. They are equal and reciprocal in terms of their love and care for one another. Vulnerability is a strength rather than a liability. In an emotionally safe relationship, you feel known and seen… you feel it is safe to be known and seen rather than thinking you need to be someone else.

It is so easy to stumble into an unsafe relationship. Many of us have done it. Like we said earlier, love blinds us. Love blinds us because we innately want to love and be loved. And that is a good thing! It is a good thing to want love in your life. But inviting love into your life at the cost of your own self and voice is a dangerous exchange.  Like hot stoves when we were little, we end up learning about unsafe relationships either through experience or trusting someone who can see more than we can.

If you find yourself wondering Is this normal? Is this right? or wondering if there is something wrong with you, you deserve to start rediscovering who you really are separate from whom your relationship has convinced you that you are. You deserve to share your story and let someone come alongside you to speak truth and love into you life. You deserve a safe, reciprocal, life-giving relationship.  You deserve healthy love.

The Truth about Anger (Part 2): Getting to the Root of Our Anger

Has this ever happened to you: you are going about your day and something happens that totally ticks you off. You become completely frustrated and irritated as if from out of nowhere. The dust settles, some time passes, and then you wonder Why in the world did I just get so angry? Why do we get angry?? What is our anger really about?

Last week we started a discussion on anger. We defined anger and discussed that anger does not have to be destructive. Stuffed anger is just has harmful to our spirits and relationships as out of control anger. We keep anger from being destructive when we learn to identify what anger feels like in our bodies and how we act in anger.   It’s normal to feel angry; it’s what you do with and in it that really matters.

We left off last week by saying that anger is a secondary emotion. Of all the things I’ve learned about anger, this little fact has been the most helpful. What does it mean that anger is a secondary emotion? Like an iceberg with it's tip rising above the ocean, there is much more going on than initially meets the eye.  It means that there is always another emotion behind anger, and that emotion goes much deeper than the anger that is exploding above the surface. Yes, you may feel angry… really, truly angry. But there is another emotion that is fueling that anger.

Learning to manage your anger means digging past your anger and identifying that root emotion. It is that root emotion that needs to be recognized and shared. Staying in your anger rather than taking the time to understand the true emotion that is fueling that anger will block anyone, including yourself, from really knowing and understanding you. Your anger then becomes a mask that keeps your authentic, vulnerable self from being seen. If we want to develop closer, more intimate relationships, we must learn to lower that mask.

The three emotions that I find are often at the root of our anger are fear/anxiety, shame (feeling insecure or not good enough), and hurt (specifically disappointment). Let’s take a closer look at how each of these feelings can pave the way to anger.

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FEAR/ANXIETY

Anxiety is a feeling of fear or dread of something unknown that may or may not be real. Anxiety and fear are parts of life. Yet, so often when we are angry, if we dig real deep we may realize we are actually feeling anxious or scared. We can feel anxious over everything from running late to church (confession: I snap at my husband more on the way to church than any other time we’re in the car. Lovely I know) to worrying if our children are going to grow up to be serial killers because they won’t eat to green vegetables to wondering if our job is in jeopardy. When we are feeling anxious or stressed, we are much more likely to respond to someone in anger.

Let’s look at how this might play out… Work has been particularly stressful lately and there has been talk of layoffs. The environment is tense, and you are taking on extra projects trying to prove your worth and value to the company despite the air of uncertainty. You also notice that everyone in your life just happens to be especially irritating lately, and you have been arguing more with your spouse and family members. Simply put, you just feel crabby, irritated, and all around angry.

What is going on here is not that you are now an angry person or that everyone you know is all the sudden irritating, but really you are feeling anxious about the uncertainty of your job. Anxiety and fear leave us feeling weak and exposed. We counter that powerless feeling with an emotion that makes us feel “powerful”. All that adrenaline pumping through our veins certainly does make us feel powerful. In truth, though, it is a false sense of power… a false sense of power that is very seductive. That seduction is why we keep returning to the trough of anger again and again when we feel weak and powerless.

