What is Trust?

We all know “they” say trust is the foundation of any strong and healthy relationship. And who could disagree? Trust is that bond between two people which allows both parties to be themselves, and although it sounds like a no-brainer, it’s not always easy to come by. Trust is “manufactured” through a few different factors, one being the element of predictability. As humans, we tend to think ahead in order to prepare ourselves for the future. Based on our experiences with other people, and observing and logging their patterns of behavior, we build an internal system which helps us “predict” the future. This allows us to plan for long-term goals and identify and prepare for threats, which leads to a greater feeling of safety in the present, and about the future.

Trust also stems from the expectation that what you give, you will get back at a later date. If you constantly feel as though you’re giving and getting nothing in return (and this could mean anything from simple acts of kindness to financial responsibility), your trust in someone will be questioned. You feel as though they are not looking out for your best interests, and can no longer be depended on, or trusted, to reciprocate.

A 2005 University of Zurich study, published in the magazine Nature, takes the building blocks of trust even further – evidence now shows that trust may be, in part, a chemical reaction. Oxytocin, a hormone found in mammals, is best known for its roles in female reproduction (it facilitates childbirth and breastfeeding) and is also said to cause “bonding” between mother and child during breastfeeding and between sexual partners during orgasm. This University of Zurich experiment had students play a “trust” game, whereby one participant decides how much simulated money to invest in another student, the trustee. The investment then automatically tripled, the investor then deciding how much “money”, if any, to give back to the trustee. In the group who had oxcytocin sprayed up their nose (!), over 50% gave the trustee the maximum amount. In the control group, only 20% gave the trustee back the maximum amount. In short, oxytocin allowed the investors able to trust to a point where they would not normally be able to.

Since most of us don’t have bottled oxytocin, how can we build trust with a potential partner, and is it even something we have control over?

The only thing we have control over is our own choices and responses to situations. Trust should not be given automatically to anyone, we must keep in mind the elements of a person’s character which warrant trust. Ask yourself these trust-based questions to figure out whether trust is present or not.

1. Does the person have trouble following through on what they say they’re going to?
2. Is the level of caring lopsided between the two of you?
3. Is their behavior inconsistent; do you have difficulty predicting what they will do next?
4. Do they lie and/or keep things from you?

Answering “yes” to any of these questions can mean the foundation for trust in your relationship either doesn’t exist, or is shaky at best. You may need to rethink your choice in partner, or begin working on establishing trust by talking about what trust means to you – it helps to set guidelines of what’s acceptable, so that both parties understand what’s needed in order to achieve it.

We mustn’t forget though, that trust is also about acceptance. Accepting a person for who they are while not compromising your own emotional happiness allows all parties to truly be themselves. When we are “allowed” to be ourselves, we can let our guard down and behave as we truly are, instead of reacting in childlike ways.

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