Reliability and Trust

Who can you trust?

It was 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. Ellyn was getting ready to go to a conference where we were making a presentation the next day. She asked me to pack the chart stand in the car and I agreed. The next morning on the way in to the office, I realized I forgot to pack the chart stand and called her about my mistake and asked if she would pack it. She said ok, and that was the end of it.

That's not always the way it was–not by a long shot. A few years ago, that incident would have triggered an intense discussion between us. The reason was clear-cut: I wasn't very reliable.

Being unreliable is bad for any relationship. And I made it even worse by denying it. When confronted with my lack of timely follow through, I would attempt to redefine the problem, saying her standards were too rigid and nobody can be 100% perfect. From Ellyn's perspective, even if I was 75% dependable, she had no idea which 25% would be “forgotten.” Without consistent warnings about delayed delivery, she couldn't reliably depend on me–not a good situation if you are working together and raising a child.

No matter how much I might protest, the fact is that unpredictable follow through made me an untrustworthy partner.

Take a minute and think about how important trust and reliability are to the foundation of your relationship. Forgetting to bring home a loaf of bread is at worst a nuisance and not worth much of a fight. But if it is a pattern, and if it represents a failure of consistent follow through in key areas, there will be fights–unavoidable fights.

What percentage of partners are willing to admit being untrustworthy and unreliable? It's hard to overestimate the corrosive effects of poor follow through in a relationship. There are opportunities squandered by not discussing and pursuing dreams as a couple or family. There is withdrawal of emotional intimacy because of subliminal resentments. But that's not all.

There is the broken trust with your partner. And there is the broken trust with yourself. Empty promises that you make with yourself end up corroding your own self esteem. If you make and break resolutions with yourself, why should you keep promises to your partner? If you don't keep your word to yourself, then why get your knickers in a twist when your partner is angry when you don't follow through? Fair is fair.

Over the last few years I have been ever more conscious about promising less and delivering more–both with Ellyn and with myself. The rewards have exceeded my expectations. We have started projects near and dear to my heart-projects that have required major support and participation from Ellyn. These projects would have died stillborn a few years ago. I would have completed my life reflecting on some painful regrets about dreams not attempted or fulfilled.

Building trust is about consistency in key areas, clear communication, and the willingness to tackle awkward questions. It is about integrity and living a more satisfying life instead of seeking ease and escape from legitimate responsibility.

When a couple comes to therapy and one of them laments, “I can't depend on my partner,” I know that if we can work it through, the rewards for them will be priceless.

Ellyn and I have written a book that touches on trust. It's called “Tell Me No Lies.” It's all about telling the truth with compassion, and how couples often condition one or the other to be deceitful. Click Tell Me No Lies for more information or to order.

Ellyn and I both applaud your efforts to build a stronger relationship. Reliability and trust form a crucial cornerstone to build it upon.

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Dr. Ellyn Bader

Dr. Ellyn Bader is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy. Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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