Trust obstructs healing.
With good reason. When we get hurt, we close up. It is a normal self-protective feature with which we are equipped. It's healthy for us individually to do this, but that what is often healthy for individuals is not always best for relationships. It's easy to close off relationships that don't mean much to us, like a new acquaintance or a colleague. But what about those relationships that you can't just walk away from? What about a marriage or a close friendship that needs to heal even though it is scary?
What do you do when you can't trust someone you love?
I think the answer is simple. After years of experience working with couples, I've decided that people trying to heal after a relational trauma (this means, a wound in an important relationship), should not try to rebuild trust.
If you think about it, the answer is actually pretty simple. Trust is passive: we have it. Risk, on the other hand, is active: we do it. When you want to heal a relationship, but you're scared that you can't trust someone, what you're saying is that you're not willing to risk vulnerability with that person. But the way we talk about trust is that it is earned, when in actuality, no one can earn our trust, they can only give us feedback that helps us decide whether to take a leap of faith.
So why talk about trust?
When I was a kid, I used to wander to my grandparents house to watch them spin beautiful pieces of clay on a potter's wheel. They would take the clay from these large and thick plastic wraps, water them down, then flop them on a flat surface to spin and shape them. I was mesmerized by the spinning block of clay that was carefully crafted into a work of art. Every once in a while, however, the clay would weaken before the piece was finished. When this happened, it fell apart all over my grandmother's hands. She'd sigh, take a break, then water the clay, and get back to it.
Risk works this way.
Trust is the opposite of reshaping clay on the potter's wheel. We've crafted the idea that our choices to be vulnerable with our partners depends on their trustworthiness rather than our willingness to be courageous. When our partners do something to challenge that carefully spun reality, the relationship crumbles around us. Relationships that recover from these moments recognize that healing relationships is about the choice to risk even though we've been hurt. It is our choice to be courageous.
My grandmother knew that there was a possibility she could return to the clay and it could fall apart again. The clay usually maintained its integrity the second time, but sometimes, it crumbled again, informing my grandmother that it was not interested in being molded into a work of art. When this happened, rather than second guess her ability to be a potter, my grandmother simply decided she was no longer willing to risk any more time.
Risk is the choice to be courageously vulnerable.
If you are recovering from a relationship, and you're waiting for your partner to become trustworthy, perhaps it is time to consider, whether you are willing to risk healing. Another way to think about it is that you cultivate trust rather than wait for it. It is difficult and potentially dangerous, but the best relationships usually are.