What’s trust got to do with it?

Congratulations to Tina Turner, who got married yesterday, apparently while I was writing this post : )  Little did I know that my blog title would come to me on a special day in her life.  I admire her greatly. And I am certain that she knows all to well ‘what love has to do with it’ as well as what I learned about trust only this week.  I pray that she and her new husband know only happiness together!

And now about trust…..

I had a startling insight the other day.  Startling not because of any brilliance on my part, but because of how surprised I am that I have lived all of these years not understanding something so basic and important.

If you have a history of secure and fulfilling relationships you already know what trust has to do with it so you can skip this.  However, if you or anyone you care about has difficulty creating safe, stable, and fulfilling intimate relationships then you might want to read on.

Here’s the context:

Five months ago my second husband announced without warning that our marriage was over and he also refused to talk about it saying, “I don’t do forensics.”  It was his analytic way of saying to the woman who made his dinner and shared his bed the night before, “You’re dead to me.” I didn’t know that I was married to a mafioso. I was about to find out.

He really meant it. He didn’t talk to me anymore. He didn’t move out either. So after 5 really awful, silent days of grieving in a small house with my husband unwilling to be in the same room with me or speak to me, I left.

He still won’t communicate. He won’t answer an email of any kind. All communications have to go through lawyers. Seriously, Tony Soprano on his worst day would have shown me more mercy.

Results are that I’ve been left to figure out what went wrong with my 18 month long second marriage by myself.  In the ‘shock and awe’ of his departure strategy I couldn’t understand anything about our relationship. And I really, really want to understand what happened because I really, really don’t want to go through anything this painful again, ever.

And now about that insight:

The other day I was musing over one of the 6 disagreements my husband and I had during our short marriage.  Yes, I counted because there were so few of them, they were easy to track. It was during this moment of contemplation that I met my inner mechanic.

I didn’t know I had an inner mechanic. But there he was, a kind, pragmatic, gentle masculine energy–like Mark Harmon on NCIS, on any cowboy good guy in a western.  He lifted up the “hood” and looked into my heart and said, “Well, there’s your trouble.”  And in one thought all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

My inner mechanic said, “You don’t trust him.”

In that instant I remembered the moment when my trust in my husband was broken, about 9 months into the marriage.  He had humiliated and disrespected me in public in front of my friends. And every 3-4 months he would repeat this behavior. Over time he expanded the audience of my embarrassment to include his adult children.  I realized in this flash of memory that not only did I not trust him, but also that I had been completely unaware that my trust in him was gone.

HOW COULD I HAVE NOT KNOWN THAT?!  Who doesn’t know that they can’t trust their spouse?  And how could I have had such enormous feelings of love for him throughout our short marriage (18 months) when I didn’t trust him?

This insight left me “speechless,” even my mind shut up.

I can feel love and take loving actions, but I don’t know, at my age and after all of my training and experiences, that without trust in my husband that there will never be intimacy between us. Wow. If I was missing a leg, would I fail to notice it? I am a relatively smart person with a supposedly high emotional IQ. I am still stunned at the level of my unconsciousness.

Space and time prohibit the full explanation of how my deep state of cluelessness came to be my modus operandi since….well, forever.  But I suspect I am not the only one who is willing to love people they can’t trust.

Turns out that loving feelings and loving actions are separate from being able to trust someone.  Seems obvious to me now, but I hadn’t ever stop to think about it until now.

I suspect that there are lots and lots of couples out there who love each other but no longer trust each other.  I’m thinking that there are lots of marriage counselors getting paid to try and patch that problem up while not being able to articulate the core question, “do you trust her/him not to hurt you?”

So what does trust got to do with it?  Why isn’t love enough to make a marriage work?

Here’s what I have figured out so far.  Feel free to add to this. I want to learn all that I can.

   1)  If I can’t trust him to avoid hurting me, then I won’t be vulnerable with him.  I’ll keep my emotional distance instinctively–meaning whether I am conscious of keeping my distance or not.

   Check. I did begin to withdraw after he repeated his public display of disdain for me. And while I made every attempt to communicate with him about my hurt feelings, forgive him, and remain kind and loving, I had instinctively and unconsciously drawn an emotional line in the sand that I didn’t cross again. The problem is that you can’t make a marriage work with distance between you.

