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Broken Promises, Mended Hearts [Secure eReader]
eBook by Joel D. Block

eBook Category: Self Improvement/Self Improvement
eBook Description: Even the strongest relationship can be eroded by common, everyday breaches of trust. A small lie about a purchase, a slight exaggeration about a job promotion, a cover-up for a forgotten birthday--each takes a bite out of trust. Over time, intimate confidences are weakened and the foundation of trust begins to crumble. Filled with inspiring case studies from Dr. Joel Block's private practice, Broken Promises, Mended Hearts offers couples an innovative, solution-oriented approach to restoring trust and repairing love relationships shattered or eroded by betrayal.

eBook Publisher: McGraw-Hill Companies, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: July 2002


The Bridge Connecting Us

Trust is like a bridge between individuals that enables us to cross over to each other. Whether as friends, business associates, or lovers, we feel safe and secure with a strong foundation beneath us. In love relationships in particular, we feel safe enough to express love and attain intimacy when the bridge is solid and we feel confident of its support.

Trust is defined as the assured reliance on the character, strength, or truth of someone or something. More immediately applicable to love relations is the verb "to trust": to have faith or confidence that something is or will be as expected. Those couples who enjoy trust, who give trust to each other, are among the most fortunate people.

When trust is undermined and we feel disappointed or betrayed, such as when we are deceived by a lie or exploited by a broken promise, we pull back just as we would on a bridge that has become unsteady. Our expectations are shattered. Trust in our own judgment is undermined. We feel a sense of loss that a loved one didn't respect us enough to be honest with us or fulfill his or her promise to us. In short, we feel violated and diminished, because trust has been broken. It is a weakened bridge that we can no longer cross, leaving us scrambling to get back to the safety of solid ground.

At times we may believe incorrectly that our trust has been violated. Acting accordingly may result in what we really fear, the loss of love. Our own self-created mistrust can lead us to avoid the bridge, or weaken it until it collapses.

The more important the relationship, the more we feel betrayed and devastated by the result of a loss of trust. Mistrust contains its own seeds for further destruction.

Love, Mistrust, and Loss

Consider the story of Robert and Jean -- a classic example of love, mistrust, and loss. Robert, a thirty-nine-year-old electrical engineer, had been happily married to Jean, an editor of a popular weekly magazine in the Boston area. He had met Jean when both were attending Harvard. It took Robert several years to feel really sure of their relationship. Since he had grown up being more comfortable with objects than people, he felt more in control solving complex engineering problems than having close relationships. He also felt wary about crossing the bridge and allowing himself to love, because his parents had gone through a bitter divorce when he was a child. Thus, it took him a long time to warm up and trust others. After only occasionally dating other women, he experienced a strong attraction to Jean. Finally, after three years of exclusive dating, he felt ready to make a lifelong commitment to her.

For the first few months of marriage, everything was fine. Then Robert's company assigned him to a major international project that required extensive travel. As a result, he and Jean were separated for weeks at a time. Still, Robert remained completely loyal and never considered even looking at another woman. He was certain that Jean felt the same way, since he trusted her so deeply. He was reassured because they shared the same values, and when he did return home for brief periods during his travels, she seemed so adoring and responsive. Nothing seemed to have changed.

However, after one of his trips, Robert went with Jean to a party that changed everything. After a few hours, he began experiencing the effects of jet lag and headed upstairs to a bedroom to lie down for a few minutes. When he swung the bedroom door open, he was surprised to see Jean standing there talking to Walt, a friend he had known since college. As he perceived it, Jean and Walt were standing quite close to each other having a serious conversation; when Jean looked up as he entered, her face flushed and her body seemed to jerk nervously.

Immediately he thought the two must be on "intimate terms." But not wanting to provoke a confrontation, he found another room to lie down in. At home, when he asked Jean about the conversation, she denied that anything was wrong. "We were just talking and I was startled to see you," she said.

