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Trust …

Dan and I were having lunch when he shared an important opinion: “Show me a person who is good at trusting … and I will show you someone who has never been crushed by the abuse, deception, disregard and dishonesty of another. I will show you someone who has never been hurt to their core!”

I have carried the thought of this friend for many years. He was in that serious contemplative stage of life where one is considering moving from serious dating to ENGAGEMENT. As for all who have been there, it was a major decision toward commitment. He was weighing his ability to trust with hers—and finding himself deficient. She could trust him without flinching. He was honored and drawn to her courage … and petrified! Her capacity to commit to him was scary because it was unmerited. And he, while finding her without blemish regarding the capacity towards honesty, vulnerability and openness, was full of fear. It was backwards and he was trying to figure it out. He understood that he had no reason to not trust her … but he couldn’t. And she had, in his opinion, no reason to trust him … yet she could.

His thought about the one who is good at trust is one who has never been hurt occurred about the same time I caught my son trusting. Literally, I caught Peter in an act of mid-air trust. He was about 3 or 4 years old. I was cleaning the kitchen after dinner. He called me from upstairs and asked if I could help him. Wiping my hands with a dishtowel, I walked through the dining room—the hardwood floors creaked with every step in the 1940s house. I turned into the entry way to climb the stairs. The stairway was dark. THUMP! I was struck by a 40-pound bundle of laughing child! Anticipating my steps, he leaped from about the eighth step and hit me in the chest.  Because of the darkness, I never saw him, only catching the weight of his body and the roaring delight of a child who pounced like a lynx on an unsuspecting rabbit!

My arms instinctively wrapped around him and we fell backwards against the front door.  As we fell he said between his laughter, “I got you … I got you … I got you!”  While technically he was in correct, it was I who, indeed, had him as we fell, his meaning was clear. He had succeeded in surprising me.

I didn’t know what to do. He really should be taught that his leap was very irresponsible thing to do.  (A responsible 4-year-old … is that an oxymoron?) What if I had dropped him? Or what if I stopped to tie my shoe before I  turned the corner while he was in mid-flight? But I recalled Dan’s thought about trust.  My son had never been hurt to the “core of his soul.” He didn’t understand that those who love him could fail. The computation of “risk/reward” fell on the reward side because he had not been stung severely by risk. All of those life lessons would come to him as he added years and miles to his life. But for this moment … it seemed best to laugh, and to admire the courage that can be mustered by one who’s trust is not impeded by history of hurt.

In thinking about the conversation with Dan and the leap of faith by my son I saw trust as having two opposite and complimentary skills—to be trusting, and to be trustworthy. They are as different as throwing is to catching or speaking is to listening.

To be trusting is the ability to leap. It is to take a risk. It is to place oneself vulnerably in the care of another believing that they will  be there. To be trusting is to ask, “If I jump, will my dad be there to catch me?”  Or “If I am vulnerable will you be safe?”

To be trustworthy is the ability to catch. I am reminded of the movie clip from “The Last of the Mohicans” where Daniel Day Lewis says with such passion that it has become a 21st century meme: “No matter where you are, I will find you.”  Trustworthiness says, “I will be there, as far as it depends on me…I will be there.”

Trusting and trustworthiness are different skills. All relationships must carry a balance of mutuality of both skills in order to reach the fullness of depth.  As a parent with a child—I carry the obligation of being the trustworthy one.  A parent cannot expect a child to “catch the parent” when the adult leaps!  For now, but it will change over time. As the relationship matures from childhood through adolescents to adulthood, both child and parent must alter their roles—grow in capacity to be trusting and trustworthy. Eventually, I must become the trusting one as I learn to rest under the protection of my children. And they must learn to carry the role of trustworthy one, caregiver.

As Dan contemplates marriage, having to perceive through a lens clouded by previous injuries, disappointments and failures of others, he is confident in his ability to “be there for Linda.” His hesitation is wise and mature. He is assessing whether he will be worthy of her trust. But harder still is the other question—will he be trusting? Not will he be trusting of her commitment to him. Rather, will he be trusting of himself to leap towards her. Can he allow himself the vulnerability to say, “I need you, I will depend on you, I will be vulnerable to you?”

Dan can imagine himself in the role of the Last Mohican: He can see himself as the stable rock upon which a family is structured. HE WILL FIND HER! is declared with determination, but he must bear the risk of leaping into her arms by the openness of his vulnerabilities. Will he allow himself to be found?  That question in part will be answered by Linda. The persistent and patient also will reside with her.  She can’t be the person who leaps … She must also be the person who catches. The skill going in her direction would be unwearyingly rest with Dan so as to create safety and security.  Her marital task will be to grow within him the belief that she is strong enough to carry his emotions.

Finally, we have learned through our research that trust in marriage is not something you do—like an exercise of intention. Rather it is something that is done as a result of doing everything else. In research, it is called an outcome variable. Happiness is another outcome variable. As marital psychologists, we don’t give “happiness assignments”—go home and practice being happy. Rather, we give other assignments—like “clean up your mess,” “say kind words,” “do considerate things,” “exhibit the other as priority” … Success in these things creates happiness. Trust—the tossing and catching of trusting and trustworthiness is accomplished when people don’t practice “trust.” They practice the things that from trust—(by the way, it’s many of the same things that create happiness). It is, make a promise—then keep it. Express vulnerability, humility, and gratitude rather than defensiveness, self-sufficiency or disregard.

So, Dan and Linda each took the leap … and each committed to catching the jumper. Catching and leaping. Marriage is the grand leap of faith which requires daily risks and daily receptions.