ERP 120: How To Build Trust With Your Partner – Part Three [Transcript]

Topic: How do you work on trust in a relationship

ERP 120: How To Build Trust With Your Partner Part III

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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.

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Hi, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is 120. This is part three to How To Build Trust With Your Partner.

If you missed part one, episode 118, or part two, episode 119, again, with the same title, How To Build Trust With Your Partner, I would invite you to check out those two episodes, as today’s conversation will make way more sense having had that as a basis.

I will recap them for you, but before we do, I would love to just invite is all to bring our heart and our attention and our focus on the purpose of what this show is all about, and that is to evolve and develop our relationship, so that we can have a happy, secure, lasting connection with our significant other, knowing that we’re not blind to the shortcomings and that we sweep them under the rug, that we are awake, conscious and we intend to look at what gets activated in those more challenging times, those painful times, knowing that it is our curriculum for developing, and that we can become stronger, have a closer, more intimate relationship with ourselves and with our partners by saying yes to turning in towards that, as well as as we expand our capacity to deal with challenges, we also expand our capacity for more joy, more love and more intimacy.

While we do this, navigating the highs and the lows, we continue to foster a solid, secure, consistent, healthy relationship, that the basis, the foundation is solid and we can feel that trust and that reliance which we’re talking about in this series. If you are interested in getting access to the episodes that I’m mentioning, or any episodes for that matter, please visit, click on Podcast, and you can find all of the episodes listed there. You can also find the show notes by clicking Show Notes on each graphic, and it will give you an outline, it will also give you links that I’ve talked about, as well as transcripts.

Today I am going to recap the first two tips that I offered in episode 119, and then I’m gonna briefly go over the components of trust, and that’s using Brené Brown’s Anatomy Of Trust and her talk, which again, I provided the link on the show notes for episode 119, and I will also include for today’s show. Again, that’s 120. Then I will be providing you with three additional tips of how to build trust with your partner.

The first tip in the process of building trust with your partner is clarifying agreements, and I talked a lot about what’s involved in that, talking about the roles, the expectations and the setup and the timing, and honesty around what we’re really interested in.

Number two – creating safety. The reliability, the intention, the ability and the strength. In all of these tips I am using the metaphor of a trust fall. Many, many years ago I ran a team program and have done a lot with youth in various positions, and love facilitating. I’ve lead retreats and camps, and one exercise that can be very helpful is a trust fall. That essentially is you can be doing it with partners, two people, or you could do it with one person and the whole group. There’s different versions of it, but the primary act of a trust fall is one person holds their body straight, standing up, and folds their arms across their chest, and when everything is kind of discussed and clarified (who’s doing what, and how to create safety, and the timing and all of those things), the person who is gonna fall leans and allows themselves to fall back into the arms of someone else. We’re working with that analogy.

Before we move forward with the three additional tips that I have to share with you, I wanna shortly recap last week’s episode, Brené Brown’s Anatomy of Trust. She has essentially created an acronym, BRAVING. She lays out components, based on research, of what constitutes trust. When we talk about “I don’t trust you” or “I do trust you”, these are typically some of the things that are involved.
Let me just see if I can remember them all off the top of my head… So B is for Boundaries, and I’m not gonna go into depth, because I’ve spent the whole episode last time describing these, and I also have the link of her talk if you wanna hear her description for these.

So B is for Boundaries, R is for Reliability, A is for Accountability, V is for the Vault, I is for Integrity, N is Non-judgment, and G is for Generosity.

She’s really giving us a tool here. Again, if we’re feeling as though there’s a trust issue, we can be more specific about what aspect of trust is challenging, and then with that specificity we can then dial in how to improve that aspect, which in turn will help build more trust.

Let’s move to tip number three. Again, number one is Clarifying The Agreements, so let’s use the trust fall again. So if people want to participate, they raise their hand and say “Yes, I wanna participate.” There’s a clarifying of what the expectations are, who’s doing what, what it actually looks like, and getting clear on those definitions. So once everybody knows what they’re doing, who’s falling, who’s catching, how you’re catching, when you’re falling and how you fall – all of these things are helpful, and this is just for one small exercise, but that definitely lends to number two, which is creating the safety.

So once those things have been done and the foundation has been laid, we’re actually now ready for the actual fall, which leads to number three, which is Letting Go. This is the act of falling.

