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   Home  > Articles

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

By Norman & Ann Bales Of All About Families


We've already mentioned our experiences in counseling. At one point, it became necessary for Norman to allow Ann a measure of freedom that he really didn't want to let her have. He verbalized that fear to the counselor. He was fearful that the avenue she wanted to pursue might result in her leaving the marriage. The counselor conceded the fact that such a possibility existed, but then he said, "If you aren't willing to take that risk, I question whether you really love her or not."

When a relationship is threatened, we tend to become protective. Often the more we try to protect, the more we drive a wedge between those whom we profess to love. Trust develops when we are willing to risk loss and we frankly don't know any way to avoid the element of risk. There is a price to pay. Greenfield warns, "When you risk yourself to others, you become vulnerable." (Guy Greenfield. We Need Each Other. p. 42).


  • Trust requires consistency between non-verbal and verbal communication. Have you ever sought to reassure your spouse by saying, "You can trust me on this?" What will be your spouse's reaction? Your partner could be thinking, "Maybe I can and maybe I can't." Even worse, your spouse might think, "The last time I trusted you, I got burned. When our non-verbal communication is consistent with our verbal messages, we tell our spouses that we can be trusted in a way that goes far beyond verbal assurance. "There are many ways to say, 'I love you!' - A fond glance, a tender or playful touch in an appropriate spot, a thoughtful gift, choosing to sit close in a crowded room, listening with genuine interest, a kiss on the back of the neck, a note, perhaps with a private joke left where it will be found, a word of sympathy or support, a sly wink, preparing a favorite dish, a bowl of flowers carefully arranged, a phone call in the middle of the day, and even perhaps remembering to take the trash out, are a few." (Clinebell and Clinebell . The Intimate Marriage. p. 89)

  • Trust is built when we work diligently at the task of listening. Genuine listening requires tremendous effort. We must not only hear the words our spouses are speaking, but we must attempt to hear the message they intend to speak. In recent years, we've learned to tolerate "spin doctors" in the world of politics. If the president makes a speech, the opposing party will immediately communicate a "negative spin." The spin doctor will tell us "This is what the president said, but let me tell you what he really means." We tend to do that with our spouses. To build trust, we have to resist the temptation to analyze and interpret. If you tell your spouse, "You said this, but you really meant to say this," don't be surprised if your spouse is much less open the next time you communicate.

  • Work on the deeper levels of communication. How can we get beyond superficial conversation? Much of the communication between husbands and wives really operates on a very superficial plane - "What's for supper?" Did you see Johnny's report card?" "My sister called today." "They're resurfacing Main street." Spousal communication reaches a deeper level when we share opinions and convictions about various issues, but it only reaches the level of trust when we are willing to risk vulnerability and share feelings. When a spouse shares a feeling, it should not be judged. It must be accepted as a feeling.

We can recall a time several years ago, when Ann made a statement to Norman that he totally disagreed with. Ann was working on a college degree. She was heavily involved in church activities and we had three teenagers in the home at the same time. It's hard to imagine more stress. One day she said to Norman, "I don't feel like you're supporting me in my school work." Had she accused him of not supporting her, he would have pointed out numerous ways in which he thought he had done precisely that. But she didn't make that accusation. She said, "I FEEL like you're not supporting me." Norman was willing to accept and even appreciate the fact that what she was willing to tell him was what she FELT. That was much less threatening than an attack. Within a short period of time, we were able to resolve the problem.


Trust is built when we are willing to risk the vulnerability of entering into deeper communication. Can we be hurt by making ourselves vulnerable? Oh yes. But the alternative is a superficial marriage at best and an unsatisfying one at worst.

Greenfield commented, "In recent years old oil and gas wells in parts of Oklahoma and Texas have begun to produce again. Those old wells extended five to ten thousand feet underground and then played out. But with increased prices for gas and oil providing additional incentive and with better drilling equipment, oil-field drillers have now gone to levels around thirty thousand feet deep and have struck it rich. There's a lot more than black gold and gas at the deeper levels." ( p. 47). Your effort to dig deeper into a relationship may produce a "dry hole," but it can also produce rich rewards which are of much greater value than black gold, gas or even diamonds. Are you willing to take the chance?

For the previous article in the series click here

For the first article in the series click here

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