Sooner or later, trust becomes an issue in just about any relationship, regardless of roles or gender. For now, let’s look at trust in romantic relationships between a man and a woman. Let’s explore the possibilities of intentionally creating trust and rebuilding it if it gets damaged. Both men and women are equally afraid of being controlled, dominated, hurt or betrayed. Have you ever experienced any of those feelings? Do you ever wonder why that’s so or how you can avoid that kind of pain?
Real trust is hard won and easily lost. Trust can be whittled away little by little with small transgressions, as in failure to keep promises with no acknowledgment or apology, only excuses; or all at once as in an affair. When trust is gone a relationship begins to wither. People end up just going through the motions of being in relationship. Love and connection withers. Emotional connection dries up. Communication suffers, becoming stilted and mechanical, concerned mostly with the logistics of life. Eye contact becomes fleeting and uncomfortable.
Trust is to relationships as gas is to automobiles. You can sit in a car all day long, but if there is no gas in it, you aren’t going anywhere. You can stay in a relationship as long as you want, but if there is no trust in the relationship, it isn’t going to go where you want to go, either.
Our first breach of trust usually occurs in childhood with our parents, who in all likelihood are carrying some emotional baggage of their own. This baggage is bound to assert itself into their relationships with their children to some degree. Lack of trust usually shows up in our adult romantic relationships when we are struggling for love or power.
Before we let ourselves open to deep trust there is a part of us testing to see if it’s safe. It’s so automatic, many of us aren’t even aware when we are doing it. We are trying to avoid pain. And paradoxically, sometimes the ways we avoid being hurt actually assures that we will be.
In the interest of transparency, I can say that I have not always been trustworthy. I have hurt people I loved and cared about. And I have also been hurt by people I trusted who let me down. My attitude was, “That’s the way life goes, that’s just how it is in relationship.” My own struggle with trust was a constant source of anguish and confusion. I didn’t know why I felt compelled to do things that ended up hurting the people I supposedly loved, as well as myself.
As a young man, I was inspired by my father who was a wise spiritual teacher. He sparked in me a fervent yearning to live from my own true, spiritual nature. That, combined with a series of profound mystical experiences, launched me on a spiritual quest. I read lots of spiritual and metaphysical books. I meditated at the Zen Center. I studied with wisdom keepers.
Still, I felt a gaping chasm between my spiritual work and my “real life” relationships. I was driven to make sense of it all and to become an awakened, open hearted, relationship savvy man sharing my life with a partner I trusted and adored. A partner who also trusted me with a trust I earned and deserved.
I was married twice between the ages of 19 and 25 and was completely unprepared for deep commitment. Any romantic notions I might have had about committed relationships were quickly dispelled by the depth of emotional drama and trauma that characterized those relationships.
I was so out of my depth, I literally had no idea what was going on to produce the confusion, pain, and blame, going both ways, in which we were both caught. I felt like a complete failure and soon found my life turned upside down with wreckage of two divorces behind me.
Then something happened that began to turn my life right side up! I was introduced to a group of people who combined spiritual work with deep emotional jhealing. I had two male mentors take me under their wing and help me confront the pain and guilt I was carrying from some ignored aspects of my childhood. They helped me see unconscious patterns that were being played out in my marriages.
They guided me through the darkness of my guilt, anger, sadness, self-loathing, fears and denial that were incredibly painful to confront. I had no idea they were there, but as I excavated long suppressed childhood memories it all started to become clear. That clarity gave me the courage to continue the work which eventually set me free from the anchor of the past. With the guidance of my teachers and mentors I also learned the processes and techniques they used with me.
From my spiritual studies, I developed an idealized vision of who I could be, but I didn’t really know the practical steps to get me there. I was beginning to wonder if it was even possible for me. Now, with the help of my mentors and the emotional healing work I was doing, I saw very clearly who I could become; and most importantly, how. This is when I began to awaken to what was to become my life’s work as healer and teacher of relationships; relationships as a path of spiritual awakening.
It was around this time that I met Layne. She worked in the office at the center where I was being trained. We had a friendly, cordial relationship for a few months, until one day the most unexpected event occurred. Out of the blue, in the middle of the day, in the presence of a half-dozen people, we had a shared mystical experience of mutual soul recognition. It was a timeless experience in which everything utterly disappeared as were enveloped in a tunnel of light between us. Absolutely unlike anything either of us had ever experienced before.
As our relationship grew, I learned that Layne had her own trust issues with men. She had been betrayed and hurt many times in her life. It was only a matter of time before those fears would manifest as suspicions in her relationship with me. One evening when we were alone, gazing into each other’s eyes, both of us were feeling deeply connected in love. I was swept away in a flood of love for her. I was looking deeply into her eyes saying things I had never heard myself say to anyone.
“I love you, Layne. I will always love you. I will be with you forever.”
I had never experienced love like that before. It was profoundly beautiful and tender. We were both surrendering to a sublime moment. And then it went weird. Layne started to cry.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I don’t believe you. I want to believe you, but I can’t.” She was fierce. I was taken aback. Clearly something had triggered her. To my utter surprise, I remained calm and centered as I was able to be present to the intensity of her feelings with curiosity and compassion.
“You say that now, but you can’t make promises about the future. You want it to be true, but something will happen and you’ll leave.”
She was now sobbing in my arms. All I knew was to hold her. I was praying to find the right words to say, nothing came. I just held her and rocked her and then I heard myself say, “Layne, this is not the past. I’m not your father or those other men. This is me – right now. I love you. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not those other people who left you. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. You can trust me.”
Somehow this new ‘me’ was responding without fear or defense and it opened the door for something new to happen. I felt a shift deep inside me. It was like all my spiritual concepts of loving and being loved “fell” from my head into my heart. I began to trust myself to be the kind of man I had long envisioned myself becoming. That was a pivotal moment for both of us. I was so grateful that I had done the deeper work on myself.
I was emotionally prepared for what had just happened, because even a year before I could never have been there for her when she needed to learn how to trust a man again. Those things I told Layne I could have said before in other relationships, all the while hoping, but knowing I could not live up to them.
After that night we began, in earnest, to find any hidden barriers that could block us from deepening our trust and expanding our love. We had no idea that it would lead us to new careers as transformational relationship teachers and coaches. Because we learned how to transform our personal suffering into relationship wisdom, we have attracted thousands of students who have trusted us to teach them what we have learned.
We started this journey in our twenties. Layne and I have now been together for 40 years. And our love continues to grow and transform as we transit the ups and downs of a lasting and loving relationship, together.
People are always asking us what tip or technique has been the most helpful to us. The answer is too complex for one tip or one technique, which often tend to simply be Band-Aids. But, one thing I know for sure is this, if I hadn’t learned how to face my own fears around love and power and heal my historical emotional wounds, I wouldn’t have learned how to be the kind of man a woman can trust.