If you’ve ever done a trust fall, and let’s say it’s your first time at this, or you’re doing it with someone new or a new group, you don’t have that trust built and it can feel scary. It’s uncertain, it’s unknown – are they going to catch me? There’s nothing to reference, like “They’ve caught me many times before, I totally trust this, this is great” or “I’ve done this a lot of times, and it’s easy-breezy.” Most of the times, if it’s the first time or you don’t know the people you were doing the exercise with, it’s gonna feel probably a little scary… And this is true for relationship – once we’re in a new relationship or we’re trying to test the bounds of the relationship, take the relationship deeper, it can bring up the sensation of “I don’t know, are they gonna catch me?” and a lot more is at stake in a relationship, right?

Okay, so the trust fall – it’s taking a risk, being willing to let go and to be vulnerable and to be caught. To say yes to falling back and leaning back, and allowing yourself to let go of the control of taking care of your balance, essentially. You’re saying “Okay, I’m gonna let my body be in your hands. I’m gonna fall back with the hope and the desire and the expectation that you’re gonna catch me.” And again, we don’t go into this blindly, we set it up with agreements and safety.

Some of us go into relationship and we’re like — you know, that whole concept of falling in love, where we just fall… But we don’t even know if somebody’s trustworthy or wants to catch us, or is able to catch us, so these first few steps are really helpful in the actual exercise of building trust.

In the act of letting go, or in the act of falling in a trust fall – it requires letting go the attempt to try to control, not trying to catch yourself. I’ve seen this, and I think I’ve even done this, doing the trust fall — the first attempt, I put my foot back. If I’m falling backwards, one could put their foot back to catch themselves. They’re not actually allowing themselves to be caught.

In the act of falling, we can notice our own challenges with actually letting go and being vulnerable. We can do lots of different things that complicate that, and confuse that matter. Where this gets particularly tricky is when we haven’t done step one and step two, and we’re feeling the apprehension in step three, and we don’t know if it’s our partner or we don’t know if it’s us. “Is it you or is it me? Why don’t I trust you? Is it because you’re not trustworthy, or is it because I have trust issues?” Those can get very crazy-making.

Let’s imagine that step one and step two have been done very well. There’s super clear agreements and understanding, and there’s a lot of safety built. In the act of letting go and falling, if there’s still the feeling of anxiety or insecurity, that’s okay… Just a great opportunity to look at “Okay, there’s something here perhaps that I don’t feel safe about. Despite having built the foundation and the clarity of the agreements, I’m still scared.” This can lend to previous trauma, previous hurt, and there’s lots of ways that we try to keep ourselves safe.

A few examples of how we will attempt to keep safe in the act of falling or in the opportunity to tall, or in relationship, the opportunity to be vulnerable; we have ways that we protect ourselves. One is to occupy the space. Do a lot of work in a conversation that can look like somebody that’s the entertainer, or the talker that carries the conversation, tells stories, but perhaps doesn’t give a lot of opportunity to slow down and have people respond.

I resonate with this. In the past I know that I have done this, and I’ve noticed this occur when I’m developing a new relationship. It could be with a girlfriend, or possibly when I was still dating, many years ago. What I would notice is I would share something personal; I would share something deep and perhaps emotional, and instead of  letting that share be received and allowing that person to respond, I would then talk about why it’s okay, what I was doing to take care of myself, and the silver lining or why it was helpful or good. I kind of just took care of it all on my own. I didn’t really give somebody an opportunity to empathize, offer feedback, or just give me any of their genuine response.

Another strategy that people participate in is the attempt to hide or conceal, and that’s withdrawing, or having a persona. This can look like everything’s good and great all the time. It’s happy, it’s shiny, and there’s never space for a lull. I have a friend who is very questioning of a mutual friend’s relationship because they’re always seemingly happy, and someone had seen them processing in having a conversation, and she’s like “See? They always put on this show that everything’s great and everything’s wonderful”, but they’re human and they have a natural lull; sometimes you need to process and work things out.

I’ve also had clients that are children of a prominent figure, or even a minister, and it’s often true where it’s a stereotype that you have to be on, or you’re in the spotlight all the time, so you have to keep up this persona, this idea that everything’s great. There’s not a lot of space to talk about the challenges or to have an upset. You wanna have it all together. So if you think about a trust fall, they wouldn’t be falling. They’re not interested in being caught, they are the ones catching.
In Brené Brown’s talk, she talks a lot about always being the person that’s the gives, and it’s hard to really develop a relationship when there’s someone who is always giving and never able to be the person that is receiving.

Another strategy that we will do is to distract by bringing attention to the other person, through question, criticism, or even attack. A classic interaction that I see in my coaching work with clients is that when one person of the couple is addressing an issue, they will tend to characterize their partner in a particular way that’s very focused on what they’re critical of or what they don’t like, or even perhaps attack the thing they have issue with. They’re upset, but they’re actually not talking about what’s real and true.

