What do we mean by trust?

Trust is a theme that surfaces often in couple’s therapy. Yet, I wonder if we have a shared sense of what it means.

What is trust exactly? It’s a question I’ve been turning over lately.

According to the Gottman Institute, trust is built in the smallest moments. These moments include “showing up” in different ways, asking for and receiving help, or simple gestures that reveal we are seen, valued, respected. Because these moments are “small” and passing it’s easy to overlook their importance in generating trust over time. This can be especially true in heated moments.

Dr. Brene Brown, author and research professor at the University of Houston, believes that trust occurs when we choose to make something important to us vulnerable to the actions of someone else. Distrust occurs when we feel we’ve shared something important and we don’t feel safe because of the actions of another.

Brown has come up with an acronym, BRAVING, to describe the various elements of trust so that we have a tool to assess and talk about where it might be breaking down. She makes the key point that trust is not only about trusting others it is also about trusting ourselves. We have to feel worthy of receiving trust in order to give it.

To trust, Brown says, we have to brave connection. Hence, the acronym. Here’s how she breaks it down:

“B” stands for BOUNDARIES. I trust you if we are both clear about our boundaries and we respect them.

“R” stands for RELIABILITY. I trust you if you do what you say you’re going to do on a regular basis, over time. Being reliable also involves knowing our limitations so that we don’t take on so much that we are unable to follow through on our commitments.

“A” stands for ACCOUNTABILITY. I trust you if when you make a mistake, you own it, apologize, and make amends for your behavior and vice versa.

“V” stands for the VAULT. If I share something in confidence with you I trust you will keep it private and not tell others.

“I” stands for INTEGRITY. Trust is built when we see each other act with integrity. Integrity means choosing courage over comfort, choosing what’s right over what’s fast and easy, and living your values not just professing them. In short, we walk our talk.

“N” stands for NONJUDGMENTAL. If I trust you, I know you won’t judge me unfairly when I need help. I can fall apart and struggle and you will be there for me without judgment. And, of course, trust must be reciprocal. It’s always a two-way street.

“G” stands for GENEROSITY. This doesn’t mean you give your mate an expensive gift or gourmet dinner, no! This means that if your partner screws up by saying or doing something wounding, you will make a generous assumption about their words or actions and “check in” with them about it.

We turn to our partner for understanding. We want them to truly see us and to share in our hopes and our fears. We want them to celebrate our successes and to have our backs when we struggle. Yet, when our partner makes a mistake by not listening, not remembering something important, or showing up late (or not at all!) we can end up saying I don’t trust you to be there for me.

And this can come across like a blanket judgment.

What the BRAVING acronym provides is a useful tool for avoiding that trap and giving us a framework for talking about where specifically we think trust has broken down. That kind of clarity opens up the possibility of renewed connection – with ourselves and/or our partner.

****In a future post I will write about trust and infidelity****