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   Home  > Articles

Developing Trust in a Relationship - Section one, "Communication in Marriage". Part 12

By Norman & Ann Bales Of All About Families


We cannot expect to achieve closeness with people unless we are willing to allow others to understand what we are like on the inside and unless others trust us enough to grant the same privilege. If we cannot trust one another in our marriage relationships, we will find ourselves in relationships that are less than satisfactory.

Guy Greenfield once wrote that "Trust . . . is the gateway to depth." Howard and Charlotte Clinebell insisted, "Intimacy grows in a climate of trust based on commitment to fidelity and continuity." (The Intimate Marriage. p. 26). Greenfield underscored their viewpoint in We Need Each Other. "Trust is openness and openness is the gateway to depth. Therefore you go as deep as you trust." ( p. 33).

The Bible speaks of oneness between husband and wife. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Oneness without trust is a virtual impossibility. Our study concerns practical trust-building principles.


  • Trust must become priority. Quite often we start out in the marriage relationship as self-centered persons. Consequently, we expect our spouses to be trustworthy persons, but we tend to assume our own trustworthiness. Thus we see very little reason to work at building trust. If we begin a relationship without seeing the need to develop a greater sense of trust, it is doubtful that we will make it a priority of relationship building. Thus it is no surprise that growth in trust often comes about only as a response to crisis.

  • Growth in trust requires liberation from the past. Perhaps we can appropriate a principle adopted by the apostle Paul in his own spiritual growth. His past included a period of time in which he felt so hostile to the Christian faith that he pursued a violent agenda of persecution against the church, even as his career as a member of the respectable religious establishment went forward. When he became a Christian, Paul refused to allow the "baggage" of the past to hinder his spiritual growth. Even though some Christians failed to trust him at first, he refused to allow their mistrust to discourage him. He built trust by fidelity to his newfound faith and by letting the past go. In his letter to the Philippians he wrote, "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 2:13a-14).

    It is virtually impossible for a husband and wife to live together over a sustained period of time without passing through one or more trust violating experiences. Often one spouse will say to the other "1 can never trust you again. You broke my trust at some point in the past and I can never be sure that you won't do it again." That last part is actually true. There is no way to guarantee that trust will never be broken again, but love is willing to risk and let the past be the past.


  • Most of us like to adopt a hedge of self-protection around us. We fear being known.

    Some years ago, we found it necessary to enter into marriage counseling. For most of the sessions we went separately. Norman recalls, "I made an appointment with the therapist and on the day of the appointment, I drove to a restaurant a few blocks from his office and sat there for a hour trying to work up the courage to keep the appointment. Why was I afraid to meet the counselor? I knew I needed help, but I also knew that he could not help me without knowing some things about me that were less than complimentary. The fear of being known caused me to hesitate."

    "Only later did I realize that I had erected a protective wall around myself that kept everyone from knowing me, including my wife. When I kept the appointment, I soon realized that my fears were irrational. For one thing the counselor wasn't really interested in every minute detail of my life. He didn't ask questions about escapades from my youth that may have warped my values as an adult. He was only interested in those things that were messing up my relationship with my spouse. If that involved something from my youth, we dealt with that, but he didn't ask if I had ever stolen watermelons from a farmer's field. He promised to hold the things that I might tell him in confidence and he kept that promise. An hour later I walked out of his office, having told him a number of things I had never revealed to anyone else and I was relieved to know the ceiling didn't fall on my head. The sun was still shinning. My car's engine responded when I turned the key and I found my way home without difficulty. In other words life went on even after I had disclosed my secrets."

    In the months to come, we both learned to be open with each other. We didn't really shock each other with our deep, dark secrets, but we came to understand each other fully and the more we understood one another, the more we trusted each other and the more we felt at peace with who we were as individuals.

  • Making ourselves known to each other in the marriage relationship is an act of honesty. Recent research suggests that tactful self-disclosure is essential to self-discovery. In 1964, Sidney Jourard wrote a book titled The Transparent Self. Jourard insisted that trust grows out of a willingness of one person to become vulnerable enough to become known by another person. Love and trust is built out of that relationship and in the process of that revelation in an atmosphere of trust, we come to know ourselves.

  • The Bible recommends the practice of self-disclosure. "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16). One thing that makes self-disclosure so powerful is the fact that we find out how we appear to other people (as they respond to our acts of self-disclosure). We tend to act according to the perception that we think others have of us.

    Benefits from self-disclosure include the following:

    1. It encourages others to reciprocate.
    2. It has the capacity to make marriage more satisfying.
    3. It is only when we disclose what we are really like that people can be genuinely drawn to us.
    4. It provides an opportunity for mutual burden bearing (Galatians 6:2).
    5. The practice of honesty is therapeutic (1 Corinthians. 2:3; 2 Corinthians 2:4).
    6. It frees us from the need to "cover up" things we don't want others to see.
    7. It makes change possible.

  • Self-disclosure must be practiced with a degree of caution.

    Jourard warned, "Loving is scary, because when you permit yourself to be known, you expose yourself not only to a lover's balm, but also to a hater's 'bombs!' When he knows you, he knows just where to plant them for maximum effect." (p. 5)

    The following words of caution are recommended to those who are serious about self-disclosure.

  1. Be careful about revealing information from the past that could be damaging to the present relationship.
  2. Forgiven sin should not be brought up again. (Psalm 103:12; 51:17; Hebrews 8:12). Concentrate on feelings of the present, not the garbage of the past (John 8:11).
  3. It might be helpful to let a person know in advance, 'I'm making myself vulnerable to you in telling you this. If you so choose, you can use this information to hurt me. I'm trusting you not to do that and I promise that I will not use any damaging information you share with me against you."
  4. Make sure you know the difference between "dumping" and "disclosing." Dr. Robert Rigdon modifies Jourard's recommendation for self-disclosure by adding the word "tactful." He says, "Tactful self-disclosure is the key to communicating, communicating at the third level, communicating self, communicating meaning and communicating love." (Discovering Yourself) p. 112. Tactful self-disclosure means disclosing those things which are appropriate, sensible, helpful and in good taste.

For the next article in the series click here

For the previous article in the series click here

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