Don and I celebrated our 58th wedding anniversary in October at a favorite restaurant. The waiter asks us for the wisdom we have learned over these almost six decades of marriage. The waiter is about to become engaged. He stops and listens intently. We answer him with things that we find important.
If I had a chance to answer him again, I might add what I have learned about trust.
At sixteen, I thought trust meant that we would not do or say anything that would hurt each other. This sounds unrealistic as I write it. It is. To believe this, is to insure pain. I fell under the spell of,” You would not say or do that if you really loved me.” Life broke that spell. My idea of trust transformed.
At seventy-eight, navigating difficulties and disappointments I define it differently. Trust is not a promise that I will never hurt you. It is a promise that I will learn to listen and learn from my mistakes. I will take responsibility for my actions. I will lean into this situation until we both feel complete.
I might say to our young waiter, “Know that every relationship encounters difficulties. Promise each other you will be someone who will take responsibility for your actions. Say that you will be kind and generous in the process. Pledge that you will be brave. Know that love is an act of courage. It requires stepping into the unknown.”
But I would not share this hard-won wisdom. No one wants to talk about the “for better or for worse” part of the vow. We especially do not want to hear this in early romance filled days.
Whenever we choose to trust anyone, we open ourselves up to hurt. That is the tough truth. If we had a guarantee that would not happen, we would not need trust. Yet, we humans are contradictory characters. We often expect our partner to treat us better than we treat ourselves.
Marriage is not the only relationship where we navigate trust. It is at the heart of every relationship: friendships, coworkers, and family members require trust. In these relationships we do not recite a love pledge in front of gathered friends and family. We do not promise to stay through thick and thin. Yet each has its own set of expectations. And, as William Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
Leading women’s circles for twenty plus years is an honor. These women teach me about trust, how to gain it and how to lose it. They show me how to encounter challenges, own our truth, lay claim to our gifts, suffer losses, celebrate wins, face disease, and to take time with grieving. It is a place where I continue to learn who I am.
Sometimes I miss an important cue while guiding a woman’s circle. When a woman shares a painful story, she needs to be heard. If I speak when I should listen, she feels hurt. Trust breaks. The expectation that I will stay tuned in and aware is challenged. Then I must sit with the uncomfortable reality that she is hurt by my actions. We begin the work of rebuilding trust.
When I see where I failed her, I can embrace my humanity. I grow a little deeper into my soul. Once again, I see that human beings are not perfect, they are perfectly themselves. I am not perfect. I am my banged up and beautiful self.
Relationships are risky. We give our sweet tender heart to another. What actually are we trusting in another person? Some part of us is aware that any relationship of meaning includes vulnerability. Either knowingly or unknowingly we can be harmed by those who are our closest relationships.
The older Don and I become the more often we get questions about marriage. It is doubtful that I am going to write these words down to share with the next lovebird we encounter. Hopefully, they will find their way over big bumps and little bumps. We did.
is the glue of relationships.
gives us the courage to open our heart.