Does your love interest keep having to jump through an increasingly complex series of hoops to prove themselves to you because you’re so slow to trust? Testing at the beginning helps you both see if it’s safe to go deeper. But at what point does continuing to test start to wreck your relationship?
I rescued a traumatized pit bull mix, Phoenix, three years ago. When my partner first started staying over, Phoenix was overprotective of me and terrified of men. Because of her sharp bark, he was afraid go to the bathroom at night in the dark, even though she was crated!
After he moved in, it took a year of his walking and feeding her before she even wagged her tail at him. But if he made one fast move, she’d still growl or bark. After two years, she greeted him for the first time with the joyful wriggling at the front door that she used to only give me. He almost cried.
It’s exhausting to constantly have to prove yourself worthy of trust.
After 2.5 years of living together, during which he took care of me through two major surgeries, my lack of trust took center stage again. He forgot to pick something up at the store that I’d asked for. I made it mean that he didn’t care about my needs and didn’t want to help me. I told him how disappointed I felt.
After a long silence, he said it felt like I was still testing him. I thought he was ridiculous, but soon realized he was right. I’d been tracking what he said he’d do and whether or not he did it in my time frame. When he did it more slowly, or forgot, my belief that my needs didn’t matter got hit. My trust in him went down, which he could feel, and he got nervous and made more mistakes.
Here’s the kicker, my friend: Whatever disappointing thing you’re afraid your partner will do, they’ll probably end up doing because you’ve infused that expectation into the subtle field of your relationship.
Here are four ways to work with your lack of trust and improve your relationships:
1. Start treating your partner as if they’re the person you want them to be, not the person you’re afraid they are.
Have you noticed how your partner shines when you’re filled with love for them? And how, when you’re not, they lose their luster? Own how much power you wield with your perception and use it gracefully.
If you focus on what you fear instead of on what you want, what you fear will most likely happen. It’s not that your partner is the bad person you’re afraid they are. It’s that you’ve grooved that fearful expectation into yourself so deeply that your life literally organizes itself around fulfilling that expectation and giving you the experience you fear.
This is not to say that you are to blame for the bad things that have happened to you in the past. NOT AT ALL. It’s to say that it’s time to interrogate the beliefs created by those painful experiences and change those beliefs if they prevent you from having the loving and trusting relationships you want now.
In a nutshell, you don’t get to pick at your partner for years out of your lack of trust, then blame them for fucking up. That shit stops now.
2. Make one small request a day.
To build the muscle of receptivity and appreciation, start making one small request a day. Ask for something that doesn’t carry a lot of weight, so you’re not crushed if it doesn’t happen.
For example, “Please bring me a glass of water.” If they do it, genuinely radiate appreciation and say “Thank you.” Keep your request simple and avoid justifying it with a bunch of extra words like, “Please bring me a glass of water because I’m so tired and have a cat on my lap.”
You deserve to ask for what you want without having to justify your request with why you can’t do it yourself. If you tend to over-justify, you have work to do around receiving. Do the vulnerable thing and ask clearly and simply for one small thing you want.
Write down successes like, “I asked for a glass of water and they brought it to me.” Train your mind to notice and appreciate when your partner does something right.
If you ask for what you want, without the charge of the 5,387 times you didn’t get it before, your partner will want to give it to you. If they don’t, that’s worth talking about. Maybe you both have some built up resentments that need clearing before the channel of generosity can open between you again.
3. Explore the terrain of trust.
You may need support for this exploration from a coach or therapist. It’s hard to navigate this terrain entirely on your own, especially if you have tons of evidence for why you can’t trust anyone. Our patterns run deep. When you get uncomfortable, you'll tend to abdicate responsibility or overly blame yourself for things that aren’t your fault, so it helps to have a trained pair of eyes looking at the terrain with you.
If you’re in a relationship, tell your partner you want to work on your lack of trust. Ask them to gently tell you when they feel you’re not trusting them. Invite your partner to help you see yourself more clearly. This is tender and vulnerable work. Be sure you’re both ready for this level of transparency and that you won’t use it to clobber one another with resentments masquerading as truths.
Eventually, as you build your capacity to trust, you’ll be able to meet your partner with more of you present, instead of keeping your wounding in front of you like both dartboard and shield.
4. Stop testing.
No, really, just stop. If you’ve been in relationship for more than 5 minutes, and they’ve been there for you so far, you can stop testing. Looking for evidence that they’re untrustworthy and expecting them to fuck up is a shitty way for both of you to live. It poisons the present and doesn't lessen the pain when a future fuck-up happens. To help shift this tendency, click here to read my blog about how to change the habit of anticipating loss.
I’m here with you, learning to trust, too. Seeing my partner help me with joy is well worth the work of shifting my patterns. As I stopped testing, he showed up even more fully than before. Our relationship has more room for imperfection and humor. We now meet life as a team.