The Most Important Word in Any Marriage

Why Trust Is Important in Marriage and How to Rebuild It

You might be thinking it’s the word remote control. I guess that’s actually two words. And certainly a case could be made that the remote control is a major factor in the health of any marriage. In my opinion, watching successive episodes of any HGTV program is the visual equivalent of the sound of scratching fingernails on a chalkboard! Of course, I’m kidding…that is, about the remote control being the most important word, not the part about HGTV and the chalkboard.

OK, let me just cut to the chase: it’s trust. That’s it. In my view, trust is the most important word in your marriage.

Trust can be defined as “an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”

When I think of God in light of those defining words, I realize that my trust is well placed! After all, His character, ability, strength, and honesty are unparalleled. Trustworthy—that’s what God is, worthy of trust. And with that quality comes the predictability and confidence I need to enjoy a healthy relationship with Him.

But we already know that God is trustworthy, or at least we should know it. The harder question is this: To what degree am I trustworthy? Does my spouse—or anyone else, for that matter—have good reason to trust me?

Before we self-evaluate our own trustworthiness, it might be well for us to consider just why trust is so important in a relationship. I think the primary reason for its importance is that trust is foundational to relationships. Think through that for a second. “I love you,” and similar statements are meaningless when no relationship exists. In fact, without trust, any term of endearment loses impact.

I grew up with a mother who verbally affirmed her love to me often. I appreciate that. I’ve tried to do the same with my own children. My children have heard me tell them, “I love you” umpteen million times. And I mean it every time. Families ought to readily, meaningfully, and repeatedly convey their loving sentiments to each other. In my opinion, that’s normal.

Let me tell you about something that was not normal, at least to me. When I first attended Bible college years ago, I began to encounter a lot of fellow students who would randomly say things to me like, “I love you, Brother!”

Really? I kind of thought that a prerequisite for loving someone was actually knowing his name! Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure some of my college peers had just grown up in environments where “I love you” was more of an encouraging verbal gesture or some kind of social nicety. Being a suspicious east coaster, my feeling was, “I don’t know you; therefore I don’t trust you; therefore ‘I love you’ is meaningless.”

Relationships begin with trust. That’s how your relationship with God began. You trusted Him and His Word. You put your faith in His promise. Someone introduced you to Him. You learned more about Him in His Word. You decided to put your trust in Him. Good choice.

Unless you’re on the lunatic fringe, you didn’t walk up to your spouse-to-be the very first time you met him/her and propose marriage. My wife speaks Spanish as her first language. When I first met her, I wanted to impress her by saying something to her in Spanish, a language of which I was completely ignorant. After asking her friend what might be a suave and attention-getting Spanish clause, I proceeded to tell my wife-to-be to, “Go take a bath!” Attention-getting? Yup! Suave? What do you think?

The Basis for Trust

A true relationship finds inception with trust. As I already implied a couple paragraphs ago, trust must have an object. You can’t just “trust.” That’s like saying, “Just have faith.” Have faith in what? Trust must have a source and faith must have an object. Sometimes counselors throw around some well-meaning and impressive-sounding bits of advice like, “You just need to learn to trust.” Or, “Just have faith that things will work out.” Statements like those are not helpful because they do not address real issues. They are whipped cream words of fluff that taste good in the fleeting moment but offer no real spiritual nutritional value.

The basis for trust in another person lies in his reliability and reputation. Let me explain. The Bible says that confidence in an unfaithful man is like a broken tooth or a foot out of joint. If you’ve ever had a toothache or a sprained ankle, you know what I’m talking about. You’re definitely not ordering a candy apple from the carnival concession stand, and you’re not signing up for the upcoming half marathon. Why? Your normally reliable tooth is broken and your typically healthy ankle is sprained. No longer can you put your weight on them.

I’ve encountered an alarming number of marriages in which a spouse is afraid to put any weight on what the other says. The book of James is one of my favorite books in the Bible. Practical and powerful, it deals with so many real issues in a succinct, understandable way.

