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Building Better Bridges/Creating
Great Relationships With the
People Who Matter Most

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Chapter 2
By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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Trust -

Your enemy might become your friend
if you
allow him to be who he is.
-Thomas Mathews

The next two chapters focus on the construction materials of a relationship-bridge. These materials influence all aspects of the relationship-bridge that will be discussed throughout the book. The brittleness or flexibility of a relationship is formulated from these materials. The adaptability of a relationship is influenced by them. I am referring to trust, limit setting, support, and accountability.

Everyone, regardless of their background or personal style, has a need for trust. It’s really simple. Unless we are willing to trust another in at least a small way, not much will happen.

Trust between two people can take on several faces. Trust may symbolize the confidentiality that exists between two people in a relationship.

A friend of mine has no problem listening to her best friend over the telephone as she enjoys the absolute trust that their conversation will stay between the two of them. Even small indiscretions will be avoided. She knows it, her best friend knows it--they both count on it. Trust may mean accountability within the contract of the relationship.

A married couple I know uses trust in each other to ask probing questions, enjoy mutual responsibility, and live up to promises. I remember once they were to meet at a dinner party one evening and one of them was late. When she got there, her husband asked several questions in front of the other guests.

“Why are you late?” he said.

“I ran late at the doctor.” she said.

"I was worried, is everything O.K.?”

There was a silent moment. “Yes, everything’s fine.”

In some settings and between some people that might have sounded like the beginning of an inquisition. Between these two, it was a marvelous exchange of trust and caring. The difference was their tone and manner with each other.

Sometimes, trust is the consideration for the use of power between individuals--trusting one partner will not abuse the power given by the other partner.

I was on vacation for the summer. I watched a couple playing in the surf for what seemed like hours. When I went outside, I noticed she was standing in the breakwater of the surf with her back to her partner. When he gave her a cue, she would fall backwards into his arms, trusting he would catch her before she fell into the shallow water.

She was able to do the same exercise with him a little further out. Though they were clearly having fun, the value of trust in each other was far more important than the game.

And trust can refer to empathy or valuing the feelings of someone you are involved with intimately.

Two men I know share feelings so fragile and personal, they have to trust each other. I was talking to one of them about trust in disclosure and he said, “One time I asked Bob if he ever remembered how big his house was when he was a little kid--only to visit it as an adult and find the place was actually tiny.

As strange and unimportant as it sounds, it’s great to have someone who will take those moments seriously and not make fun of me. I related that experience to the last place I ever saw my dad as a kid. He respected my asking the question so I could tell him the rest of the story.”

To some extent you should expect all of these forms of trust to be active in a fulfilling relationship.

The matter of who trusts who first is like the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. One way of looking at trust is to expect it. Trusting one another is not a weakness, it is a strength. And someone who trusts is to be respected.

I asked an especially intuitive woman in group one night why she had the remarkable ability to demonstrate trust so freely. She answered, “I guess a lot of people demonstrate trust, and I guess I see that differently from others.”

I asked her what she meant, and she said, “Some people express their trustworthiness by keeping a small confidence well. Others do what they say they are going to do, and I think that’s worth my trust. Some people demonstrate respect by showing warmth, interest, and cooperation with others in the group. I intuitively trust those people.”

I was amazed at her insight. She continued, “If you look carefully, you can tell a lot about a person’s trustworthiness. In my family, we look closely at people we don’t yet know. Some people act realistically about what they can and cannot do, without exaggerating. They avoid behavior that might be indicative of the presence of ulterior motives such as voyeurism, selfishness, superficial curiosity, or divisiveness.”

I knew an elderly man who had no money, no real home. Every day he ate in a community shelter. His friends gathered around him in a public park on most afternoons to talk and play games of chess. I wanted to know the secret of his popularity, so I got to know him.

Over the course of several small visits I noticed that he remembered many things about me. He noted what type of soda I drank. He remembered the clothes I wore. Most importantly, he remembered my attitudes and feelings.

One day, he asked me if I had been sick. I said “yes,” and then asked him how he knew.

“You sniffled for the past two weeks and your eyes have been puffy,” he said. The sad thing is that I never really got to know him very well before he died.