If you can slow yourself down and identify the anxiety, then you will be able to handle your anger in a more productive way. You will be able to communicate that you are feeling nervous about your work situation, and you will connect with your loved ones at a deeper level. Understanding that we are angry but then understanding what is actually behind that anger is what allows us to build emotionally honest and vulnerable relationships. Recognizing this connection between anger and anxiety/fear can be a real a-ha moment and learning to honestly and vulnerably communicate your fears can prevent all sorts of unnecessary conflict.

SHAME/INSECURITY

There is nothing that sends us into anger quicker than feeling insecure, unworthy, or not good enough. Feeling inadequate quickly triggers both our anger and anxiety, and in these situations we are inclined to either withdraw or lash out. Take a second and think of a time when you felt insecure or unsure of yourself? In that moment, how did you react to those around you? Did someone else bear the brunt of your feelings of inadequacy?

When we are feeling insecure or wondering if people are judging us, it is so easy for us in turn to become disgruntled and critical of others. When we are feeling bad about ourselves we are much more likely to use criticism and shame as our weapon of choice. We spew our shame onto someone else as a way of disconnecting from the pain of that shame. Looking at this root of our anger takes a lot of courage because we do not like to admit we feel insecure, and we really do not like to pinpoint the things that make us feel insecure. We feel insecure about our insecurities.

Slowing yourself down and learning to identify that your anger is masking deeper feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy, allows you to begin to address and heal those painful feelings. You can then share what is truly bothering you rather than picking a fight with someone and covering them in your shame-induced-anger.

HURT/DISAPPOINTMENT

Feeling hurt is a raw and tender root of anger, and hurt is often linked to disappointment. Whether we mean to or not, we have expectations. We have expectations for everything from a trip to Target to what our future is going to look like to how a dinner or a conversation or a vacation is going to go. When things do not go as planned or hoped, we feel disappointed and that disappointment may manifest as anger.

This happens all the time, and it is a great example of how we try to bury sharing our true feeling and deflect that disappointment by getting angry. Disappointment-induced-anger can be especially dangerous when we are unaware we had any expectations to begin with. It is in those scenarios when, if we are unaware of our own expectations, we are more likely to react defensively and blame another person. We do this because we are in a fight/flight response and our mind’s automatic response/goal is survival. We try to “survive” this disappointment by shutting down the emotion and turning it into anger. We have to teach our mind’s automatic response that there is another way. In sharing our true emotion, in this case disappointment, we are actually practicing vulnerability and openness, which will create more intimacy in the relationship.

Are you seeing a pattern here? We use anger to shut down and mask the emotions that leave us feeling weak or exposed or uncomfortable. But ultimately, this mask does no one any good. We have to slow ourselves down from reacting impulsively in our anger. Anger that is impulsively fired off injures individuals and relationships. But when we slow ourselves down, peel back the layers, and look at the true emotions behind our anger, we build awareness in ourselves and intimacy in our relationships.

So here’s our challenge. Everyone is going to have a bad day. Everyone is going to have a day where they have a little less patience. Everyone is going to feel frustrated, anxious, insecure, disappointed at times. It is normal. It is okay. The challenge is what are you going to do with those feelings. Are you going to let them turn into anger or are you going to spend some time understanding and sharing them?

Yes, we get angry, but anger is not always our true emotion, so to speak. Often, anger is a mask hiding our genuine heart. If you want to live authentically, if you want to be known and understood, if you want to practice vulnerability, you have to name and share the true emotion behind your anger. That is being emotionally honest. That is letting people really see you. That is how you find your voice.

Think about the last time you got angry. What was the true emotion you were experiencing? What would it be like to share that truth with the person who received your anger?

