Opinion: The Rising Trust Issues in Relationships

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A number of psychologists recently reported that, over the past 10 years, there has been an unprecedented rise in trust issues among couples who seek counseling. Part of this increase is due to recent technological advances that make it easier for partners to be deceptive, for example, to hide text messages, cell phone call lists, Facebook friends’ messages and emails.

In an intimate relationship, trust is all important.

Relationship expert Shirley Glass points out that “Intimate relationships are contingent on honesty and openness. They are built and maintained through our faith that we can believe what we are being told.” 

Clearly, trust matters a great deal to a lot of people, especially to those of us who are striving to have a loving, fulfilling relationship.

In fact, trust could be thought of as the glue that holds a relationship together because it facilitates a positive emotional connection between partners based on affection, love and loyalty. Mutual trust within happy couples is reinforced by the presence of oxytocin, a neuropeptide in the brain that expedites bonding between a newborn and its mother. 

Loving, affectionate, and sexual exchanges between partners also release oxytocin, which, according to some scientists, “makes people trusting not gullible.”

By contrast, mistrust can disrupt even the most loving relationship. There are many situations that occur over the course of a relationship that can generate attitudes of mistrust and suspicion in one or both partners. Most people respond to deception or lying by a partner in much the same way they reacted to their parent’s lies, dishonesty, and mixed messages.

When everyday stresses intrude into our protected space or an unexpected relationship problem disturbs our calm, we may begin to feel insecure and self-doubting. We may also begin to doubt our partner’s love, loyalty, and trustworthiness. Without realizing it, we may react to these doubts by pulling away from our loved one in subtle ways.

Why does trust rest on such shaky foundations? On the other hand, wouldn’t it be risky to be too naïve and trusting? What kinds of trust issues do couples face today that were virtually nonexistent only a decade ago? How can we best deal with events or situations that threaten to erode our trust and confidence?

People’s reactions to a partner’s dishonesty and lying are based primarily on their past experience with parents who may have betrayed their trust. In discussing the aftermath of an affair, it is important to note that “Individuals who did not develop basic trust during childhood are especially vulnerable to deception by a loved one. Infidelity brings back all of those childhood wounds for a person who was lied to.”

Deception or betrayal of trust can have a more damaging effect on the relationship than the affair itself. Lies and deceit shatter the reality of others, eroding their belief in the veracity of their perceptions and subjective experience.

The betrayal of trust brought about by a partner’s secret involvement with another person leads to a shocking and painful realization on the part of the deceived party that the person he or she has been involved with has a secret life and that there is an aspect of his or her partner that he or she had no knowledge of.

Similarly, in Living and Loving After Betrayal, Steven Stosny claims that “Just as the harm of a gunshot wound threatens the general health of the body, intimate betrayal goes well beyond issues of trust and love to infect the way we make sense of our lives in general.”

Trust can also be destroyed through a partner’s indifference, criticality, contempt, and rejecting behaviors, both overt and covert. A loved one’s secrecy or deceit about abusing alcohol or drugs can obliterate trust. Deception and lies about money, family finances, or other hidden agendas can demolish people’s confidence and faith in a mate’s trustworthiness.

– Abubakar Yunusa writes from Abuja.

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