Let’s start with two relationship advice basics:
1. Intimacy (emotional & physical intimacy) is built on a foundation of mutual trust.
2. Since trust and intimacy walk hand-in-hand, if your relationship lacks intimacy, at some level it lacks trust.
Emotional Intimacy 101
Intimacy is about sharing and the emotional, physical and spiritual connection that results from this sharing. You give of yourself to another by sharing your thoughts, opinions, feelings, memories, life experiences, hopes and dreams.
Typically the sharing and trust that develops does not occur overnight. It unfolds over time and your spouse’s/partner’s responses to what you share is critical in how trust is shaped.
If you have recently started a relationship, expect that trust will take time. Feeling intensely passionate about someone and wanting to spend every waking moment with him/her is not the same as having a deeply trusting relationship. If you automatically believe that you can trust someone, you could be placing yourself at risk for a huge let-down.
The relationship Trust-Sharing Cycle
Sharing leads to trust and trust leads to more sharing
Here is one way that trust might have developed (and continues to unfold) in your relationship. First the obvious: In the beginning you met. Somehow, the universe crossed your path with the owner of the toothbrush that sits next to yours. Early in your relationship, there was small talk and the getting-to-know-each-other jitters. Perhaps you each described the important people in your lives, spiritual beliefs, books, music and movies you’ve enjoyed.
An emotional door opened and more and more information flowed. You learned about each other’s likes, dislikes, passions and interests. You felt comforted by the discovery that your views of the world are aligned—you began to feel like kindred spirits. The emerging relationship felt emotionally safe and gave you a greater sense of security and belonging.
As the trust in your spouse/partner developed, the information shared became more personal—your partner became a trusted friend.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
All Couples Test Each Other: The Test-Trust Equation
How your partner reacts to you is essential in the building of trust. Unbeknownst to you, early in your relationship you began to trust your partner only after s/he passed a series of tests. Whether you were consciously aware of it or not, whenever you became emotionally vulnerable with your partner you were testing him/her—we all do this.
As you opened your heart, you learned whether your partner’s reactions made you feel emotionally safe, misunderstood or worse, emotionally wounded. Was s/he supportive and validating (a passing grade that leads to deeper trust and intimacy) or indifferent and rejecting (a failing grade that erodes trust and intimacy)?
Slowly and over time, the more support and validation you received, the more you were able to trust. As your trust increased, you shared deeper and more profound things. Intimacy deepened and the emotional connection you felt with your partner brought a richness and wholeness to your life.
Whether you’re recently married or you and your spouse/partner have been together for fifty years, trust will always be an important part of your relationship that deserves attention.
Did your partner pass your trust tests? And does s/he continue to pass these tests?
Relationship Help Action Step
Reflect on the different ways in which your spouse/partner reacts (or fails to react) whenever you share and become emotionally vulnerable with him/her.
- Which reactions deepen trust and make you feel more connected?
- What weakens trust and intimacy?
- Can you share these observations with your spouse/partner?
Until next time,
Rich Nicastro, Ph.D.