How would your life change if you made it a practice to ask yourself when you get angry, “Am I feeling anxious/fearful, insecure/not good enough, or disappointed/hurt?” and then shared those feelings with someone you trusted.

Loving Well

Years ago, I noticed people started using the phrase “loving well/love well” to describe how they wanted to love or be loved in a relationship.  I just want to love him well.  I just want to be loved well.  I’ll confess I found the phrase a little self-righteous like now we have even put our love on the good, better, best grading scale.  I always wondered if people even knew what they meant when they tried to make a distinction between loving someone and loving him well.  So I wrote off the phrase as yet another example of a buzzword that bugged me. About a month ago, I had an experience that changed my opinion on the phrase “loving well.”  In early January, my father’s best friend of 50 years passed away.  I cannot remember a time when I did not know Dr. Hugh, and his funeral was a true celebration of a life well lived.  As I listened to his children deliver one of the most honoring and beautiful eulogies I’ve ever heard, I kept thinking, “He loved well.  This… this is what it means to love well.”  Dr. Hugh loved with every fiber of his being.  He loved with a dedicated, actions-speak-louder-than words type of love.  It seemed that so much of his life flowed out of love- his active engagement with his family, his business activities, and his mentoring countless young professionals.

On the way home from the funeral, the Mumford & Sons song, Awake My Soul, came on the radio and the line “Where you invest your love, you invest your life” seemed to be shouting from the speakers.  Where you invest your love, you invest your life.  For the rest of the afternoon I kept thinking about the truth of those words. Where you invest your time, talents, energy, soul, it is there you invest your life.  Dr. Hugh invested well.  He invested very well.

Are you investing well?

Are you investing your love in the things and relationships that are worthy of your love?  Are you investing your time in the things that will matter 10, 20, 30 years from now?  Or are you investing your time in short-term pleasure, or rather short-term pain avoidance?  Are you investing your energy in relationships that are healthy, reciprocal, and life giving?  Or are you investing your energy in relationships that are one-sided and incite worry and anxiety.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear…

To love and be loved are innate human desires.  We are born into this world seeking a finger to grasp, and we leave this world yearning for that same connection.  In her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware noted that in her work with the dying one of the most common regrets she heard expressed was that people wished they had stayed in better touch with their loved ones.  In the end, it’s love and connection that matter.  Not success.  Not accolades.  Not being on time or having everything perfect.  It’s where we invest our love that matters in the end.

But there are two sides to the love coin.  There is the side of loving others, but there is also the side of letting others love you.  Too many of us spend our lives wanting to be loved, yet not knowing how to let down our walls so that people can actually get their arms around us.  We live like emotional porcupines and then wonder why no one gets too close.  If we want to let love fully into our lives, we must believe we are lovable and worthy of love.  We first must learn to love ourselves well.  If we ever want someone else to love us well or if we want to love others well, we must treat ourselves with love and compassion.

I was wrong.  There is a difference between love and loving well.   I think loving well has to do with investment.  Are you investing wisely?  Are you depositing your love in the things and relationships that will last?  At the same time, do you believe you are lovable and worthy of love?   May today serve as a reminder to love others and yourself well.  It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

You Want Me to Share What?!?: Lessons In Vulnerability

I always find it interesting when I discover reoccurring themes in my conversations with individuals.  Although we think we are the only ones, we all wrestle with very similar concerns.  At the top of that list is our struggle with knowing how to open up and share our thoughts and feelings with others instead of stuffing them and keeping them inside.  For many, we don’t know how to open up.  We do not know what to share or where to start, and we are afraid to share because we don’t know how it will be received.  As a result, we keep our story to ourselves, and we use smiles as Band-Aids to cover our aching hearts. We stuff so many of our thoughts and feelings that eventually we end up like a balloon filled with too much air and ready to pop.  We let air out of our balloon by sharing our story, and this means leaping into vulnerability.   This means we have to open ourselves and let ourselves be truly seen.

