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Recently my team of counselors all went through the Gottman Level 3 training; for some of us, it was a revisiting of topics we’d covered before, and for some it was totally new. But even though I’d done this training before, something new stood out to me (it always seems to work that way, doesn’t it?). I was struck by a definition of trust that I don’t remember ever hearing before.

John Gottman established a way to very mathematically evaluate trust in a relationship. He calls it the “trust metric.” At the beginning of a relationship, it is reasonable to enjoy a high trust metric, which means you have a strong sense of confidence that your partner has your best interests at heart. 

That’s what stood out to me: defining trust as a strong sense of confidence that your partner has your best interests at heart. That really is the root of all trust, isn’t it? We can forgive enormous mistakes so easily if we really believe they were doing their best for us, that they really had our best interests at heart. Likewise, even small missteps are harder to let go of if they seem to communicate otherwise. If those mistakes show us that our partner does not have our best interests at heart, it doesn’t matter how small an issue it is, the breach in trust cuts deep.

So how do we build that confidence in our partner? The truth is, that confidence, that trust, is built through many small moments in the relationship when you and your partner answer one question in a hundred different ways. That question is: “Are you there for me?”

There are many times in a relationship that we are weary from a long day, stressed by finances, issues with kids or other relationships. How our partner responds can either build trust or instil mistrust. If they respond in a tender and loving way, even though they’ve had a hard day too, trust is built. A reassuring tone, kind word or a hug is like a buttress that holds up a great cathedral. It tells us in a universal language: I’m here for you. But if the response is negative, mistrust enters into the relationship. And mistrust isn’t the opposite of trust. It’s not a demolition ball. It’s a slow, growing crack that eventually weakens the entire structure of the relationship. Over time, the structure starts to crumble.

Make sure you ask yourself often if you are answering the question for your partner in a positive way: “Are you there for me?” It is a slow but steady path, one brick of trust at a time, that develops healthy relationships.