“You see, you closed your eyes. That was the difference. Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are ever going to have other people trust you, you must feel that you can trust them, too–even when you’re in the dark. Even when you’re falling.”
― Mitch Albom,
Trust is one of those words with a million meanings. But, how do you build and maintain trust? Simply put, you show up for the other person on a consistent basis. Trust involves demonstrating to another person that you see them and hear them. Sometimes this involves saying to the other person, “I’m here for you” and then actually being there for them when they reach out for you. Trust means that you believe what they think and feel matters and you will do your best to support them. This involves saying, “This is important to me because you are important to me.”
Time and time again, researchers assert that trust is built in sliding door moments (John Gottman & Brene Brown). A sliding door moment is when your partner asks you to come look at something and without hesitation you look at what they want to show you. A sliding door moment is returning a text as soon as you are able and returning a phone call (even if you’re tired). Trust is built through these sliding door moments, brick by brick, over periods of time. Trust is the safe feeling of “I know you’ve got my back when I’m down and out and when I’m reaching for my dreams.”
There is a universal fear of being a burden on someone and when we are dismissed we are more likely to move away from that relationship. This means, trust is eroded in these sliding door moments as well. If I reach for you and you ignore me or don’t respond part of the trust in our relationship dies. If I ask for for verbal support or acknowledgement and it is ignored or minimized more trust dies. And, eventually, there is no trust left. The relationship then becomes surface level if anything at all.
Interestingly, when I was working with cancer patients, I found that once a person was diagnosed many friends and family vanished. I came to realize that many people don’t know what to say or do in moments of suffering or tragedy, so they do nothing. This is catastrophic for relationships. Or worse, friends or family think that the person doesn’t need them. That’s so seldom ever the case.
In most cases, all you really have to do for someone is just be there. Just show up (not necessarily physically but that helps). Maybe because we’re scared or overwhelmed by what’s happening to someone we care about we disappear. Sometimes when things improve for people, the vanished friends and family resurfaced and could not understand why the relationship was forever altered. When you don’t show up, or at the very least acknowledge someone, you demolish trust. In some cases, it is destroyed forever.
Trust means being honest about what you can and cannot do for another person. If you feel overwhelmed or scared, tell the person. It is better to acknowledge your own limitations than to disappear. This honesty may preserve your relationship. It is okay to not know what to do for someone you love or to not be able to be there for someone you love but you must communicate these limitations out loud so the person knows what’s happening.
Trust is also built in moments of success and joy. Because of the competitive nature of our culture, we often struggle to celebrate the successes of people around us. We perceive their success as our failure. In doing so, we erode the trust in the relationship. Trust is built in moments of joy and success as much as it is built in moments of sorrow. In these instances, trust means that I can call you with an accomplishment and your response will be something like “I’m so happy for you” or “I’m so proud of you.”
When you consider that trust is built in these micro-moments throughout our days and lives, I ask you: Are you trustworthy?
“We’re paying the highest tribute you can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple.”
― Harper Lee,