Sometimes when I encourage people to be vulnerable and share with someone what is going on with them, they usually give me that look that says, “You want me to do what?  You must be crazy!  I’m not telling someone that!”  Beginning to practice vulnerability feels a little unnerving at first, especially if you have spent most of your life guarded behind a series of impenetrable walls.

As I have shared before, I am a huge fan of Brené Brown’s research and writing on shame and vulnerability.  She defines vulnerability as risk and emotional exposure.  Vulnerability is that heart racing moment when you do or say something that pushes you outside of your normal pattern and routine.  Vulnerability is scary because it does feel like a risk to put yourself out there and deal with the uncertainty that accompanies letting your guard down.  Being vulnerable does not mean we are weak, weepy, needy, or clingy.  Being vulnerable means we are strong and courageous because it takes courage to show our brokenness and talk about our mistakes.

This emotional risk naturally begs the question- who can we open up to?  With whom do we take the leap of vulnerability?  Brown says that you share with the people who have “earned the right to hear.”  We share with those who have earned the right to truly see us and know our story.  So what does that mean in practical terms?  We share with those who give us empathy and compassion, who listen without judgment and without trying to offer a solution or a “look on the bright side” reframe.  We tell our story to those who demonstrate discernment, wisdom, and the ability to keep our confidence.  We open ourselves up to those who show up not only for us, but also to us.

So am I encouraging you to lay it all out there for every Susie, Sally, and Sandy to see?  Heavens no!  There is a difference between being vulnerable and oversharing.  Oversharing is not vulnerability.  Oversharing actually inhibits true relationship building and ends up being a barrier to connection.  People overshare for a variety of reasons.  The trick is becoming aware of when and why we are oversharing.

  1. Sometimes we overshare as a way of testing others to see if they can “handle” us or if we are going to be too much for them.
  2. Other times we overshare because we are experiencing something so painful that we just have to purge it from our minds.  We start sharing without taking into consideration if the person is a safe, close friend who will respond with empathy and compassion.
  3. Lastly, we may overshare as a way of trying to create an immediate, albeit false, bond with someone.  We have such a strong desire to create some sort of attachment that we try to jumpstart connection without laying the necessary groundwork to a true relationship.

 

When we begin practicing vulnerability and sharing our story, we want to do so in a relationship that has a strong enough foundation to bear the weight of the information that is shared.  Our level of vulnerability matches the level of closeness in the friendship.  As you grow closer, you go deeper in vulnerability, and as you go deeper in vulnerability, you grow closer.  Vulnerability creates intimacy.

If you are nervous about beginning to practice vulnerability, remind yourself it is baby step process.  Start in the shallow end and work your way into the deep waters.  Remember, we share with those who have earned the right to hear.  This isn’t a race.  There is not a “Best at Vulnerability in Friendship” prize waiting for you at the finish line.  There are people out there who want to know you as much as you would like to be truly known.  Vulnerability is truly the gateway to connection.

What is an act of vulnerability you could take in one of your relationships today?  What is something you could try, create, or share with someone? 

 

Brown, Brené, Ph.D., LMSW. (2012). Daring Greatly:  How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York:  Gotham Books.

Repairing Broken Trust (Part 2)

Last week we began discussing the impact of broken trust in our lives and relationships.  Broken trust is incredibly hurtful.  It rocks the foundation of a relationship and can leave you wondering what was real.  Knowing how or when to trust someone again can be tricky business.  Often, we get caught either wanting to trust too soon, so as to move on from the painful event and silence our own heartache, or living behind the multiple walls we have built out of self defense.  Both options often lead to continued heartbreak and sadness. So all of that begs the question:  How do you know when to trust someone again?  How do you know when it is emotionally safe to re-enter the relationship or to begin a new relationship?  How do you repair broken trust?  Here are five factors to consider when repairing broken trust:

 

How does he function in other areas of his life?  Who are his friends?  What does his previous behavior tell you about the possibilities for the future?  One of life’s greatest truths is: past behavior is the greatest predictor of future behavior.  That being said, is he addressing his previous behavior?