   2)  If I can’t be vulnerable with him, I can’t really be myself with him. I’ll give him the parts of me that I think he likes best because I want to feel love from him.

   Check.  I began to avoid giving him any news that I thought would be stressful to him.  I began adjusting myself to think about what he would like before I did things. What I wanted was to feel more love from him. It didn’t occur to me that I was afraid of him getting upset with me.

   3)  If I can’t be myself with him, I can’t  keep my connection with him strong, no matter how much I love him.

   Check.  Everything makes more sense in hindsight. I remember feeling more and more like I was doing something wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what is was during the last 6 months of our marriage.  It took effort for me to try and get on the same page as my husband.  We spent time together and talked a lot about a lot of things, but not so much about our feelings.

I wanted to do more things together as a couple–date type of activities and I couldn’t get his interest in them. He certainly didn’t initiate anything.  At the time I passed this off to his busy work schedule. And so I tried just leaning into whatever was going on with him and work and his grandkids as a way of connecting with him but it didn’t work very well.

Now I know why. It wasn’t mutual. He wasn’t trying to connect with me. And if he had tried, he would have met that line in the sand I had unconsciously drawn and kept moving each time he berated me in front of friends or family.

    4) If my connection to him isn’t strong then I can’t experience intimacy with him.

   Check.  About the time I started adjusting myself to please him (see #2), our intimate life began to feel strained to me. It wasn’t effortless anymore. I began having problems with thinking too much. It never crossed my mind that there were emotional issues in the marriage. I thought that our honeymoon phase was coming to a close as it does for every couple. And I blamed myself for my difficulties with responding to him physically.

It makes sense now. If I can’t be myself with my clothes on, I’m not going to be able to be myself with them off.  I loved him and I wanted to be with him but my protective emotional distance and my increased need to please him took me away from the moment, a real deterrent to enjoying what marriage has to offer.

While a satisfying sex life isn’t the only component of connection in couples, sex is the canary in the coal mine of true connection in a relationship. If your sex life starts to sputter, something is wrong in the trust/vulnerability/connection department and your relationship is in danger.  Partners who are connected can have medically induced sexual dysfunction and still have a satisfying sex life. This is fact. But when the connection between couples becomes weakened, their sex life stalls out.

   5) And without intimacy I will not know love.  I can have a relationship. I can love him, but I will not feel loved. And when I love but don’t feel loved, I suffer because I am not that much of a saint to be able to be a wife to a husband with whom I can’t have a connection.

   Check.  By the third time he “made a joke” at my expense in front of family and friends I was not feeling loved or respected.  And by the fourth time he utterly failed to protect me or my feelings, dismissed me for being upset at all, and looked at me with a kind of contempt I’ve never seen before, I exploded in tears and yelled at him for not loving me.

And then I recovered. We spoke about things. That is, I spoke about things. He listened. I felt heard. I took responsibility for holding in feelings and then exploding. I apologized.  We seemed to get back on track.  I did notice a few days later he had not apologized for failing to look out for my well-being, dismissing me, and being insensitive.   There was so much unpacking to do after the move across the country I decided that I would ask him about that later.

One instance every 3-4 months isn’t enough to send me to a divorce lawyer.  I’m a traditional gal. I like to keep my commitments. And for whatever reasons, I loved this man with my whole heart.  And he said he loved me and he showed that he loved me with the exception of those 5 or 6 moments of hostility. My thought was that we’re doing alright for older newlyweds with emotional baggage from our first marriages. And like most of us who end up loving spouses we can’t trust, I had enough optimism for the both of us that time would allow us to work things out.

Now I know that I was headed for increased suffering if our marriage had continued.  I know that a pattern of disrespect and hostility only increases in frequency over time.  So every 3 months would have turned into every month and then every week pretty quickly.

So, I figured out what went wrong in my short marriage without my husband’s help. But he had already done enough.  My husband did me the biggest favor he could have ever done. He left me.

The rationalizations of a married woman who loves her husband are powerful things.  They will keep her in a relationship that is unhappy and unloving, sometimes for life.

My inner mechanic taught me in an instant that if I want a true marriage I need to be able to trust my husband not to hurt me in any way.

And that’s what trust has to do with it.