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November 7, 2015

Distrust and Stress

One very interesting comment in the book's introduction is that trust relieves stress. People who trust their partners can make decisions and take actions without having to worry about what the partner will or won't do. If you know that your spouse will do what he says he will do, you don't have to waste time and energy worrying about it. You don't have to check. You can go ahead and make plans based on his promises without having to worry that things will fall apart.

Someone who can't rely on a spouse is burdened with a huge load of stress and worry, both small and large. It may be necessary to constantly check up on details that the other person was supposed to take care of. There is resentment when one has to do the things that the other promised, but failed, to do. There may be constant feelings of anxiety over whether or not plans can be carried out.

A history of unreliable behavior and broken promises leads to a skeptical view of one's partner and the sense that he or she simply can't be believed. A person who can't be trusted in small matters certainly won't be trusted in large ones. Betrayal seems to lurk around every corner. This is not a happy or healthy way to live.

As a couple gradually loses trust in each other, other negative effects appear. They stop listening to each other. They become defensive. They argue more. They become contemptuous and dismissive of each other. Love fades away.

Of course, no one is perfect. Even the best of us will sometimes fail. Maybe we didn't allow enough time, or maybe something unexpected distracted us. Perhaps we didn't quite understand what was expected, or possibly we forgot. Maybe we were having a particularly bad day, and we let anger or laziness get the better of us. In a relationship where trust is strong, the occasional breach can usually be repaired. Too many breaches, though, will cause some damage. When trust is low, every negative incident adds to the stress that is already causing the relationship to break down.

When trust has been lost, either through a major betrayal or through gradual erosion, it is very difficult to regain, but not necessarily impossible. It requires that the couple learn how to let go of their defenses and really listen to each other's needs, complaints, and feelings. It will probably be necessary to apologize and atone for past injuries. There must be honesty and accountability. The partners need to turn toward each other, rather than turning away, in times of difficulty. Everyone needs a good dose of empathy. It takes time and diligence to rebuild a sense of trust.

It is easier to simply maintain trust in the first place. It still requires some work: clear communication, honesty, promise-keeping, kindness. It is worth the effort. Long-term studies have shown that people in happy marriages have less stress and live longer, healthier lives than people who are lonely or in unhappy marriages. Trust is the foundation for lasting love and a happy relationship.

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