 

After trust has been broken, both individuals understand the relationship is going to be different moving forward.  This isn’t “let’s go back to the way things were.”  Rather it is “let’s start a new chapter and learn from the previous mistakes.”  The person who broke trust needs to understand the ripple effect of her actions and wants to change her behavior.  At the same time, you (the person whose trust was broken) need to understand that you cannot move forward unless you peel back the layers and deal with your own emotional wounds.  A repaired relationship cannot heal a broken heart, but a healed heart can help repair a relationship.

 

When you try to share what you have been through, a trustworthy person will not only stop to listen, but he will genuinely care about the ripple effect of his actions and respond accordingly. It is hard to trust someone if whenever you bring up what happened he responds defensively by either redirecting the focus to you (Well, you…) or blaming someone else.

“Desiring and, ultimately, requiring that someone be concerned about his or her impact on you is not a matter of self-absorption or ‘it’s all about me.’  It is your responsibility and evidence of self-stewardship.  You only have one heart, and that heart is the core of you.  If you repeatedly subject it to bad treatment, constantly have to protect yourself, or realize you are the only one in the relationship who is concerned about you, you are not taking good care of that heart.”        -       John Townsend, Beyond Boundaries

 

Remember, we said that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  It is for that reason that there must be noticeable and sustainable behavior change.  If there is no behavior change, it is impossible for you to have realistic hope that the relationship will ever be different.

“When the person changes behavior, but you see no evidence that the change is due to a heart-level understanding of how the person impacted you, most likely what you are seeing is compliance.  You are not seeing transformation.  Compliance is about getting caught and not wanting to get caught again.  It does not develop trust.”      - John Townsend, Beyond Boundaries

 

Rome was not built in a day and neither is trust.  Whether we are learning to trust someone for the first time or we are trying to repair broken trust, building true trust takes time.  Remember our quote from last week:  “Love is free, trust is earned.”  If you are willing to quickly trust again, then it may indicate that you are trying to avoid healing.  If the other person is pushing you to quickly trust her again, then it may indicate she is trying to avoid changing.    The work of healing and repair is a marathon, not a race.  There are no extra points for fastest time.

Trust can be repaired, and hearts and relationships can be healed.  It takes work and time, and the hurt you may be feeling today will not last forever.  As you work to heal your heart, you may feel confident you can trust this person again or you may feel less certain about the future of your relationship.  Whether you stay in the relationship or decide to go, you have to let go… let go of the hurt, let go of the old patterns, let go of the broken relationship.  You have to let go so you can be free and enter into this next relationship chapter healed and untethered by the past.   Your heart longs for and deserves that free.

What hurt do you need to heal and begin letting go of today in order to free your heart?  What have you learned about yourself during your healing process?  What behavior change do you need to see from the other person in order to begin trusting him again?

 

Townsend, John, Ph.D. (2011).  Beyond Boundaries: Learning to trust again in relationships.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Repairing Broken Trust (Part 1)

Do you remember the famous Charlie Brown and Lucy storyline that involved the football?  Lucy tells Charlie Brown she will hold the football while he kicks it.  Because of previous attempts at this game, Charlie Brown is suspicious and doesn’t trust that she will actually hold the ball.  Lucy tells him that this time it will be different.  Charlie Brown, ever hopeful that maybe this time Lucy is telling the truth, runs as fast as he can to kick the ball, and sure enough Lucy moves the ball just as he is about to kick.  Poor Charlie Brown ends up flat on his back deceived again.

Did you ever read the comic strip or watch the Charlie Brown specials and think, “Don’t do it, Charlie Brown!  Don’t do it!  Don’t trust her- she’s up to her same old tricks!”  Charlie Brown wants to trust Lucy and what she is saying this time around.  He wants to believe that things are, and will be, different.

