When it comes to relationship safety, I am up on my research, and some may say it makes me slightly difficult to date.  I grew up on Unsolved Mysteries, Matlock, and Dateline, and I can’t resist a good episode of Snapped or Forensic Files.  Spoiler alert: it’s always the significant other. Recently, I ate up the Netflix hosted documentaries The Mask You Live in, Miss Representation, and wait for it… A Killer in the Family. I can spot the 15 warning signs of escalating domestic abuse, identify misogynistic tendencies, and understand the inequality in everyday actions and common perceptions.  All of these are reasons I run from certain relationships and, incidentally, among the myriad of reasons I did not vote for donald (but that’s a whole other blog).  Some say it’s self-destructive. I disagree. I’d rather be single than be dead.

Recently, in the middle of a glowing report of a seemingly really sweet guy, I caught myself saying, ‘he’s little reserved, but it doesn’t seem like in the way where he can’t express thoughts and feelings. I mean that is a risk factor, but I don’t think he’s going to kill me.’ Then I eased straight into a conversation about A Killer in the Family, domestic violence, etcetera, etcetera. Later when my friend and I reflected on how this conversation had ended up where it did, we back tracked our steps and could not help but laugh that our dark conversation started with a really lovely feeling of excitement about a cute guy.

Today I sifted through my emotional intelligence book trying to choose a strategy to deliberately practice and came across the chapter in the relationship management section entitled “Build Trust.” It was a light read, but at this moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Authors Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves say “Trust is something that takes time to build, can be lost in seconds, and may be the most important and most difficult objective in managing our relationships.”

Trust between countries. Trust between political parties. Trust between races. Trust between religions. Trust between neighbors. Trust between genders. My trust in my relationships.  We are all skating on thin ice right now in terms of trust, and that ice is dangerously showing its weaknesses.  And just like ice, it does not matter who cracks it because we all fall in.

Though the process of building trust is wide in scope, Bradberry and Greaves offer these basic requirements for success:

  • open communication
  • willingness to share
  • consistency in words, actions, and behavior over time
  • reliability in following through on agreements of the relationship

One tip they gave for laying the foundation for a trusting relationship of any nature is to be the first to lay some of yourself on the line and share something about you. Listening to feedback and responding to needs is important to maintaining trust.

This is all great in theory, but it doesn’t take much to look and see how opening oneself up is tantamount to setting yourself up on the chopping block. Speaking out for a belief could be held against you if you change your mind, get proven wrong, or even are just disagreed with.  Investing yourself in a cause may leave you empty handed if that cause fails to succeed. Even reaching for a hand to hold may leave you looking like a fool if the one on the other side of that hand does not reach back or tries to hold you back and hurt you. Politics and pop culture assure us that being taken advantage of is a near certainty and show it happening over and over. Often times, our own lives show us that trust is routinely violated in some of the most profound and hurtful ways possible.

The truth is that as easy as it is to just sit back and be ignorant about the dangers of the world, it is just as easy to lose yourself in statistics and be scared of everything.  Whether we’re looking for progress in politics, business, or relationships, we have to be willing to take a step towards a goal with faith that we will not be taken advantage of or punished.  Finding a balance that reconciles both needs to be safe and to move forward requires trust in our counterparts.  The science shows that for a relationship to function well, all parties must go out on that limb.

My takeaway is this: know the science behind the scenes (i.e. statistics, body language, substantiated warning signs) that will tell you whether someone is trustworthy or not. However, keep that knowledge filed away until someone has shown that they may not be trustworthy.  In other words, trust fully but be able to recognize when that trust is doing you harm. My goals this month are to avoid looking for escape routes or safety nets in solid relationships and to make certain that I follow the trust building guidelines whenever I have an opportunity to do so.