Revise your understanding of who you need to trust.
September 5, 2021
As a psychotherapist, I often hear, “He’s only after one thing, and it’s not a permanent commitment,” or “She’s only after one thing, and I can’t afford it.”
My response in both cases is similar — there are plenty of trustworthy people out there who are looking for exactly what you want — commitment, kindness, companionship, and integrity. But unless you change the lens through which you’re looking, you’re not going to see them. Instead, you’re going to see what you expect, what you believe to be the truth — that you can’t trust anyone.
If that’s what you see, you’re going to miss the point — the only person you need to trust is yourself. You will need to challenge the idea that everybody else is the problem when you can’t find the love of your life. Instead, ask yourself if the problem is how you pick?
There are two characteristics that will help you trust yourself and feel safe in a world that isn’t comprised of people who aren’t you, and aren’t necessarily looking for what you are after.
First, you need to trust in your ability to decide what to do in a particular situation. In this case, trust in who you choose to date and your ability to see when there is or isn’t a fit.
Second, and just as important, you must be confident in your ability to do the work that it takes to make a relationship grow along with you. It doesn’t matter how good you are at picking. If you’re living in a bubble of fantasies about how relationships work, you are in for a rude awakening.
Whether you meet someone online or at the grocery store, are you clear what you want?
If you’re online, do you only pay attention to their pictures and ignore their profile? If you do get to the profile, are you looking with discretion at what they value? And if you can’t get a sense of their values, does that send up a warning signal?
If a friend sets you up with a blind date, are you looking for butterflies on the first meet? And if they’re not there, do you ignore that you just had two hours of great conversation during which you were never bored?
This is where values come in. Have you done your own values work? I’m not talking about your list of what you want in a partner. I’m talking about figuring out what is important to you. How do you find a fit without being very clear about who you are?
Values aren’t goals that we achieve. We don’t accomplish them. Instead, they serve as a compass, guiding our forward movement in the direction of what matters to us, who we want to be, and what we want our lives to be about.
We don’t choose them based on our own, or others, ‘shoulds.’ Our values reflect the life we choose as individuals. And that doesn’t mean we’ve ‘arrived,’ living in total unity with them. They are a guide, not a rule.
There are all sorts of online resources to help with that. If you’re not clear about your values, MindfulTools.com offers a user-friendly tool. Or you can Google values exercises, and you will find plenty of other resources to explore.
Clarifying values helps us get beyond superficial stuff like physical appearance and sexual attraction. Not that they’re not important. They are. But are they number one on your list?
So, instead of coming up with a list of what you want in a partner, start by identifying your most important core values. Then turn them around and see how your new friend fits within that frame.
Once you’re clear about your values, the lens through which you’re looking will be cleaner. And you will more quickly be able to see when you have nothing in common except a desire not to be alone.
Be Ready for the Work
Trust is tricky. Just because you’ve gotten a better handle on who you are and what you want doesn’t mean that life moves forward with no glitches.
Along the way, you may have come to believe that there have to be some guarantees before you allow yourself to trust. At the very least, most of us want confirmation that our next step will put us where we want to be or get us what we think we should have.
Many of us resist the idea of impermanence, especially when it comes to our relationships. Everything that makes us happy should last forever. And if it doesn’t, that must mean there’s something wrong. So we start holding on tight to our ideas of how things should be.
The truth is that impermanence is one of the few things in life on which we can count. And that includes our relationships.
But sometimes, we want so badly to trust that permanence is possible that we’ll pretend we have guarantees. Or we convince ourselves that if we keep demanding what we want, all will turn out in our favor.
We do it with relationships, and cars, and jobs. Finally, we think we’ve found the perfect model, and we breathe a huge sigh of relief. It’s over — he’s/she’s/it’s mine now. Forever.
But then they leave, or the car is a lemon, or the job doesn’t need us anymore. Another loss brings us back to the reality that the only thing we can ultimately trust to help us move forward is our values.
I was once in a relationship for around six months. But it took me two years to permanently leave. I should have dropped the rope after the first two months, but I didn’t know any better. That’s the power of the idealized version of a relationship. If we try harder, are less demanding, nicer, it will get better. Or our partner will change. But, unfortunately, it rarely works that way. When it isn’t a fit, it isn’t a fit.
Once we’ve found someone with similar values who is also willing to do the work, we must do what doesn’t come naturally. We give it freedom. We provide it with room to grow and mature.
Despite common values, it can take enormous effort to understand someone who has a different personality, cultural and social background, and experience base. If you think that doesn’t take a lot of growing up on everybody’s part, think again.
The Best Way to Trust
The only way to learn to trust others is to learn to trust ourselves to make healthy choices. And then to do the hard work of growing with someone who will often confuse, misunderstand, and disagree with us.
When we get good at taking responsibility for managing and trusting ourselves, someone who’s also learned to do that may show up. Then nobody wants to leave because we’re both trustworthy.