I’ve been noticing a theme with some of my couples in a heterosexual relationship and the husband/boyfriend will be commenting about his partner, and he will be describing her… And when I ask more questions, the underlying feeling is “I’m afraid of what I have to give you you don’t want. I’m afraid you don’t want what I have to give.” And when I connect with that feeling, that’s a vulnerable thing to acknowledge, and yet every time I hear that being displayed, and their partner hears that, they get emotional and they’re like “I want you to feel that I value you, I don’t wanna reject you. I’m more rejecting your characterization of me, not what you have to give me; not your desire to want to give.”

One last way I’m gonna talk about here that we will attempt to keep safe is the denial strategy. “I don’t need anyone, I’m good; self-reliant, self-sufficient. I’m okay, I’m good”, and never allow anyone to be there for you, not having any needs, not having any wants or desires.

If we bring this back to the trust fall, this person would be unwilling usually to do the trust fall at all… Like, “I don’t need it, there’s no benefit in it for me”, yet they never get the experience of being caught, never feeling the intimacy of learning back and feeling cared for, feeling caught, feeling the trust of someone being there.

Recently, my friend was sharing about a challenge she’s been faced with where she has been experiencing anxiety and not feeling trusting, and she shared about a coaching call that she had gotten, so she gets support for her professional development. The insight that she gleaned from that coaching call – the coach had told her “You don’t have to rely on unreliable people anymore.” For her, this statement was liberating.

From a very early age in her upbringing, she did not get the experience of having trustworthy people to feel that she could rely on them, and that carries with us, like it does for most people, and it impacts us especially in uncertain times, when there is a challenge, some of that old programming can be very present. So that very reflective statement and that insight helped her feel more empowered that “Right, I don’t have to trust untrustworthy people, or people who are not reliable. I can choose to invest my interactions and my relationships with people who are trustworthy.”
Many of us can get pretty anxious, and like I mentioned a moment ago, it can feel pretty crazy-making. “Am I being too hard on you? Am I wanting too much? I don’t trust you, but I don’t know if my expectations are too much… Or is it me? Am I just not able to trust? What’s going on?” But if we can look at these things really clearly and honestly, it doesn’t have to be such a mystery. We have some real elements here to work with.

If we had done the work in step one, clarifying the agreements, and we’ve done the work of step two in creating safety, step three will be about the vulnerability, and I did a whole series about vulnerability recently, so I’ll make sure to put those on the show notes if you missed that… And how to support ourselves, to allow ourselves to take that risk. But again, we wanna be taking an assessed risk, we don’t wanna just put ourselves in harm’s way.

The beauty of a trust fall is to feel as though I took the risk and I was vulnerable, and you caught me, and I feel closer to you, I trust you more, I feel that we’re on the same team and I can rely on you. That deepens the intimacy. It’s a beautiful feeling, yet this can’t happen if someone isn’t willing to fall, isn’t willing to be vulnerable.

Number four – allowing for time and practice. This allows for the fine-tuning, working out the kinks, looking at what’s working well, what’s not working well, and moving towards a deeper understanding and learning. With a trust fall, let’s say someone who’s doing the catching is so rigid that it actually hurts the person that’s doing the falling. They’re like “Oh, you’re catching me so rigidly!” and the person that’s falling could be getting angry, like “You’re hurting me! What’s your problem? Why are you not catching me soft?” and the person could fell really misunderstood and criticized. If we were to slow that down, they might say “I’m just trying to do the very best that I can. I wanna catch you and I want you to feel safe that I’m trying so hard and I’m feeling super protective, and I think I’m getting a little too forced, like I’m trying too hard.”

The faller in this could say “Okay, I understand, I get it. I appreciate how well you’re trying to take care of me, and if we’re gonna dial this in, fine-tune this a little, would you be willing to soften your body and allow for a little give? Move with me, so that when you catch me there’s not such an impact.” And the person could say “Okay, yes. I wanna do that. I’ve been catching you, I’m doing it…” — maybe they need to build a little confidence, so this would be the back and forth of learning and fine-tuning, getting into that sweet spot.

Most of us, when we bring this into relationship, we can’t have this conversation easily because it triggers so much within us – that we’re not doing it well, we’re not good enough, or you’re gonna reject me, you might leave me… So in a trust fall, it could be like “How come you’re really catching me so hard?” and the person could be like “I’m trying really hard! Forget it, I don’t wanna catch you, I don’t wanna do this anymore.” It could look like many things, but it could get pretty complicated quickly, and this is one of the main reasons why I am so passionate about what I do, helping couples navigate these conversations more skillfully. I want people to have the support to actually have these sweet spot conversations, because that’s where the connection, that’s where the intimacy is gonna get built, and the clarity is gonna get built. We’re not gonna be stuck in reaction and pain and hurt and really missing each other.