I went to his wake and there were many people there all telling stories of this man. I found out he had owned a hot dog cart years before. I saw television personalities, bank presidents, writers, and professional people. Soon I found out that all of them had gotten to know my friend as they walked through the park over many years of chess games and conversations and hot dogs. He had remembered things about all of them, and regarded each of them with respect. And when he died, they remembered him with respect as well.


No bridge can stand alone. Any bridge constructed must be built to compensate for the extreme elements of its changing environment, if it is to withstand them. There must be enough flexibility in the bridge to sway with the blowing of the wind. The bridge must be anchored to the ground so as not to drift away with the flow of the river. It must be tempered so as not to rust from the drenching rain. It must be strong enough to support the burden of the traffic that flows back and forth.

Relationship-bridges are no different. They are constructed of very special materials so as to be able to withstand the extreme elements of a relationship. As I said earlier, the special materials of any relationship bridge are trust, support, limits, and accountability. The sturdiness of any relationship bridge is proportionate to the degree of trust, support, and accountability that exists in the relationship.

The pylons of any relationship bridge are trust. Trust is what anchors a relationship to the ground. The strength of trust that exists in a relationship determines how much risk-taking will take place among two people.

Trust develops as a result of risking, exploring, and experimenting. The more risk-taking is successful or accepted, the more trust exists in the relationship. If risk taking is unsuccessful or if it produces painful consequences, trust decreases. If trust decreases, the relationship becomes dominated by fear, doubt, mistrust, and confusion. These feelings then dominate how you start to think about yourself, your partner, and people in general.

Every person brings into a relationship a certain amount of trust. This supply of trust is influenced directly by previous experiences and is composed of two parts: the trust you have in yourself, and the trust  you have in other people. Whatever the amount of trust you bring to a relationship, it will influence the amount of involvement you have with anybody.

If it turns out involvement in building a new relationship-bridge is safe, then the trust in the relationship will increase and more risk-taking will happen.

Imagine how frightening it must be for someone to share any secret they may have about themselves with somebody. Let me use the example of the secret of alcoholism.

Several years ago, a friend and I were out for dinner. We had known each other for only a month or so but had a good friendship brewing. We were enjoying the meal and each other’s conversation when she grabbed my hand and said, “There is something I must tell you.”

I looked at the seriousness in her eyes and became alarmed. I tried to guess in my mind at what such disturbing news she might have. After a very awkward moment, she told me she was a recovering alcoholic. She told me how frightened she was to tell me, yet she felt compelled to let me know.

I thanked her for being so honest. I then told her I understood how difficult it must have been for her. She looked at me and started crying.

I wondered in my mind what I might have said that was so upsetting. She said, “Your understanding and openness makes me feel so accepted. I feel like it would be safe to tell you anything.” That was the start of what has turned out to be an important friendship that has meant a lot to me through the years.

Trust is built into a relationship when the interactions that take place are clean, not made up of jagged edges. The jagged edges are the remainder of past experiences that you impose upon the present. This means that you must learn to separate your past experiences from the here-and-now experiences of the relationship.

Trust is always defeated in a relationship when your past experiences in old relationships leak into the here-and-now. Your partner will feel like a prisoner frozen in time. They never know what you are reacting to--never know what to expect from you. Such an inability to be in the present with your partner erodes the intensity of the present relationship. It keeps two people from getting close because it never feels safe. You never know when the next ghost is going to appear. 

The relationship itself begins to collect its own history that a couple can continually trip up on. I refer to that as laundry listing. How many times have you or your partner silently kept track of every insult perpetrated on each other? How many times have you taken the opportunity to hit your partner over the head with something they did in August of 1991?

I once had a relationship with a woman who had the most incredible memory. I have enough problems remembering what happened yesterday. She was none too glad to remind me. Over and over and over. Our relationship never had a present because we never completed the past.

There can never be any trust in a relationship when you hold the relationship hostage to your own past and the past of the relationship. It is critical for a couple to work hard at keeping the relationship grounded in the present. It is critical a couple develop the skills of separating the past from the future in order to enhance the level of trust in their relationship.



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series—From Insanity to Serenity.


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