A marriage stands or falls on the quality of its foundation.
Vicky* sat at the kitchen table, stunned and hurt. Her four-year-old marriage to Alex, on which she had pinned so many hopes and dreams, seemed false. She had just heard from a friend that Alex had been seen lunching with an old girlfriend.
When Vicky asked why he hadn't mentioned it to her, his reply was defensive: "I knew you would freak out, like you're doing now." Alex could not see how that omission had undermined Vicky's trust in him, his character and their relationship.
Vicky and Alex are typical of many couples who, for a variety of reasons, are facing a crisis of trust—and it's a crisis that could destroy their marriages.
One of the most wonderful gifts of a loving marriage is the ability to trust your mate—trust that he will be true to you emotionally; trust that she does what she says she will do; trust that he is the same person on the inside that he presents on the outside; trust that she has your best interest in mind. This creates safety, security and a deeper capacity to love. Successful marriages are built on trust. So how do mates develop and maintain this virtue in their relationship?
Understand the Nature of Trust
One of the Old Testament words for trust (batach) has a meaning of "careless." Think about it: When you trust your spouse, you feel so safe that you are careless—or free of concern—with him or her. You don't have to hide who you are or be self-protective.
Talk about this definition with your spouse. Ask yourselves, "Are we careless with each other? Or are we guarded in some ways?" It's sometimes difficult to be vulnerable with your spouse, but doing so gives your mate a chance to love and understand you.
Trust isn't given unconditionally. You have to be trustworthy to receive trust. Even Jesus submitted himself to the trust test, teaching people to see if He was really who He claimed: "Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does" (John 10:37).
What does that mean for you as a couple? It means checking with your spouse on how you affect him or her. Ask your mate, "In what ways have I not been trustworthy?" For example, perhaps you have been critical or harsh when your spouse admits a fault or weakness. This erodes trust and shows you can't be trusted with more vulnerable parts of the heart. Or maybe you have not delivered on your promises. Asking your spouse for honest input will reveal areas that you may need to work on to build trust in your marriage.
Put an End to Deception
Trust and truth go hand in hand. That is why deception of any sort is the biggest trust killer.
There is no such thing as a white lie. Being honest with your spouse includes telling the truth about where you were, whom you talked to, what you said and where you spent money. Many marriages have been saved because both spouses committed to being honest, even if it involved painful truths.
Give Change a Chance
Let's suppose your marriage has experienced a breach of trust already. The hurt from that experience can cause you to withdraw your heart and decide never to trust again. But don't give up on your spouse. Give him or her a chance to earn your trust so that your marriage can be restored.
But remember: There must be more than apologies. To earn your trust, your spouse needs to make some real changes. Maybe the offending spouse needs to join a support group or talk to a mentor. Maybe he or she needs to be more accountable to you and even accept consequences for bad behavior in the future.
One couple I counseled experienced a crisis of trust that could have torn their marriage apart. The husband flirted with other women: waitresses, co-workers, even their mutual friends. He thought it was harmless until his wife told him how alone and scared it made her feel. He saw how it was affecting her, and he was a changed man.
He told her, "If you see me being inappropriate with a woman again, tell me right there and I will stop." He became more accountable, and she was finally able to trust her husband.
Trust can be built and rebuilt, and couples can enjoy the intimacy that comes from being secure in each other's love.
*Names have been changed
This article first appeared in the Couples Edition of the April, 2008 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2008 Dr. John Townsend. All rights reserved.