How to Trust your Partner

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Joe doesn’t trust his friends, they might not have his back. He doesn’t trust his boss, he might be ripping him off. Joe doesn’t trust his girlfriend, she could leave him if someone else comes along.

Joe’s pessimistic expectations started early in childhood.  He was beaten by his grandfather.  If he can’t trust his own grandfather, who can he trust?  He could not trust his parents or his big brother to prevent the abuse from happening to him.  He could not trust his judgment to solve the victimization.  He could not trust life to be happy and successful.

He trusted that his life would be one painful episode after another, and it was.  It is not that hard to arrange the fulfillment of ones prophecies of disaster.  Joe was attracted to people who were as pessimistic and discouraged as he was. They affirmed his expectations of betrayal, abandonment and disaster.

Joe was in a relationship with Jen, who also had a chaotic childhood.  They took turns breaking each others hearts. There was no prospect of love or respect, only pain and hurt.

One afternoon, Jen left a message for Joe to call her back right away. She was upset over something at work, someone had given her a hard time. Joe could tell that she had taken the setback personally, that she didn’t trust herself to solve the problem on her own. She was using him to dump her anger and confirm her dependency by seeking useless advice that she never took anyway because she couldn’t trust him or herself.

In the old days, before counseling, he would have obeyed instantly and mindlessly called her back. Joe learned in counseling that he was not a powerless, dependent victim anymore. He was a grownup who had the power of choice. Joe understood that he could actually trust his judgment even though it wasn’t as perfect as he always required it to be.

Joe chose to take a sanity break.  He would calm himself down for a minute and when he was ready, he called.  Instead of falling into their mutually destructive scenarios, he said,  “Gee, that must have made you angry.  I’d be angry if that happened to me.  What do you think you can do about it?” She said, “I don’t know.  That’s why I’m calling you.”

Joe continued, “I have an idea for you.  I’ve been learning that when I’m angry and out of control, I have a choice.  I can choose to write my anger out in the form of an anger letter.  I get it out of my system.  I feel like I’ve accomplished something.  I get some relief, then I tear it up and go on with my day.”

Jen responded, “Are you telling me to write a stupid anger letter?” Joe said, “No, I’m just telling you what I’ve been doing.  It’s entirely up to you what you do.  You can choose to write it or not.  I’m just sorry you’re so upset.”

Joe had learned the difference between giving irrelevant advice and setting an example of self-respect for others to see and follow.  He respected Jen’s ability to make an appropriate choice between the two alternatives. Her life would go on either way.  She was not dependent on him for her validation as a person. She was independent now.  So was he.

Joe learned he could validate his own judgment.  He shared his experience with her as one imperfect human being to another.  He did not fall into the trap of assuming excessive responsibility for another human being.  He had replaced his old, useless good intentions with a real intention. He was doing what reality required, not what he used to do to relieve the pain of his self-doubt.  He had trusted his adult judgment. It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t worthless, either.  It got the job done.  He expected it to be good enough and he was right.  It didn’t fail him.

Joe had paid Jennifer a compliment by encouraging her to trust her own resources.  He had learned that his worth as a person was not dependent on her making the preferred choice.  He was a worthwhile human being in spite of his own human faults and imperfections, and so was Jen.  And that’s how he had spoken to her, as one equal member of the human race to another.

She called back.  She had written her anger out of her system.  She had put it in perspective.  Joe validated her accomplishment, her success, her relief and her confidence so that she could do it again.  He was starting to trust her not to fulfill her prophecies of disaster. He realized, that before he could trust her, he had to trust himself.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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