Trust and Trustworthiness

Trust and trustworthiness are essential qualities of relationships that last a lifetime. This holds true for clergy and their spouses just as much as for other couples. John and Julie Gottman define trust as the specific state of a relationship that exists when both people are willing to change their own behavior to benefit the other. So trust defines the state of the relationship when couples see their individual happiness as deeply connected to that of their mate, and each changes their own behavior in order to increase their mate’s happiness.

Trust says: “My mate has my back and I have my mate’s back.” Trustworthiness is different from trust. Trustworthiness indicates one’s willingness to sacrifice for the relationship, to put my own needs aside because my mate matters most. Consider that we trust God because he is trustworthy. Trustworthiness says: “You are unique and irreplaceable. Our relationship is sacred.”

When trust and trustworthiness are high, clergy and their spouses experience deep connection and happiness because they prioritize the well-being of their spouse and their marriage. Consider these five principles for cultivating trust and trustworthiness in your relationships:

  1. Actively protect trust. Trust is one of the walls in the Sound Relationship House. Do everything you need to do to have your partner’s back, to change your own behavior so as to benefit your mate. When husbands and wives do this, then the wall of trust is reinforced daily. In contrast, mistrust is the state that develops when your spouse acts for his/her own benefit without regard for you. You may not be injured, but you do not benefit. Trust is strengthened during the small moments when you turn toward your spouse’s bid for connection and vice versa (see the September 13, 2018 “Relational” Thrive in 5). Do you have your spouse’s back? Do you intentionally change your own behavior to benefit your spouse?
  2. Be trustworthy. How trustworthy are you within the relationships you consider sacred? Do you keep your promises? Do you communicate that your spouse and children are special and irreplaceable? Do you take active steps to protect the boundaries of these special relationships from erosion? The opposite of trustworthiness is betrayal. Betrayal is when one mate acts for their own benefit BUT at the cost or expense of their spouse. It’s one thing to say “I can’t count on you to remember my birthday.” It’s another thing entirely to say “I can’t count on you to remain faithful to me.” What is one thing you can do or say today that will begin to increase the trust in your most precious relationships?
  3. Be attuned to the special people in your life. Tune into the emotional life of the significant people in your life. Validate their emotional reality and become curious about their experience, especially when it differs from your own. Instead of jumping to correction or defensiveness, listen to their experience (see the June 6, 2019 “Relational” Thrive in 5). How attuned are you to what your spouse and family members are feeling? In what ways can you let them know you are truly listening to them?
  4. Show your admiration for one another through respect. Disrespect is one sure way to introduce betrayal into your relationship according to the Gottmans. Put your admiration for those you love into words and tell those you love what you admire about them. Praise them — in their presence — when speaking with others. Admiration is the sure antidote to an attitude of contempt, and it short circuits the pathway to disrespect. In what concrete ways can you show your spouse and key significant people in your life that you respect them? How would they describe how you show respect for them?
  5. Review how benefits and burdens are experienced. Mistrust and even betrayal can arise when the benefits and burdens of family life are unevenly allocated. Consider the sons of Jacob in Genesis. Joseph’s half-brothers readily concluded that Joseph was receiving too many “benefits” while they were saddled with the “burdens” in this family. The anger and rage that resulted from this faulty distribution almost cost Joseph his life. Take a courageous inventory of who carries what load within the family. If a redistribution of burdens is not possible at the moment, do everything you can to overtly recognize the additional sacrifice that someone may be making on behalf of the family. Is someone in your family making more sacrifices than others on their behalf? Who is most overloaded in your family?

To learn more about creating trust and trustworthiness, please see the following resources:

  1. Listen to this podcast by the Gottman’s:  Small Things Often
  2. Read Chapter 13 “Learning to Trust Again” in John Gottman’s book, What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal, New York: Simon and Shuster, 2012..
  3. Share this YouTube video on trustworthiness with your children, “Character for Kids: Trustworthiness” 
  4. Watch  this YouTube for adults, by John Gottman, “How to Build Trust”
  5. Read chapter 3, “Lead Out of Your Marriage or Singleness,” in Peter Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015.

Relational contributor:  Virginia T. Holeman, PhD., LMFT, LPCC, Retired Faculty, Asbury Theological Seminary

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle