Sunday, January 21, 2007

Trust in friendships

As I discussed in my last post, trust is an essential and difficult aspect of relationships. Trust can be especially difficult for individuals who have been through abuse or trauma.

I know this because I grew up in an abusive household. It wasn't until I went to college that I began to learn the importance of trust in relationships. Whether you are trying to develop a friendship or romantic relationship with another person, trust is the basis on which a relationship is built.

So, how do you know when or even if you can trust a potential friend or partner?

Through my experiences, relationships, and my own therapeutic work, I have learned a great deal about trust in friendships.

First, it is important to realize that trust is built over time. Trust shouldn't be given all at once. Oftentimes survivors of abuse or trauma may let down their guard too easily, allowing others to cross their boundaries too early in a developing friendship.

Don't disclose all of your personal information, background, and/or secrets at once. In fact, you may want to start with "small talk". When first meeting someone, get to know them by asking them what I call surface questions. Examples of these might include:
What is your favorite...?
Where are you from?
What are you studying / what do you do in your current job?
Do you have any siblings?

And so forth. Getting to know someone gradually will allow you to develop a greater sense of trust over time.

Do things you both enjoy. Spending time together will allow you to develop a solid friendship. When you spend time with one another, you also have the opportunity to learn more about each other. When you see a movie, for instance, the movie may inspire you to talk about mutual interests or to bring up things you have not discussed before such as your opinions, thoughts, feelings, or experiences.

Consistency is another factor in trust in my opinion. If your potential friend agrees to meet you at Starbucks at 10AM and she runs into traffic, causing her to arrive late, does she call to let you know she'll be late? Does she offer an apology or explanation for her lateness?

Likewise, does your potential friend call to cancel ahead of time if she can't make your meeting? Are her actions consistent with her words? If she tells you she really wants to get to know you, but then doesn't call, e-mail, or make plans with you for the next three months, her words and actions are not consistent with one another.

There are times when we are ALL late, unable to cancel ahead of time, break someone's confidence accidentally, or neglect to keep good contact with our friends. However if these things are happening consistently, the person in question may or may not be trustworthy.

I believe trust is earned, built over time. If you have concerns about potential friends, talk to the people you trust (long-time friends, counselors, a pastor, etc) to get their take on the situation. Then, you may want to consider talking with your potential friend about your concerns regarding him or her.

The most important thing to remember is to take relationships slowly; don't let new or potential friends cross all your boundaries initially and listen to your instincts!

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