It amazes me that experts on marriage talk so little about trust. They discuss compatibility, even administer personality profiles to help a couple see how they match up. All fine, and very worthwhile. When I do pre-marriage counseling I often use the same tools
But if the intent of marriage is to build and maintain a uniquely intimate relationship, trust is more important than any other quality. We simply do not develop intimacy with someone we don’t trust. Furthermore, the depth of our intimacy will be in direct proportion to the depth of our trust.
Diane and I met in college and married just after graduation. Both of us felt we were making a good choice, but I wanted to know if there was one quality about me (beside my good looks?) that gave Diane the confidence to marry me. So one day I asked her just why she married me.
We have asked many couples that question during counseling. Some common responses: “He swept me off my feet.” She was just what I wanted.” Well, it seemed like the thing to do at the time.” I prayed and God said he was the one.” “I don’t know.”
Diane had a different response, and one we have not heard from many people. Diane told me she married me because she knew she could trust me. For Diane, that was the core issue. Yes, she felt we had compatibility. She enjoyed my company. She felt good when she was with me. She liked the way I treated her parents, and I probably did sweep her off her feet a little. But it was trust that mattered most to her.
Her answer led me to another question. “Why did you know you could trust me?” Diane told me she knew she could trust me because I honored God. “I know you’re not perfect, Mike,” she said, “but I also know that when God speaks, you listen.”
I hope that has always been true. In over forty years of marriage we have certainly had many opportunities to trust each other and to earn each other’s trust. Mutual trust has made it possible for us to have a relaxing, satisfying marriage.
A very beautiful woman married a very plain looking man. When someone asked her why she married him, when she could have had a much better looking man, she answered, “He never hurts me.” That’s safety, built on trust.
Some people make promises with no intention of fulfilling them. They pledge their loyalty to gain acceptance, or to get what they want. To them a promise is only a means to an end, therefore deceptive. Vows? Those are just words you say in a ceremony, not binding promises.
Others make their promises sincerely, but as circumstances change so does their faithfulness. Promises are forgotten, trust is damaged, and their partner feels the deep pain of betrayal.
This song, Promises, Promises says it well:
In the beginning
Never a doubt
Trusted too true.
In the beginning
I loved you right through.
Arm in arm we laughed like kids
At all the silly things we did
You made me promises, promises
Knowing I’d believe
You knew you’d never keep.
Promises, Promises, recorded by Naked Eyes
-Byrne and Fischer, writers
Words are like people: some you like, some you love, and some you just don’t understand. Spouse has always been that kind of word for me. I didn’t like it. It sounded too much like mouse, or even worse, louse! I disliked that word so much that for many years I would not use it in any article or seminar.
Like some people who seem disagreeable to you, a word can become your friend when you understand it. That happened when I uncovered the ancestry of the word spouse. Its father was a Latin word, spondere, and that word is full of meaning. Spondere means a solemn promise. So a spouse is someone who solemnly promises love and honor to his or her marriage partner.
Two other words share the same ancestor: responsive and responsible. Taken together, these words paint a great picture. A spouse promises to be both responsive and responsible for his or her actions. In other words, a good spouse encourages trust by faithfulness.
Having Trouble Trusting Your Spouse?
Even with a trustworthy spouse, some of us have may trouble trusting. Kevin, for example. For years he had difficulty trusting his wife with money. He would demand strict accounting for every single cent she spent. That was really hard for her, for she is very responsible and did not deserve distrust. There were many tense moments, because Kevin justified excessive accountability, claiming frugality as the reason. In truth, fear controlled him, a fear that if he did not squeeze every cent, they would not have enough.
Change began when he stopped justifying his behavior and admitted his need for God’s help. His wife was wise. She didn’t demand change. She even adapted herself to his weakness. In time, with God’s help and his wife’s patience, that controlling fear lost its power over Kevin. He was free to trust his wife in the way she really deserved.
Trusting Can Be Hard
Why is it hard to trust? Our background and upbringing might be one reason. For example, you may have grown up in a home with parents who weren’t faithful to each other. That example can condition you to expect the same from your husband or wife, or at least to live in the fear of unfaithfulness. Fear always causes some degree of tension.
A little boy is out for a walk with his father. They come to a place where there is a wall about four feet high. The father lifts his son to the top of the wall and urges him to jump. “I’ll catch you,” he promises. But when the boy jumps the father steps aside and lets him fall. As the boy lays there crying, wondering why his dad let him fall, the father says, “Son, let that be a lesson to you to never trust anyone.”
That is a true story. That little boy grew up manipulating and controlling people, but never trusting anyone. As you can imagine, he never developed true intimacy with anyone. Like a rolling stone, he kept moving from one relationship to another. He could not trust, only fear the next inevitable betrayal.
It’s also possible that some well-meaning friend or relative told you that, eventually, everyone cheats. . . especially men! Add to that all the ruined marriages you hear about. Stir in some rotten examples from the media, and you have a recipe for fear. Your husband or wife may love you exclusively, but your fears dominate. Suspicion permeates your mind like a bad odor that won’t go away.
Whatever the cause of your fears, the usual result is a desire for excessive accountability and control. You want to know where every cent went, where the person is every moment. You become angry if he or she spends anything extra or ever comes home late. You believe that every other woman or man wants to steal your mate. You live in misery and so does your spouse.
The way out of those fears is to tell yourself the truth. Yes, other mates have cheated, but that does not mean yours will. Yes, money is tight, but your spouse is a good money manager. Yes, your past was marked by some serious betrayals, but the one you married is not like the ones who hurt you.
It isn’t easy to learn to trust. But your personal relationship with God, through Christ, will make you a faithful, trustworthy person, and will bring healing from the disappointments in your past.
God has been delivering people from their fears for generations. Tell Him that you know your fears are unreasonable, but that you don’t have the power to change. Ask Him to help you know the truth, for when you do, the fears will die. Tensions will decrease, and restful security will grow where fear once ruled.
How do we build trust? The answer is simple: keep your promises. When you hear a little thought in your head that says, “You have a right to be happy. Go ahead! Spend the money for the mortgage payment on new golf clubs. Go to the pub with your friends.” When you hear that thought or others like it, think about the lasting, long-term effects of your unfaithfulness. Then pick up the phone, dial your spouse, and tell him or her how thankful you are for a good marriage.
Think, Act, Pray
1. What has your spouse done in the past that helps you trust him or her?
2. What has your spouse done to make it difficult for you to trust him or her?
3. If you are not trusting someone who really is trustworthy, you are probably believing a lie. What is the lie that you are believing? What is the truth?
The Importance of Being Submitted to God
I once stayed in the home of a young, very successful businessman. He had started small, but his business grew rapidly. Unfortunately, his commitment to Christ withered just as rapidly. One day his wife spoke to me privately. “I worry about my husband,” she said. “He used to pray and read his Bible first thing each morning. Now, no more. When he wakes up, he first wants to see the stock market report. He speculates on the market day and night.” She also told me about a dream she had. She saw a large python come into her house, wrap itself around her children, and begin squeezing them. She said that snake stood for her husband’s love of money and that it was strangling her family.
4. If you had a dream that a snake was strangling your marriage, what would that snake’s name be?