Trust (Sept 21th)

This entry is dedicated to KC – for sharing trust

Our experiences, beliefs and needs concerning trust are as unique as our fingerprints, so you may find much in this week’s blog that does not resonate with you.  Regardless, I encourage you to thoughtfully consider the research for there are many beings on this planet that we engage with, and their unique trust-prints may feel quite foreign to you.

In this blog, I share snippets from The Science of Trust; a book whose findings – based on 30+ years of research – explained what I not yet found words for.

 …in a trusting relationship we take as a given that our partner has our best interests at heart, rather than just self-interest.  ~ The Science of Trust

Happy Couple

Following is a (simplified) description of a happy couple:


Happy couples, for whom trust was not missing, described the concept of trust as the mysterious quality that somehow created safety, security, and openness for both of them…trust made it possible for them to be vulnerable with each other, and thereby deepen their love beyond the first passionate infatuations and illusions of courtship.  As love matured, these couples told us that trust ripened to a sense of mutual nurturance and moral responsibility for building a life together.  For them, love and trust were intertwined and grew together…and they accepted each other despite perpetual personality issues.  ~ The Science of Trust

In this blog, I refer to the description above when I use the terms “happy couple” or “trusting couple.”


Nasty-nasty interchanges are discussions which become harmful in tone, action and/or speech; eroding trust in one’s partner or relationship.  But, not all nasties are equal. 

nasty birdnasty bird

Following are the nastiest-of-the-nasties:

  1. Contempt <<King of Nasty, as far as damage to trust in relationship>>:  “Contempt is a statement made to put one’s partner down by taking a superior, higher plane, like maintaining the high moral ground.  It usually arises from sense that one is better than one’s partner on any dimension. People are very creative with contempt and snobbery.   Contempt is the single best predictor of divorce.
  2. Criticism: “A person using criticism is suggesting that the conflict issue is caused by a personality flaw in the partner….”This problem would never happen if you weren’t so selfish.” Complaints that begin with “you always” or “you never” are criticism.” 
  3. Defensiveness: “Defensiveness is defending one’s own innocence, warding off a perceived attack, meeting an attack with a counterattack, whining, denying responsibility for a problem (it is all the partner’s fault), or cross-complaining. Denial of responsibility fuels escalation in conflict…”
  4. Stonewalling: “Stonewalling is the listener’s withdrawal from the interaction.  The listener does not give the speaker the usual listener-tracking cues (eye contact, open body, head nods, brief vocalizations).”

Studies show that unhappy couples are quick to enter nasty-nasty interchanges and slow to leave – they rate these interchanges as “highly unhappy” on their relationship matrix.  

Whereas, happy couples are slow to enter nasty-nasty interchanges and quick to leave – they rate these interchanges as “little significance” on their relationship matrix.  

Why are happy couples slow to enter nasty-nasty?  Why are they quick to leave nasty-nasty?  Hmmm….what is your guess?


“Flooding” is a term meant to explain a threshold in which humans suddenly experience a situation as being overwhelming and unsafe; they are flooded with a feeling of insecurity and cannot see an escape.  

breathing underwater


When people are threatened, they operate in the ultimate stage of self-interest. Their interest becomes self-preservation. …the more flooded people are, the more often…nasty-nasty interchanges occur.  ~ The Science of Trust

There are a few reasons why happy couples are slow to enter nasty-nasty but research shows there is one outstanding variable that explains why they are quick to leave.


Long-term couples who rate themselves as happy, also rate high on the co-trustworthiness matrix, meaning they trust the other partner to help them when they are flooded.


There are two cures for flooding, one is self-soothing, the other is co-regulation (when our partner helps soothe us).  Self-soothing is rarely possible once flooding occurs so co-regulation becomes a crucial component to end flooding, i.e. nasty-nasty interchanges.

When our defensive fear-based system takes over, we often lose the ability to down-regulate our own physiological arousal…because the frontal cortex has relinquished its ability to control our limbic alarm…the most efficient soothing we can get is borrowing our partner’s cerebral cortex.   ~ The Science of Trust 

elephants soothing


Here is where trust has its big payoff.  In a trusting relationship, even an event as simple as our partner’s hand-holding can down-regulate our activated fight-or-flight state…the two [partners] trade their complimentary data through the open channel their limbic connection provides.  ~ The Science of Trust

Couples who rate high on the co-trustworthiness matrix find instances of flooding easy to manage by offering touch, time and/or space, before resuming the discussion.  

old people walking.jpg


But, in order to allow our partner to co-regulate for us when flooded, we need to trust that they have our best interests at heart, not just their own.

Every relationship has nasty-nasty interchanges.  

Research shows that nasty-nasty interchanges are a necessary part of communication and growth in a trusting relationship.  What is not necessary are prolonged and frequent nasty-nasty interchanges – these two variables quickly lead to untrusting and unhappy relationships – with prolonged-nastiness being most harmful to building a trusting relationship.

…[some] couples had no ritual for withdrawing from conflict when one of them was flooded. Often the break seemed like abandonment to one or both of them, so they stayed with each other, interminably arguing while flooded…   ~ The Science of Trust

waiting for eternity.jpg

Couples who rate themselves as untrusting of their partner find flooding immensely difficult as neither partner trusts the other to co-regulate. Hence, they remain in nasty-nasty interchanges for prolonged periods of time.  