After this incident, however, based on what he perceived and believed, Robert's trust in Jean had been fatally pierced. He had always valued safety, security, and predictability, and now he felt uncertain about Jean's love, despite her denials. He was so unnerved that he rejected a few friends' unsolicited advice to consider the incident innocent and get on with his life. Instead, he felt angered by their advice, convinced of Jean's betrayal.

Based on this view, he began to close down emotionally. He talked to Jean less, and they became increasingly distant, destroying the intimacy they once shared. At the same time, Robert began to look for examples of deception and betrayal by Jean to support his view. For example, he started to regard minor mistakes or discrepancies as deceptions, such as when the credit card reports showed that Jean spent more money on something than she said she did or when she arrived home later than she said she would. Meanwhile, Robert engaged in actions that further shut Jean out of his life, damaging what was left of the bridge between them, such as retreating into his work or going directly from work into his garage to restore an antique car.

Not surprisingly, Jean soon began to retreat as well, into her own work and outside activities. Their discussions, when they did happen to see each other at home, were mostly mundane, involving the weather or problems in making travel connections in the city. Occasionally they argued, such as when Jean complained that Robert was being too judgmental and unfairly scrutinizing her activities.

Needless to say, their relationship ended up in divorce court. After the divorce Robert discovered that Walt and Jean had indeed been lovers but had not been at the time Robert walked in on them. In a confrontation with Walt after the breakup of the marriage, Robert learned that Walt and Jean had only been talking that evening at the party; Jean's denial had been truthful. But several months after the incident she ran into Walt on the street and, feeling shut out by Robert's growing withdrawal, Jean confided to her friend her desperate loneliness, and that led them into a brief affair.

In effect, Robert's lack of trust created the circumstances that nurtured the very betrayal he feared. Essentially, piece by piece, he tore down the bridge that had once united them in intimacy. From Jean's point of view, he had broken the bond of trust with her. Consequently she felt betrayed by his mistrust, leading her to turn to someone else.

Had they both been able to confront the underlying mistrust, they might have been able to heal their relationship and restore their bridge before it was too late. I met Robert after Jean was remarried. He was struggling with the risk of trusting others and of letting himself be vulnerable again -- the risks needed to gain intimacy and allow love back into his life.

The Roots of Trust

The trust needed for a good relationship -- and the betrayal felt when trust fails -- is deeply rooted in human nature. It is, in fact, the first developmental task that we as newborns confront soon after birth, when we have to develop a sense of safety based on depending on another person, normally our mother. This early dependency for safety and security creates the first building block for trust since, according to many scholars including Erik Erikson, a leading figure in the field of human development, trust develops out of our earliest experiences of being cared for and protected in a constant and loving way. As a result, if we as infants don't acquire this trust, because, for example, we aren't fed regularly or held lovingly, we may not survive. Without the psychological nourishment that comes from trust, we may stop eating and fail to thrive.

As we become adults, an inability to trust is not usually life threatening, but we still need it to create the bonds for good relationships as well as to gain confidence in ourselves. Trust in others is critical because it forms the underpinnings of our personal security. Take that away, and we are left feeling uncertain not only of others but of our own worth.

Examples abound of what happens when the bonds of trust are broken, such as when we grow up in a home where we feel we can't depend on our parents. Perhaps we are not nurtured properly because of problems with alcohol, drug abuse, or a high level of conflict or domestic violence in the home. We may well grow up feeling especially empty because our emotional needs haven't been satisfied by those closest to us. Without this support we experience a damaged sense of self. As an adult, we may feel especially fragile and be reluctant to trust others out of fear of being hurt again.

Alternatively, we may be more likely to betray others, acting from our own excessive caution or suspicion. Or, in another common scenario, our emotional neediness may cause us to become all-too trusting in a search for love, only to be a devastated victim of repeated betrayal.

