“Now just lean back and hold each other there.”
I snapped my neck around and looked over at my salsa teacher panic rising in my chest. He held the hands of his partner and both easily tipped their bodies backwards held up only by the grip of the other’s hands. Looking back at my partner, I began easing backwards but before I even broke the plane of balance, I shot upright again giggling in nervousness. I couldn’t do it. My body felt like it had a mind of its own and it did—mine. And, mine, subconsciously was saying, no way, no how am I going to let him let me fall over. My partner looked back at me and said, “You have trust issues, don’t you?”
Being in a relationship is much like dancing and one of the basic steps is trust. It is possible to have relationships without it. You don’t have to trust your co-worker or your neighbor. A courteous, at-arms-length relationship can exist in these circumstances. But with a romantic relationship, with love, trust is essential. Not having trust is like both partners dancing with two left feet.
After I left dance class, I thought a lot about my ability to truly be present in my relationship. I had to ask myself if my past experiences created a problem within me revolving around trust. Could my partners distrust forged from working the streets and my own cynicism gleaned from law enforcement work have created a trust vacuum? I started doing research on the issue. The first thing I was encouraged to do was define what trust meant to me. After all, it would be hard to know if I did or did not have it or how I could work on improving it without understanding what it was.
My first task was an exercise of brainstorming. I wrote the word “Trust” on the top of a piece of paper and for five minutes wrote down any word or phrase that came to mind. I’ll admit the first two minutes words flowed easily, but I struggled through the last three. I forced myself to continue focusing on the word, letting go of any images or tangents my mind wanted to take me on. I just sat and let the word roll over and over in my head writing down anything that came to mind. At the end, I was left with an interesting list including items like: caring, broken, between two people, not hurting, dreams, mist, not from a person but from experiences, child-like, allowing love, giving of yourself, acceptance, he will not do something to hurt me, keeping promises, thinking of others, kindness Cinderella’s Castle, allowing someone in emotionally. Some seemed common, but some, such as the Disneyland reference, I had to think through. The next step in the brainstorm was to circle the words that resonated with me the strongest. These were: earned, comfortable, love, respect, believe, choice, no deliberate pain or meanness, conscious choice, saying what you mean and meaning what you say. With this list and a clearer understanding of what trust meant to me, I was able to move forward to look at how it plays a role in my current relationships.
Whether you are coming into a new relationship with painful experiences or living in a relationship where trust has been broken, it’s essential to understand that trust is the foundation for a loving, close, healthy love. Being without trust creates a feeling of being on alert all the time around the one person who you should be able to put your guard down for. If you can’t be completely open and relaxed, if you feel you have to “be on” all the time so you can “one up” your partner, you will live in a state of constant stress where there should be the ultimate peace. Trust implies having a truthful, honest, dependable and honorable relationship. Without trust, you get the opposite and who can live happily with that? Growing or rebuilding, and maintaining trust is necessary to creating that refuge so many of us seek through romantic relationships especially when one or both partners work in an occupation steeped in mistrust.
The Cop (or Cop Significant Other’s) Dilemma
If you were to ask a cop about trust, I believe the first response you would get would be a good Clint Eastwood sneer. Trust exists only in reference to one’s partner especially in the heat of the moment. Trust for anything or anyone else, whether external or internal (department management) will get you killed or kill your career. New officers soon learn that trust is the most important of all protected assets. You know who you can trust and who you can’t and it is easy to cross people over from the trust to not trust category. Once they are there, they stay there for life. In her book, I Love a Cop, Dr. Ellen Kirschman describes how street trust issues can evolve into cynicism and over-protectiveness at home. As a cop’s significant other, you are left feeling like you have always done something to create distrust when often it just seeped in the door with his or her uniform. Add to that, the partner’s constant deluge of comments like, “Do you know how many cop marriages fail? How do you feel about all those badge bunnies? You know what they say about cops and dispatchers.” Etc. Etc. Ad infinitum. Even if research shows law enforcement marriages don’t fail and infidelity doesn’t exist at higher rates than other occupations and as communication techniques and maintenance of personal relationships is focused more on throughout an officer’s career, these “helpful” statements will continue to create mistrust. In the field, if you don’t have trust, someone could die. At home, if you don’t have trust, the relationship will die. It’s that simple. Here are some keys to building, rebuilding and maintaining trust.
The Building Blocks
Trust is a willingness to be vulnerable. The word vulnerable itself strikes a negative tone in the heart of law enforcement, but in a healthy relationship, this is not a weakness or a liability. Trust implies the ability to adapt. This doesn’t mean you have to accept behaviors that are hurtful. Trust means believing the other person has your best interests at heart. Trust means not having to “play the game” deciphering the others moves and reacting in a way that keeps you one step ahead. In a new relationship, or better yet prior to getting into a new relationship, assess what trust means to you, define it and be willing to work through any issues you might have. Seeking professional help could be in order especially if you have had a hurtful experience. Owning your pain and where you stand on trust allows you to go into a new relationship without projecting old hurts onto your new partner. Get to know each other slowly. Trust is earned. Healthy relationships begin trust-neutral. I read somewhere most people are on their best behavior for the first 9 to 12 months of a relationship. Allow yourself the time to really get to know someone. After all, the infatuation stage can be one of the most fun, exciting and stimulating times of a relationship. Why do so many of us want to rush right through it?
Sometimes trust is broken in a relationship. This could be created because of past hurts projected onto a new partner (even if you have been together for years), could be seeping in from the streets or could have been created because of something one or both partners have done. If this is the case, a conscious choice to rebuild trust is essential. Although a relationship can go on for years without trust, it’s unhealthy and leaves a hollow, empty spot where love, honor and respect could exist. Agreeing to rebuild trust means patching up the safe, happy place most of us want with our partner. Begin by communication, then maintain honesty and transparency, be predictable and continue with more communication. Seeking outside help is often appropriate.
To maintain trust, again communication is key. Learn to share your feelings with each other. Bottling them up can lead to frustration, resentment and doubt. Both sides are being bombarded with negative messages about why trust is detrimental, but in a romantic relationship you must agree to set aside the “outside” gloves. I have to remind myself the war does not exist in my home, so I must put down the sword. Kirschman reminds us that without trust, you’re the enemy and I refuse to give my heart to the enemy. So each day, I need to allow myself to trust my partner. If I feel protective, I have to assess why and work through it. If it’s because of something I perceive he has or hasn’t done, I need to investigate prior to becoming contemptuous. I need to communicate. These apply to my partner as well.
In the field, if you don’t act decisively, someone could die. In a relationship, we must make the conscious decision to trust each other. We’re partners just like on the street. We must each feel confident that our partner will get out of the passenger seat when life gives us situations. Without trust, we’re left feeling alone and vulnerable like when the radios go down. When life creates the need for a back-up, I want my partner by my side. I want to know he’ll be there without even looking over my shoulder. Trust creates this confidence.
About The Author:
Michelle Perin has been a freelance writer since 2000. Her credits include Law Enforcement Technology, Police, Law and Order, Police Times, Beyond the Badge, Michigan State Trooper, Michigan Snowmobiler Magazine and Chief of Police. She writes two columns a month for Officer.com. Michelle worked for the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department for almost eight years. In December 2010, she earned her Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Indiana State University. Currently, Michelle works as the Administrative Coordinator at Jasper Mountain a residential psychiatric facility for children. In her spare time, she enjoys being the fundraising coordinator for the Lane Area Ferret Shelter & Rescue, playing her bass, working on her young adult novel Desert Ice and raising her two sons in a small town in Oregon.