In today’s culture, individuals are on high alert about abuse and harassment issues to the extent that the quest for meaningful relationships is affected by concerns about whether or not a person is trustworthy.
Nevertheless, the need for belonging, the desire for close relationships and the yearning for emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual intimacy beat away in human beings. Taking risks and making ourselves vulnerable to each other in forming connections is always fraught with a certain amount of anxiety, there is yet one more hurdle in the process of meeting and mating. Where, we ask, are we be safe? How do we conduct ourselves in daily relationships?
While awkward and often jarring, the conversations about uncomfortable topics can ultimately lead to a deeper understanding of what makes relationships survive and thrive. In the long run, coming to a greater clarity of each other’s needs, expectations and fears can help us reach across the great divides that separate us, hopefully bringing about more honest and authentic relationships.
Always, uproar in the culture can make us stronger when we take a look at our own lives, do some honest introspection and inventory and know the truth about how we relate to each other. Socrates wisely stated that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Perhaps that wisdom can provide some guidance for some self-reflection. Self-reflection can lead to greater self-awareness, and self-awareness can provide insight for making corrections in one’s own way of relating to others, whether you are looking for a significant relationship, just getting acquainted or considering deepening a commitment.
Here are some first steps in exploring the issue of safety and trust in a relationship.
- Remember: Take some time to reflect on a time when you felt really safe and free
with another person. What was it that the other person did or said that made it possible for you to trust him/her? Remember, as well, an occasion when you felt wary, confused, anxious or even afraid with another person. What was it that made you feel unsafe?
Is feeling safe or unsafe a pattern for you? Is a feeling of anxiety that you have today about a current relationship or is it residue from an earlier betrayal?
- Take a look at yourself: How important is it for others to feel safe and be safe with you? What kinds of behaviors do you have that communicate to others that you are trustworthy? Do you keep your word? When you offend or hurt someone, are you able to apologize sincerely? How do you handle rejection? What do you do when you are angry? If you were ruthlessly honest with yourself, what would you say that you need to improve in order to feel safe and keep others feeling safe in a close relationship? Are you afraid of commitment because of a past failure in relationships, and if so, what can you learn about yourself from the past that can help you be freer and wiser now?
- Stay awake and alert: Relationships that last are built on mutual trust and respect.
Character is formed by thoughts, which leads to action. Those actions that are repeated over time become habits. Habits both shape and reveal character. At the first sign of dishonesty, either in yourself or another person, it is important to sit up and take notice. If a pattern emerges, it is time to take action to talk about the discrepancy and, if the relationship is important enough, work for a change in the patterns.
- Honor the paradox: All persons are a mixture of weaknesses and strengths. We all make mistakes, and often we hurt the persons we love the most. Healthy relationships, then, involve knowing when to overlook a flaw and when it must be addressed as a potential deal-breaker in a trusting relationship. The intricate dance of love requires both boundary-setting and vulnerability, acceptance and forgiveness.
Jeanie Miley is an author of thirteen books on spiritual growth and relationships, including the recent release Practicing Resurrection: Radical Hope in Difficult Times. She is a speaker and retreat leader and has written a weekly newspaper column, “Growing Edges” for thirty-eight years. http://www.jeaniemiley.com/