Have you ever been Charlie Brown?

Trust is a funny thing.  For the most part, we want to trust people.  We want to believe people.  Trusting someone allows us to feel safe.  Even the most untrusting of us started out with a trusting spirit.  Just as we want to love and be loved, we want to trust and be trusted.

Have you ever had someone break your trust?  I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t.  How does this very common rupture in relationships occur?  Broken trust occurs when someone acts the opposite of how you assumed/hoped/expected he/she would act or when he/she goes against the spoken or unspoken “agreement” in the relationship.  Lucy said she would hold the football, and she didn’t.  You expected your relationship would be safe from wandering eyes and hearts, but it wasn’t.  You hoped your loved one would stop his self destructive, addictive behavior, but he hasn’t.  You assumed your friend would never betray you, but she did.

Our deepest hurts are often caused by those we trust the most.  It isn’t part of the plan for that relationship.  That’s why it hurts so much.  It is unexpected.  We didn’t think that person could do this to us.  A spouse.  A parent.  A best friend.  Sometimes it is hard for us to admit that trust has been broken and this person is no longer trustworthy because it shatters our image of that person.  This, in of itself, can be devastating.  Sometimes we may even try to convince ourselves to overlook broken trust because it may feel easier to just move forward than stay in the present and heal the wound and repair the brokenness in the relationship.

However, we cannot ignore someone’s untrustworthy behavior.  To do so is like running when you have shin splints.  Yes, you can run through the pain and eventually you won’t feel it anymore, but you are doing damage to your body.  Eventually, you will have to stop and take the appropriate steps to heal your body.

We can keep trying to ignore broken trust and the emotional wounds it leaves in its wake, but eventually we will just become emotionally numb.  Just because we stop feeling does not mean our hearts aren’t breaking.

How do you repair broken trust in a relationship?  How do you learn to trust again?  Rebuilding trust in a relationship takes two people… two people working on themselves, fixing the areas that need fixing, healing the wounds that need healing, and strengthening the emotional and communication muscles that need strengthening.  It takes BOTH people working, growing, and changing to rebuild and repair trust.

But wait a minute, you might be thinking, I did not deceive this person…I did not break our agreement.  No, you did not, but we cannot successfully repair a relationship, or enter into a new one, unless old patterns change and deep wounds heal.

We cannot expect the other person to heal us.  That is our job.

But earning trust?  That is the other person’s job.

John Townsend in BeyondBoundariessays, “Love is free, trust is earned.”   I absolutely love that and I think it is so true.  We give our love freely.  Love does not fall on a grading scale.  But trust… trust is different.  Trust is earned.  We trust those with our hearts who have shown themselves worthy of our trust.

As you work to heal your heart, you have to simultaneously discern if it is safe to trust again.  How do you know someone is trustworthy?  How do you know if the relationship can be saved?  How do you know when you are ready to enter into a new relationship?  Trust is an integral part of any relationship.  You cannot have true connection without trust.  This is part one of our discussion on repairing trust.  I hope you will join me for part two when I will discuss five key factors to consider when learning to trust someone again.

Healing takes times and rebuilding does take work, but your heart can be made whole and you can have a healthy, loving, trusting relationship.

When has your trust been broken?  What was that like for you?  How has broken trust in a relationship impacted you and your life?

Friendships: Now and Then

Over the past several years, I have asked anyone I could find whether they thought friendship was more challenging in adulthood or childhood. I wondered why my friendships seemed different in this season of life than previously.  I wondered if I was the only one that sometimes felt like everyone had all these friends and girls nights.  Eventually a friend directed me to a New York Times article on adult friendships, and I let out a sigh of relief- I must be normal, I thought, if the New York Times was writing about my latest worry.  According to my friends, the New York Times, and some researchers in the Mid-West, friendship is more challenging in adulthood.  Great.  Now what? The evolution of our friendships in adulthood can feel like a shock to our system.  We wonder if we missed the memo or if someone forgot to even send the memo.  We wonder why no one ever mentioned these relational transitions in the volumes of advice we received over the years regarding adulthood.  At some point, we realize friendships are different now.  The landscape has changed.  It feels more challenging to form and sustain friendships.  It is harder to meet people.  Sometimes it feels like everyone is moving on and you are being left behind.