Dimensions of Trust

Effective repair is probably the single most important process that a long-term relationship needs to survive and stay mutually satisfying…the failure to repair during conflict is intimately connected to the dynamics of [trust] betrayal. ~ The Science of Trust 

Effective repairing of trust during conflict requires attunement (more on this dimension below), in the meantime, how does one begin to understand the basic building blocks of trust, outside of <<and hopefully before>> conflict. 

Most couples described trust in terms of two dimensions.  The first is transparency… [the second is] positive moral certainty.  ~ The Science of Trust

Transparency: “the partner’s keeping promises and doing what he/she says they will do. They needed to be able to count on the partner to be a truthful person who is what he/she appears to be within the relationship.”  

Yet, trust is more than truthful…

This leads to the second dimension of trust; “positive moral certainty is when we have confidence and knowledge that our partner is someone who will treat us and others with integrity, honesty, kindness, love and goodwill.”  

dog loving deer

This second dimension of trust is about our partner’s intentions, motives, and actions toward us and the world.  

Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship, but once you have decided to admit them, welcome them with all your heart and soul.  ~ Seneca


Sliding-door moments…are very small moments in which a need is expressed and the responsiveness of one’s partner is a test of trust.  In these moments we test whether we can trust that our partner will turn toward our expressed need. ~ The Science of Trust

The question that participants in trust-research feel is most crucial to building trust is…



And the manner in which this question is answered is not by big commitments or grand gestures, but in the seemingly mundane, the average, the inconsequential, the routine of our daily interactions.

These frequent sliding-door moments serve as small “trust tests”…when the partner makes a “bid for connection”.  The request for connection can be made directly and verbally or indirectly and nonverbally. … The turning away can have consequences for the security of the partners’ attachment to each other and sense of safety with each other.  ~ The Science of Trust 

There are many sliding-door moments in all relationships.  Opportunities constantly arise in which we can choose connection, or choose to disconnect.  Research shows that “when we add up many such choices to dismiss emotion instead of attuning to it, the result is two different trajectories leading to very different universes.”

Sliding-door moments are as small as:

  • Hey, look at this!
  • Want to hear this funny joke I heard?
  • Will you help me fold the laundry?
  • I am so excited about {….}!
  • I feel sad today.
  • Did you hear what I said?

Often the person turning away just doesn’t think this moment is important; turning away is not necessarily mean-spirited. Yet the small turning away builds the groundwork for a bad habit. …it [trust] is a contract of mutual nurturance and being there for each other.  ~ The Science of Trust 

Are you there for me?

The secret of turning toward bids in sliding-door moments is first noticing the bid, and second responding to the bid.  These two steps usually require some heightened awareness of how our partner tends to make requests, and an attitude that we wish to meet these needs a large percentage of the time.  We are thus communicating: “I hear you, baby.  Talk to me.  What can I do to meet your need?”  ~ The Science of Trust 

<<this last sentence stunned me when i first read it.  living in a society so individualized and independent, i am often told that i should not ask for an other to meet my needs, instead i should be totally capable on my own.  but, what a rare concept!, asking an other for help…how lovely – albeit a bit frightening – for me: an insanely independent human>>


When it all goes wrong – when the chords screech and the music runs dry – it is time to re-tune.

Attunement is not a complex skill, but it is difficult to do unless one decides to do it.  For emotion-dismissing people, that requires a shift in emotion philosophy from dismissing or disapproving to attunement.  It means giving up responsibility for changing someone else’s emotion and shifting to genuinely trying to understand the partner’s emotions. ~ The Science of Trust 


A ~ Awareness of the emotion

T ~ Turning toward the emotion

T ~ Tolerance of the emotional experience

U ~ Understanding the emotion

N ~ Non-defensive listening to the emotion

E ~ Empathy toward the emotion

Partners who have a high degree of trust share their worlds with each other and create a strong emotional connection, which is the basis for intimate trust and personal sex.  They practice the art of intimate conversation and view moments of emotion or high stress in themselves or their partner as an opportunity for intimacy and greater understanding of each other’s inner worlds.  ~ The Science of Trust 

old couple laughing.jpg

Thoughtful on Trust

heart on tree-border


Following are a few thoughtful thoughts (relationship extends to all: children, parents, lovers, siblings, friends, etc):

  • Are trusting relationships important to me?
    • If yes, read on.
    • If no, grab a coffee, tea, or cigar, and enjoy the day!
  • Do I have a relationship in which I trust the other and feel safe to be vulnerable?
    • If yes, do I feel they have my best interests at heart, and I theirs?
  • Which of the four nastiest-of-nasties am I most likely to see in my behavior?
  • Which of the four nastiest-of-nasties am I most likely to see in my partner(s)?
  • When I am flooded, which partner(s) do I trust to co-regulate me?
  • When my partner(s) is flooded, can others trust me to co-regulate fairly/kindly?
  • Has there been a time when I engaged in a nasty-nasty interchange for a prolonged period of time?
    • If yes, what prolonged the nasty?  <<please do not answer that it was their fault 🙂 >>
  • Do I understand how to uniquely attune to my partner(s) in relationship?
  • Do I (mostly) turn toward connection during sliding-door moments?
  • Am I (more) concerned with independence, or intimacy?  Is there a balance between the two? 
    • If yes, what does that balance look like to me?

meditation of love
All blessings and tinkling bells of honey to your heart.



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