By: Julie Sekachev, M.Ed, LPC Associate Supervised by Melissa Barton, MA, LPC-S Do you feel like you need to build trust with your partner? Do you feel disconnected from him or her? Does it feel like they are just not there for you when you need them the most? You may start to feel distant […]
By: Julie Sekachev, M.Ed, LPC Associate
Supervised by Melissa Barton, MA, LPC-S
Do you feel like you need to build trust with your partner? Do you feel disconnected from him or her? Does it feel like they are just not there for you when you need them the most? You may start to feel distant and unsure of what is happening or how to get the connection you once had back. Read on to find out about trust and how to rebuild it with your partner one interaction at a time.
What is Trust, and How Do You Build It?
Trust is transparency. It means that you will do what you say you will do. It answers the age-old question, “are you there for me when I need you the most?” Trust is also positive moral certainty about your partner. Trusting our partners means that we genuinely believe them to be ethical, honest, and good people who treat others with kindness, love, honesty, and goodwill.
Trust is built in everyday interactions, past fights, regrettable incidents, and conflict.
Building Trust in Everyday Interactions:
There are opportunities in everyday interactions for couples to build trust and connection. Each partner performs small “trust tests” where they directly or indirectly ask for something from one another. Psychologist John Gottman calls these moments “bids for connection.” In couples
counseling, we identify what these moments are for each partner and work on ways to turn towards or answer these bids.
If these requests for attention are met, trust is built over time, and partners begin to feel like they are there for each other. If, however, partners are not emotionally or physically available, trust can also start to erode over time.
Examples of bids are:
- Requests for attention.
- Asking for help with a project.
- An offer to start a conversation or a bid for affection or sexual intimacy.
The more your partner is confident that they can effectively get your attention and that you will respond positively, the more risk and vulnerability they will be able to take in the future for other bids.
The way couples respond to bids matters. A partner can choose to turn towards you by acknowledging your request, turn away by ignoring your request, or turn against by responding sarcastically or angrily. If you think of your relationship as an emotional bank account, turning towards makes deposits while turning away or against makes withdraws. Turning towards bids increases positive emotions and humor between couples. The more turning towards bids you have, the more positive effect there appears to be during the conflict.
In couples counseling, we learn how our partner tends to make requests and wants us to respond. An example of a bid maybe “I had the worst day ever at work. I lost an important account.” A turning towards response could be, “I hear you. That must have been so difficult for you. What can I do to meet your need?” A turning away bid could be ignoring your partner by walking away or playing on your phone. A turning against a bid may sound like, “ Why is it always about you?! I had a bad day too, but you never ask!”
Building Trust During Arguments or Past Conflicts:
Arguments are an inevitable part of all relationships. Attunement, according to John Gottman, Ph.D. is the number one way to regulate heightened emotions, or what he calls” flooding” during an argument. Negative events should be processed through the process of attunement. If they are not fully processed, they are rehearsed repeatedly in each person’s mind and brought up at other arguments. This erodes trust. The “Zeigarnik effect” states that we have better recall for not completely processed events.
When we process emotions with our partners, we build trust by showing them that we are there. Attuning is crucial because it helps us resolve a regrettable event and avoid the chance of festering in our minds.
How to attune to your partner:
Emotions do not vanish by being banished. When we dismiss our partner’s feelings, we are saying, “I don’t want to hear about it when you feel this way.” “Just replace your emotion with a positive one.” Emotional dismissing comes from the belief that a person can have any emotion they desire, which is a matter of will.
On the other hand, attunement means being aware of your partner’s emotions, turning towards those emotions, tolerance, understanding, nondefensively listening, and empathy. Shifting from being responsible for changing your partner’s feelings to understanding them. It would be best if you decided to attune. Practice the steps below to build trust:
Check your partner’s emotional temperature:
Check-in with your partner by asking, “How are you doing?” This is an opportunity for intimacy and closeness. Do not be disapproving of negative emotions. Remember your partner’s vulnerabilities and sensitivities and soften how you discuss issues. Imagine your partner wearing a t-shirt with their vulnerabilities written on them.
Turn towards your partner:
Ask your partner for a positive need. Shift your perspective away from what you want your partner to stop doing, which will lead to defensiveness to more of what they can do to meet your needs. EX: “I need you to ask me about my day. “This is the responsibility of the speaker, not to begin with blame or criticism.
Act with tolerance:
Tolerance means accepting both the positive and negative emotions your partner experiences. Tolerance does not mean agreement or that we must adapt our partner’s perspective. Accept that your partner’s reality is valid and have their point of view. All feelings are acceptable, but all behavior is not.
Try to understand your partner:
Understanding means that we postpone our plan and seek to understand where our partner is coming from. Ask your partner if you have fully understood them or anything more.
Listening without the need to defend yourself requires regulating feelings of defensiveness as you listen to your partner’s negative emotions and perceptions. This is the most challenging social skill in attunement. You can practice controlling your defensiveness by keeping quiet, pausing a beat before responding, and postponing your agenda. The key is to focus on your partner’s perceptions, not just the facts, and remember to breathe and self-soothe.
Respond with empathy:
Listen with compassion and understanding by putting yourself in your partner’s shoes. Seek to see the world through your partner’s eyes. Communicate your empathy and understanding through validation.
To learn more about emotional attunement, see the book The Science of Trust by John Gottman here:
Build trust with your partner with help from the Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch in Katy, TX.
If you want help to deepen your understanding of yourself and your partner and learn skills to improve your relationship, one of the therapists at The Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch can help! We provide couple’s counseling, as well as other mental health services. To begin couples counseling in Katy, TX, follow these three steps:
- Contact our office to set up an appointment or to learn more about emotionally focused therapy
- Meet with one of our knowledgeable therapists
- Find ways to thrive in your relationship!
Other Therapy Services We Offer:
Here at The Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch, we offer counseling services for people of all ages in areas including counseling for kids, counseling for young adults, teen counseling, couples counseling, eating disorder treatment, men’s issues, women’s issues, anxiety treatment, depression therapy, trauma counseling, family therapy, and group counseling. Our therapists strive to post blogs regularly. We provide helpful information on a variety of mental health topics. To learn more about our therapists and counseling services, please reach out to the Counseling Center today!