I think the biggest root of this different landscape is:  CHANGE.  Everyone goes through so much CHANGE in adulthood that it impacts our ability to make and sustain close, in person, in touch friendships.

Previously, we saw people on a regular basis, we lived near one another, and we were involved in the same activities. We had mirrors.  But as we grow older, things interfere with establishing these connections because everyone is in a different place:  single, married, married with children, focusing on career, changing jobs, having a job but not a career, going back to school, financially secure, financially insecure, etc.  It is hard to find that “mirror” and as a result we may feel distant from one another or like no one really knows us.  Also, I think (hopefully) as we grow older, we get to know ourselves better, and we may have less tolerance for conformity and nodding along when really we disagree.  When we were younger, we didn’t really know ourselves so it was easy to mesh and conform to the group.  But we’re older now, and we know what we like and don’t like, what we value, and what we need, so it is harder to ignore or mask all of that for the sake of fitting in.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy in forming new friendships because we can’t help but compare our new friends with our old ones.  Will I laugh the way I did with Joanna, Kim and Melissa?  Will someone understand so much about me like Patty?  Will someone make life so fun and full of color like Annie?  I once read that nostalgia is the worst form of comparison, and I think that is particularly true when it comes to friendship.  Our historical friendships have something that our newer relationships can never have- they know our history.  They know our quirks.  They know our families.  They know how far we’ve come, and they know that on the week you open your new practice you will be riding a roller coaster of emotion so they call and send cards to encourage you and check in on you.  They know you.  There is something truly beautiful about history.

But for most of us we don’t live near our historical friends, and so whereas they know our past, they don’t always know our day-to-day news.  This is where our new friends step in.  They know the things that we are currently facing. They know what book we’re reading, or how work is going, or what we decided to do about that issue with our child.  Our new friends are more likely to know us now and this is a wonderful thing as well.   Sometimes, though, we may feel that although our new friends know what we fixed for dinner, they don’t know us on a deeper level.  This is where patience and vulnerability enter the picture.   No matter how instant the connection, a true friendship takes time.  In our instant gratification society we want a best friend now, but searching for true friendship in adulthood means you have to invest time and you have to invest yourself.

Being vulnerable is critical to developing deeper friendships.  For women, especially, the depth of communication dictates closeness- the more communication, the greater the feeling of closeness.  Intimacy is in the details.   If you never share yourself or your story, people are never going to know you.  If you never share your struggles, people won’t know when to comfort you.  If no one ever really knows you, then you are never going to feel known. Without vulnerability and openness, we stay locked behind our walls performance and perfectionism.  We keep people at arms length.  We miss out on the gift of friendship and growing in connection.  Vulnerability is the key that unlocks the door to deeper friendships.

As you navigate this ever-shifting terrain of adult friendship, remember, our historical friends and our newer friends both serve important roles in our lives.  There is nothing like being able to send a one line email with a FRIENDS quote and know that your old friends know exactly what you are referencing and why.  There is also nothing like sharing in day-to-day life with your newer friends.  If we want closer friendships, we have to let people get close.  If we want to take those newer friendships to a deeper level, we have to invest time and ourselves.  Sometimes this can feel like a risk, but it is worth the risk.  It is worth the risk to be vulnerable and let people see the beautiful mess of our lives.  After all, vulnerability is contagious and the person you open up to might very well be searching for a true friend, too.

 

Challenge:  Share a little more of yourself with a friend today.  OR  Let a friend know how thankful you are to have her/him in your life.