Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series.
Trust -- a fairly simple word, yet one we could write volumes on.
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The dictionary takes a stab at a definition: assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. And a thesaurus helps a bit: belief, credence, credit, faith, confidence, hope are all suggested as similar in meaning.
That's a good start, but it fails to capture the true significance of the word. Trust is the necessary foundation of all intimate relationships. Without mutual trust, no relationship can ever grow toward its true potential.
Above all, trust is a decision, not a feeling. Certainly our feelings play a part in such a decision. We can feel comfortable, secure, assured, hopeful. Ultimately, however, we decide to trust.
It's a complicated decision, and usually taken one step at a time. It is most often based on our experience with another person. We get a sense -- usually gradually, but sometimes right away -- of just how much it is safe to trust somebody.
We discover, for example, that a new acquaintance professes friendship, yet always finds excuses for not getting together. We begin to mistrust his sincerity; we eventually decide that it is not safe to trust him at all.
Or, we discover that our boss can be trusted to keep us informed about the ins and outs of the office, but that we'd better not trust her with our own view of things. We set definite limits to our trust.
We see the same thing in dating. We decide to trust a bit at a time based on how our boyfriend or girlfriend responds to our initial sharing of ourselves. Our goal is to some day find a man or woman to whom we will give our complete trust.
Which brings us to marriage -- a special case. Trust in marriage is all or nothing. For a marriage to truly work, there can be no mistrust, no limits, no hesitation.
That may sound extreme, but think about it for a bit. No marriage can last for long if one spouse mistrusts the other. We wind up doubting everything that our spouse says or does.
Likewise, we can never relax and be comfortable with each other if there is a limit to how far we will trust: "I'll trust you if you're an hour late, but no longer than that!" That just can't work.
And we can't grow in our marriage if we are hesitant in our trusting -- re-deciding with each new situation. That's like being continually stuck in courtship. Intimacy withers, and eventually dies.
If you're feeling like this trust business is a bit risky -- you've gotten to my next point. Trust is always a decision based on insufficient evidence. We will never, ever, know another person so well that we can be absolutely sure they are trustworthy.
That's what's so hard about trust. It's a gamble. We get to know another person as much as we can, then we make a decision. And, in a healthy marriage, we wager everything we have, no holding back.
Trust in marriage -- a risky decision, and unconditional decision, a once-and-for-all decision. It is all or nothing.
Sadly, in almost every marriage, sooner or later we find our trust betrayed. Such betrayal can be a gradual process, or it can come as the consequence of one catastrophic act. When career is given priority over marriage, trust slowly dies. An extramarital affair discovered can destroy trust in one fell swoop.
Many marriages never recover from such a betrayal of trust. Others manage to survive -- at least in name -- but never regain the intimacy lost. We'll talk more about this next column. I'll try to offer both some hope and some practical suggestions for such troubled marriages.