But toward the end of his epistle, James says something truly remarkable. He tells us that—above all things—we should be people of our word. Above all things. I often tell parents that the most important thing they can teach their children is for them to keep their word. One’s word is the outward and examinable expression of his character. Perhaps this is why the Bible says that God has magnified His Word above His very name (reputation). Reputation is predicated upon the reliability of one’s word.

Think of it this way: your reputation is simply a report card of your perceived reliability in a given area. Paul exhorted Titus to be a pattern of good works, especially in mentoring young men. And one of the major ways by which he was to be that pattern of good works was in the employment of sound speech that cannot be condemned.

The Enemies of Trust

Often we behave in ways—albeit sometimes unwittingly—that erode the trust of our spouse. If a husband tells little lies in front of her, she questions the truth of what he says to her. Keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to save a few bucks on your income tax or when you needlessly embellish a story for emphasis sake. Dishonesty is the mortal enemy of trust. It begs the question, “Why are you lying?”

Sometimes dishonesty disguises itself more passively in the more shadowy form of evasiveness. Evasive people may not be overtly dishonest, but they are less than forthright with the truth. Stuff like, why does a wife hide her computer password from her husband? Why is he so protective of his cell phone? Why was he nebulous about his whereabouts after work? Why does open communication seem so stilted? Evasiveness begs the question, “What are you hiding?”

When I claim to be something somewhere else without being that person at home, I am sabotaging the trust of my spouse. Nothing will neutralize trust any more quickly than hypocrisy. Our spouses know the real us. To the degree that our public persona differs from our private persona, we threaten the ability of others to trust us. Like Timothy, we must possess an unfeigned faith. How real are you? Hypocrisy begs the question, “Who are you really?”

How Can I Rebuild Trust?

Regrettably, in at least some way, we all violate the trust of those whom we love. What are some key components in the rebuilding of that trust? Even in situations where trust has been seemingly irreparably damaged, these simple steps can be effective in the rebuilding process.

Over communicate. When trust has been breached, suspicion will inevitably fill the gaps of communication with negative thoughts. For this very reason it is important for couples to communicate proactively. Don’t assume the other knows what or why. Be transparent. Awkward transparency now will do much to stave off a more toxic suspicion later. And don’t expect these conversations to take place spontaneously.

Schedule time together. Give it priority. Is it coffee after dinner with an understanding among the children that this is “Dad and Mom time”? Is it an early morning walk? (Not in my house!) Perhaps it is the late night, turn off the TV and make the kids go to bed. Whenever it is, find a time slot that will work best and then do it.

Increase accountability. Ronald Reagan had a little desk ornament in the oval office that read, “Trust but verify.” Trust and verification are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one who desires to rebuild trust will invite accountability, not run from it. Even in extreme cases like marital infidelity, it is possible (always with God’s help!) for a couple to salvage their marriage. But the victim will need from the offender more than words of regret and promises of reformation.

To the one who has breached trust I would advise, “Take your medicine and learn to appreciate inspection!” Don’t view increased accountability as a negative thing either. Decide to view the other’s suspicion as evidence that he is still in the game, not as an indicator that he wants to quit.

Give it time. I’m not suggesting that time alone will heal all wounds, but I do believe that time is a necessary component in rebuilding broken trust in a relationship. There needs to be space for a patterning. Actions speak, but habits shout. Let your patterns of new behavior loudly proclaim your trustworthiness.

By the way, this is why full disclosure is so vitally important when trust has been shattered. When the offending party only tells what he thinks his spouse might already know, or what she will likely find out, he is playing a very dangerous game. Why? Because incremental future findings will only cause additional pain and trample the sprouts of renewed trust.

Among my favorite verses in the Bible is 1 Peter 3:7 where the Lord tells us that married couples share together the “grace of life.” What a privilege to share the precious gift of life with another soul!

May we share it honestly, humbly, and happily.

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