So I’ll just do a little plug here – if you notice that these conversations don’t happen easily, I wanna encourage you to check out the course that I’m gonna be sharing with you next week, as well as perhaps getting some one-on-one coaching. With time and practice, you’re gonna have a lot more opportunities to get clear on how you each are individually approaching the situation and what’s involved in that – the meaning, the values you’re associating, as well as any differences, different styles, different approaches. There’s an understanding that comes from having a little more time to work through these.

I shared with you a story about a friend of mine that I have known for a couple of years, and I consider her a dear friend. And we had had an exchange that I had been upset about, and we did end up resolving it and I do believe we repaired that, but over time I feel like I’ve gotten a much better sense of what her values are and how we can operate in a very mutually respectful way, and it’s allowed for me to trust her more and deepen in my closeness with her.

One element that I do think is helpful in working out the kinks is acceptance. When your partner shares their reality, and it’s very different than what you’ve made up in your mind, to hold the possibility that they’re telling the truth and that it’s real for them, and to perhaps accept it.

This can be very challenging if we have a whole story made about why they’re doing what they’re doing and the reasoning for it, and it can be hard to really accept what they’re saying on face value.

I see this a lot of times in my practice, that I will be coaching and helping a couple have a conversation where vulnerability is being shared, and if their partner is hearing the vulnerable truth, and it’s very different than what they’d been hearing in the past, especially if it’s a cyclical argument, they sometimes don’t wanna trust. It’s like “Okay, you’re laying down your sword. I don’t know if I can lay down my sword.” It’s as if they’ve been sword-fighting and it’s their little like “Okay, this is safe? Is it okay to really believe you and accept what you’re saying?” People don’t wanna feel like the fool, they don’t wanna take in that vulnerable truth as if that’s what’s really happening, because then it would really change the whole entire dance.

And this sometimes requires a little bit of forgiveness. “It wasn’t my preference, but I accept what it was and I get that you’re doing your best.” In the example of the trust fall, where the person who’s catching is catching too rigidly, not allowing any softness, any give in the catch, the person that’s falling could be like “No, you’re actually trying to hurt me”, or “I think you’re just upset about earlier”, or they’ve got some reason why they’re catching them hard. And there could be a lot of history that informs this, and there could be good reason for being suspect, yet if we’re gonna really accept the vulnerable sharing of like “I care about you and I don’t want you to fall and I’m scared of dropping you and I’m trying my very best and I think I’m trying too hard, please forgive me. I will work on adding some more give and softness to my catching you.”

The faller could say “I hear you as to why you were maybe catching me so rigidly. It wasn’t my preference – I might have a bruise – but I accept it; I know you were doing the best you could.”

Allowing for time and practice gives the opportunity for the value of trust to be displayed. In Brené Brown’s acronym BRAVING, she talked about I standing for Integrity, and she talked about practicing your values instead of professing them. I think that that can only happen through time, over time.

As I’ve been doing this series with you, I think I was looking at my husband — we were eating dinner, it must have been a couple of weeks ago… And there’s this concept of inner circle; who’s in your inner circle. Most of the time, the inner circle are people that are closest to you and the people that you trust the most. My husband is very private and trust means a lot to him, therefore he doesn’t have a ton of people in his inner circle.

I was thinking about him and I was just looking at him and I was just having a tremendous amount of gratitude that I’m in his inner circle, that that’s something that means a whole heck of a lot… That over time, that he trusts me, and that means a lot to me.

Unfortunately, we can get kind of spun out around “Are we being too picky? Are we being too controlling, too uptight? Are we setting the bar too high? Are we having too many expectations? We’re not sure what to trust – are they trustworthy?” All of this seems so confusing and perplexing… So again, if we can reference some of the tips that I’m offering you here, the practices, as well as Brené Brown’s Anatomy Of Trust — and I’m referencing this so strongly because it’s based in research and from people’s lived experiences of what is important for trusting, healthy relationship. So if you’ve noticed yourself feeling that crazy-making, “Is it me or is it you? Should I leave, should I go? Am I being fair or am I being unfair?”, perhaps looking at tip one and two, as well as Brené Brown’s Anatomy Of Trust and getting honest, and assessing the trust concerns – any inconsistencies, any lack of integrity or credibility, lack of reliability? Being able to kind of honestly take a look at what’s going on there and checking it out with your partner.

