I’ll admit that I’m not the type of person who trusts easily. Actually, distrusting someone is my default. I tend to put people through tests – tests they don’t know they’re taking before I decide if I can trust them even a little. So, it is no wonder I found it hard to trust again after divorce.
Knowing that about myself, it was a near-miracle when I found myself trusting my ex-husband. For all his faults (and we all have them), I honestly believed I could trust him with anything. Even at the end of our marriage, I trusted him and thought that maybe the divorce could be amicable.
That dream was ruined over the course of our breakup. For plenty of reasons that sounded good at the time, he and I continued to share our home for several weeks after we agreed to divorce. In that time, he became physically and emotionally abusive. The last time, I called the police.
Even now, he truly believes that all of his apologies, along with his one weekend in jail, mean we can put everything behind us. And yes, after much soul-searching, I have forgiven him, but I’ll never forget, and I’ll never trust him again.
Fast forward a few years, and I met John, a wonderful, caring, amazing man who loves me completely. We connected after my first post-divorce breakup (not a pretty sight). Still working through my issues from my marriage and dealing with the heartbreak I hadn’t felt since I was a teenager, I built extra thick walls around my heart.
John, saint of a man that he is, climbed those walls, fearlessly and relentlessly, even as I pushed him away time and time again.
How, after learning not to trust the man I thought I’d wanted to build a life with and who hurt me in so many ways, did I manage to trust someone new? Well, it wasn’t easy, and it required several key steps.
1. Ask a million questions. Do not be afraid to ask questions, lots of them. Weird ones. Personal ones. Sure, if you probe too deep on the first date, the answer might be, “I’m not comfortable sharing that with you yet.” And no, don’t turn into an FBI interrogator, demanding answers. But if you want to know something about a person, ask.
2. Listen. Not just to the answers to their questions, but everything they say. Do they say awful things about people they pretend to like? Do they lie about inconsequential things? Keep your ears open for anything that seems at odds with their behavior. On the other end, do they say the things that need saying, difficult truths, in a kind way?
3. Go with your instincts. Maybe after too many years of bad relationships or bad decisions, you don’t trust yourself anymore. That’s to be expected. I spent the year after my divorce questioning nearly every decision I made. But your gut doesn’t lie. You know, deep down, when something isn’t right – or when it is. Listen to that feeling.
4. Make them work for your trust. Don’t play mind games – that’s how you kill trust not build it. But don’t be afraid to make a person work for your trust. They should be able and willing to prove themselves to you. It can be as simple as asking them to do something or be somewhere and then watching to see if they do what they say they will.
5. Watch their reactions. Keep your eyes open. Do they laugh at people’s misfortune? Can you tell them a mildly embarrassing story without being made to feel ridiculous? Watch their body language and pay attention to their facial expressions. If you see something you don’t understand, fall back on asking questions and listening.
6. Be trustworthy. You want to know if you can trust someone, be a person worth trusting. When you do what you say you’re going to do, when you’re honest without being cruel, you establish yourself worthy of another person’s trust. They’ll be more likely to open to you in return, giving you better insight into who they are as a person.
7. Take a leap of faith. At the end of the day, trust requires a bit of faith on your part. If you’d asked questions, listened to them and your own instincts, watched them closely, and given them the opportunity to prove themselves, all that’s left is faith. Close your eyes and leap. You might still get hurt in the end – it happens. But you’ll have taken a chance on something good and real, and in the end, you may walk into the arms of the person you can trust most in life.
My litmus test for who I want in my life, not just romantically, is this list. I no longer have time to allow people into my inner circle when I can’t establish at least a basic amount of trust. Sometimes that means walking away from people you really want to like or love. In the end, though, being able to trust the people around you will help you live a happier, more peaceful life. For me, that’s what matters most.