In contrast, individuals who grow up in a safe, secure environment have a better foundation for establishing a confident sense of trust in others and themselves, although at all stages of life there are still more challenges. For example, the child starting school may encounter other children who lie or play tricks on the playground. Teenagers may find themselves facing devious game playing at school as the battle over dating heats up and cliques form between those who are in and those who are out. All of us are challenged to negotiate the uncertainties and dangers of the many relationships we develop; we must learn lessons about how and when to trust under varying circumstances. The developmental process is like swimming through unfamiliar waters; we kick carefully as we learn where to avoid the rocks that threaten our safe passage.

The need to trust and be trusted continues throughout the life cycle. At every developmental level, we are more likely to have good relationships and succeed in whatever we do when our relationships are based on trust. In contrast, whenever trust breaks down, as psychologists well know, individual development is inhibited. We can't grow as fully as individuals, and we are less able, even unable, to have satisfying love relationships.

Finding love becomes a casualty, because trust is at the foundation of any relationship. Without it, intimacy becomes difficult, if not impossible. We become afraid to open up because we don't feel emotionally safe. We do not allow our vulnerability to become exposed. We avoid opening the keys to our heart, a requirement in love relationships. And so love may never develop, or perhaps it may wither quietly. Ultimately it will be unsatisfactory.

Love-trust is analogous to what happens when you drive a car. Trust is like the accelerator that propels the car. With plenty of trust, you zoom ahead, like a carefree traveler on an open road. You relax, enjoy the scenery, feeling perfectly safe. You know your partner will protect you and help you maneuver along the road, enabling you to enjoy the ride.

But when you and your partner don't trust each other, it is as if you are driving with one foot on the brake as you attempt to accelerate with the other. You want to move ahead, but are afraid because you might veer off the road and crash. Your fear prevents you from enjoying the ride. What's more, you are so frightened of crashing that you don't drive well. The accident you fear looms ahead, just over the next hill.

Developing trust in a love relationship is more intense than in other partnerships. It is like driving a car on a dark road. While each of us can make decisions that will promote the experience of love-trust, it is delicate and gradually forms over time. The acceleration must be paced. It can be strengthened by what we do and say, but it cannot be forced or rushed. It is not prudent to "put the pedal to the metal." We can identify and work toward resolving the obstacles in the path of a growing trust, and provide materials that pave the way; that's all the control we can exert.

Developing a Trust Road Map

Trust issues permeate our lives, but sorting them out is often far from easy. Knowing the road ahead is sure to help. My intent is that this book will offer you a road map pointing the way toward greater trust in love relationships. We will examine every component of trust, including childhood issues that follow us into adulthood, the dynamics of jealousy, dependency fears, relationship breakups, the role of expectations, and sexual betrayal.

Dramatic betrayals -- such as infidelity and fraud -- make for hot copy. But trust invades our relationships more commonly through much more mundane interactions. These are the interactions that will come under scrutiny in the following pages. We will see, for instance, that trust intersects with reliability: A couple agrees to an eight o'clock bedtime for their son. A few minutes before eight, the father invites the boy to watch the ballgame with him. Isn't the wife justified when she feels let down? Alternatively, should a wife whose otherwise fabulous husband is a notorious procrastinator trust him to get the tickets for the Broadway show? If she does, and he screws up, is this a man in desperate need of a tough-love procrastination seminar or a woman who used poor judgment? After all, she knew he wasn't reliable for time-sensitive things.

And what about our everyday efforts as human beings? Do we have a responsibility to continue to grow, to push those personal boundaries as long as we live? When the husband whose wife is leaving objects, "But I'm the same man you married twenty years ago," and she replies, "Yes, and that's why I'm leaving!" does she have a point? Is a failure to be your best a betrayal of trust? What about trusting a man enough to allow him to see you in an unflattering light? How important is that?

Yet another question: what about those "little white lies"? Do they really matter? Are they harmless or, like psychological termites, is each bite barely perceptible until the floor weakens?

Whether it is the result of a dramatic betrayal or the cumulative effect of many small assaults, trust can break down in love partnerships. This book will discuss what to do to rebuild after the break and heal from the loss.

Copyright © 2001 by Joel Block

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