Then secondly, looking at the fear of being vulnerable. Maybe instead of passing off the responsibility of looking at what’s going on externally with your partner — let’s say you’re done looking at step one and step two and the Anatomy Of Trust and the components of trust and you’ve gotten all of that fleshed out and you’re still feeling this anxiety and vulnerability and you’re wanting to put it off on your partner, I encourage you to turn inward and maybe look at working with some of the vulnerability and how to help support yourself to do that work. That might really help get clearer and have some direction with this confusion and crazy-making.

The last tip that I have to offer you is believing in your worthiness. A while back I interviewed Paul Colaianni and he talked about toxic relationships, and one of the points that he was discussing is how often people stay in relationships with people who are not being trustworthy – not meeting their agreements, not willing to engage in constructive process together… And one of the things and one of the beliefs that holds people in or keeps people in that dynamic is not believing that they are worthy of love, that someone else will love them, and that they’ll have opportunity for relationship in a healthy why.

In Brené Brown’s talk Anatomy Of Trust she says “One of the biggest casualties with heartbreak and disappointment and failure in our struggle is not just a loss of trust with other people, but a loss of self-trust.” When something hard happens in our lives, the first thing we will say is “I will not trust myself. I was so stupid, I was so naive.”

Brené Brown, in her talk, really invites us to look at these elements of trust… Maybe as what I’m offering you in step one and step two – “Did I honor my own boundaries? What I able to count on myself and hold my integrity as priority?” All of the aspects of trust, you could ask questions. “Was I judgmental towards myself? Was I generous and did I give myself the benefit of the doubt? Was I protective of my vulnerability or did I just give it away?”

These questions give us an opportunity to feel more empowered of what we do have control over as we build trust with others, but also how we build self-trust.

In my individual coaching work with people who are interested in relationship support, often times I’m helping my clients clarify their values, their boundaries, having their own back. Because often times, people are gonna just treat you the way they wanna be treated, which is all fine and dandy, but if we’re talking about a relationship where two people are involved, it requires both people to show.

For a really good exchange, you want both people to be engaged in the negotiation, if you will. You’re negotiating and cultivating a relationship together. If we don’t show up with our boundaries, people are gonna do what they know; some people will meet you with whatever bar they set, whatever bar you set. Other people will operate on their own integrity and their own boundaries, but that might be very different than yours.

The willingness to get clear and then to have your own back, to advocate for yourself – this requires some belief in your worthiness, your deservingness, and self-love, that you deserve to be treated with love, and that you honor yourself with that same regard.

In Brené Brown’s talks she quotes [unintelligible 00:36:49.10] “I don’t trust people who don’t trust themselves but say I love you.”

It’s not easy work sometimes to prioritize yourself, your values, what’s important. Many times we get caught up in fear of like “Is it okay to want what I want? It can feel scary to now know if what you want is okay with someone else… The fear of someone rejecting that. So if we can do that work of turning inward to value our integrity, to value our boundaries and do the self-trust work, then we have a much more solid ground to stand on, and can enter into a trusting relationship with someone else.

I love the feeling of knowing that I will honor my integrity, that I will do my very best to respect my boundaries, and that I can trust that if something is going awry in an interaction with somebody that I care about or perhaps somebody I don’t know that well, that I can politely excuse myself, or perhaps call the conversation. “Look, I’m starting to get a little frustrated, or I’m starting to feel a little defensive; I’m not sure I wanna continue”, that I know how to advocate.

There’s a self-regard there, that I believe up-levels the whole quality of the interaction. I do not believe we do anyone any favors by enabling untrustworthy behavior, and I don’t think we’re doing ourselves any favor by continuing to engage in untrustworthy dynamics.

When I work with clients who are struggling with relationship issues and this is individual work, many times I am holding the place of belief in their worthiness; they don’t see it for themselves, and yet I’m trying to hold and remind them of their goodness, of their worth, their lovability, and their ability to build a trusting relationship, that it is possible.

So I wanna invite you if you struggle with this to just know that I believe it for you as well. you are worthy, you are absolutely lovable, and I believe in the possibility of your creating a trusting relationship.

To summarize, today’s three tips – number three, letting go. Number four, allowing for time and practice. Number five, believing in your worthiness.

As a practice step, I wanna encourage you to look at “Is there a way to improve trust in yourself and in your relationship?” Perhaps using these tips or perhaps the Anatomy Of Trust offered by Brené Brown to look at one area that you could focus on to improve the quality of trust in your relationship.

If you have any questions or would like to reach out to me for support, feel free to contact me at [email protected]. You can also go to my website, click on the Contact page and find all the ways to reach me there, as well as how to submit a question for the Empowered Relationship podcast, or perhaps to be on the show and receive live, laser coaching.

Until next time, I hope you take great care.

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching