Safety and Trust in Relationships: Those Words Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

woman hiding under table

(Image/Crosswalk.com)

 

Author’s Note: I think the #1 problem in the world is how poorly humans manage their relationships. Even if you disagree, follow my logic, please. The biggest influence on whether our lives suck or are awesome is the quality of our closest relationships. For most of our lives, that’s the relationship with our spouses or long-term romantic partners. Human conflict is problematic everywhere. But when it’s two people who decided to pool resources and promised to love one another forever, and make and share children? It’s a crisis. The ripple-effect consequences know no bounds. Divorce breaks people, and then broken people break other things.

I think the #1 cause of divorce is relationship-damaging behavior by men who honestly don’t recognize it. Good men with good intentions who damage their wives’ emotional and mental health with behaviors they don’t understand to be as damaging as they are.

How? Why? There are no easy answers. But I think the closest one is: No one knows. Just like people spent decades smoking tobacco without knowing it had dire health consequences.

I think we don’t teach our children the truth about adulthood. That we don’t teach our boys the truth about manhood. Not because we’re liars. But because we didn’t know either.

This is the second in a series of posts about The Things We Don’t Teach Men (And How It Ruins Everything).

Safe – adj. – \ˈsāf\ — secure from threat of danger, harm, or loss

Trust – verb – \ˈtrəst\ — to commit or place in one’s care or keeping; to place confidence in, rely on; to hope or expect confidently

‘You don’t make me feel safe. I don’t feel like I can trust you anymore.’

Safety is probably more important to you than you consciously realize in any given moment.

After basic metabolic functions, like your heart beating and properly working lungs, and the most basic things needed for survival (food, water, shelter and clothing), Safety is the next thing people need to function in life.

The concept of safety, for me, tended to be rooted in physical safety. Wearing a seat belt. Not getting pistol-whipped during an armed robbery. Wearing the proper safety equipment on a construction site or in a manufacturing facility, or during a football or baseball game.

And color young-me as an ignorant sexist rube if you must, but in male-female relationships—including my marriage—I thought of safety in the context of protecting her from physical harm.

I want to sleep closest to the bedroom door.

I want to be the one to check out the strange noise in the house.

I want to be with her walking in a dimly lit parking garage at night.

I want to pay for a home-security system to deter and warn of intruders.

I want to fight and take the potential beat down to give her time to run away.

I want to take the bullet for her.

And I will never physically harm her. Ever.

And because of those things, I thought my wife (and anyone, really) should feel safe with me. I thought all of those true things made me a person who was safe to be with.

But I wasn’t. And this is in NO WAY anyone’s fault but my own—but nowhere, at any point in my upbringing, was I exposed to other ways of thinking about safety or taught the fundamental importance of making one’s girlfriend or wife feel safe and secure in those OTHER ways.

Other safety and security needs people have in addition to not being hurt or killed in an accident or act of violence include:

  • Financial security
  • Health and well-being (mental and emotional safety)

Everyone has different thresholds for what financial security looks like. I think having enough money to pay for one’s family’s needs is a concept anyone mature enough to be reading this already understands.

But on mental and emotional safety?

I failed about as hard as a person claiming ignorance possibly can.

I was mentally and emotionally abusive to my wife without realizing it because I also demonstrate classic only-child levels of self-centeredness, and I hadn’t yet learned that Marriage Isn’t For You.

But I’m not the only one.

I think many men accidentally abuse their wives’ mental and emotional health without realizing it (and it probably happens in reverse, too), and then once enough damage has been done, the couples end up having what feels like the exact same frustrating and familiar fight over and over again.

For men, it often becomes a thing we learn to deal with. It pisses us off sometimes. It certainly stresses us out and makes us feel shitty. But it tends to be a nuisance that we believe will be better after everyone calms down.

However, for many women, every one of these fights tends to slowly and systematically erode her love and respect for her husband/boyfriend, and her faith in the integrity of the relationship itself.

Over time, “lesser” incidents can trigger the arguments.

Maybe five years ago, a guy stayed out too late drinking with his friends, passed out and never told his wife or girlfriend where he was. She stayed up all night freaking out, and then they had a big fight because he thought she was overreacting.

But maybe five years later, he accidentally left his phone in the car during a two-hour business presentation in the middle of the day, and his non-responsiveness triggers that same level of concern and anger in her. And maybe he thinks it’s a gross overreaction because while reacting to an all-night drinking bender seems reasonable, freaking out because of an accidental work-related situation does not.

And once again, they have The Same Fight.

Men—boyfriends and husbands—often are so determined to defend their actions and feelings that they don’t actively listen to their upset girlfriends or wives. They HEAR them, saying words and being angry and stuff. But they don’t LISTEN. They don’t understand. They never figure out WHY their partner is saying and feeling these things.

…..

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…..

Here’s a guy who works hard and is good at his job. He’s a good provider for his wife and children.

He never complains about his wife’s behavior. And he thinks it’s unfair that he isn’t given the same courtesy.

He would NEVER hit her. He’s a capable protector. So it makes sense to him that she should feel Safe.

He would NEVER cheat on her. He never intentionally fails to do something he says he will. He’s not a liar. He’s a good parent and guardian. He feels like a “trustworthy” person. So it makes sense to him that she should Trust him.

The Thing That Ends Relationships

After dozens, perhaps hundreds of attempts to explain what it is that upsets her, he generally responds angrily. Or tells her she’s wrong. Or tells her she’s just being emotional again. Or tells her she’s mentally unstable. Or simply walks away in frustration because he doesn’t want to fight anymore. Or maybe he’s really patient, and simply walks away confused after the conversation without fighting back, but also without ever understanding what she’s trying to communicate to him.

No matter which of those common responses occur with any given couple, each instance further weakens a wife or girlfriend’s faith in the relationship.

“He’s NEVER going to get it. I can’t trust him.”

The mistrust is not about sexual faithfulness. It’s not really even about his human integrity, assuming he is as unaware of the damage he’s causing as I believe he is. (I believe strongly that the VAST majority of husbands would never KNOWINGLY inflict pain on their wives, and I stand by that belief. I think I know an easy way to determine whether your spouse is hurting you on purpose.)

A wife or girlfriend loses trust in her husband or boyfriend after repeated attempts to explain why something hurts and requests for help in making it stop haven’t resulted in any positive outcomes nor any evidence that he wants the painful thing to stop.

Faced with feeling hurt every day for the rest of her marriage/relationship, and no evidence her committed partner is willing to be a partner in making something painful go away, she stops trusting him.

No matter how good he may be. No matter how perfect his record might be in every other part of his life.

Something hurts her. He either can’t or won’t help her. She knows because they’ve talked about it countless times with the same result.

She knows the marriage/relationship is unsustainable without trust. Its future is in doubt.

The security and well-being of her and possibly children are now in jeopardy.

And now she doesn’t feel safe.

And no matter how much he tries, a man she can’t trust to not hurt her can’t make her feel safe. In most cases, not like how her father used to.

The realization is often frightening: “I no longer believe our marriage will survive.”

I used to believe the scariest guys were the obvious assholes. The guys that punch and cheat and name-call. The drunks and addicts and reckless gamblers.

But red flags are easy enough to spot. Red flags are obvious warning signs that help people steer clear.

Real danger is what lurks undetected.

These awesome guys. Nice. Friendly. Smart. Successful. By all appearances, good men and good fathers.

The guys everyone praises as good husbands and fathers. Guys just like me.

If you leave guys like that, maybe her parents don’t approve or support the decision. Maybe her friends will judge her. Maybe when she feels most afraid than at any other time in her entire life because she doesn’t believe her marriage and family will survive, and she’s feeling guilty for not being able to make it work and how it might affect her children. And the only thing she wants and needs is support. But the ONE person she believed she could count on for the rest of her life to lift her up and care for her in such moments is the very person inflicting all of the pain, fear and anxiety.

Mistrust.

Unsafe.

Fight or flight?

She has already spent years fighting, leaving her with just one choice: Run.

I used to blame her.

But I see it all so clearly now.

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152 thoughts on “Safety and Trust in Relationships: Those Words Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

  1. sadmrs says:

    I keep rereading this post. I wish I could send it to my husband, but if it comes from me, he’ll dismiss it, as he has so many times before. The one thing you didn’t mention about the wife’s experience is how utterly alone she feels. Her husband is a great guy to everyone else. Everyone in her church leadership (where she stupidly went for help and counseling) thinks he’s amazing, and their voices also invalidate her, telling her there’s no reason to feel distrustful. No reason to hurt or feel trapped. They tell her she’s unforgiving and holding on to the past, when really it is the present. Her family of origin adore him, see how he takes care of the children, how he makes big generous gestures sometimes to his wife. To their daughter, granddaughter, sister, cousin… She can’t confide in them because, if she really is overreacting, she will damage his reputation with them. And she doesn’t want to damage that, because after all the pain she still cares about him more than herself and doesn’t want him to lose the only family that actually cares about him. She is alone. No wonder she eventually runs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] TOP POST – Safety and Trust in Relationships: Those Words Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean […]

    Like

  3. Mirela says:

    Thank u for writing this

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ieaves says:

    This morning I started planning my divorce because of this. I just don’t know what else to do. The focal point was that he doesn’t believe validation is a valid concept, and he yelled at me so virulently that I am viscerally afraid of having to talk to him again. I could win if it came to a physical fight, which it never would, but I am afraid of him. Afraid to talk to him again.

    He has no interest in sex with me that I can tell, so your book seems useless. I came out of complete withdrawal for a last ditch attempt over the last few months. I know he loves me. I know he hasn’t destroyed my soul on purpose and yet…I don’t want to give up but I don’t know what to do. Advice for when the woman makes more $, and is with a man with no apparent libido?

    On the positive, now that I have a basic exit strategy in place, I realized it’s the first time in a few years that I have no desire to be dead. So I guess for someone like me, divorce has its upsides.

    Like

  5. […] maybe there are fears and trust issues and insecurities today that didn’t exist back when they were dati…. Maybe there is mental and physical exhaustion from working 40+ hour weeks and/or chasing children […]

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  6. […] 6. All she wanted was for someone who loves her to LISTEN to her. That’s it. Not hard. Just STFU and listen. And after several hundred times of NOT doing that, I ceased to be someone she could trust to confide it. I was no longer a feel-good resource for coping with the ups and downs of adulthood, because hundreds of previous attempts ended badly and painfully for her. She didn’t feel safe anymore. She didn’t trust me anymore. Because safety and trust are two words that don’t always mean what we think they mean. […]

    Like

  7. […] is why my wife could no longer trust me or feel safe with me. When you don’t make your partner feel safe and lose their trust, it’s all […]

    Like

  8. John says:

    Good article. Wish I would’ve learned this 18 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Holly says:

    What you said in this article is right on the money. This is exactly how I feel as a woman, and I totally identify with the things you said. I’m very glad that you realized this yourself. As you say, most men would rather die defending their actions and behaviors rather than admit there is serious need for them to change, because that would be a blow to their ego.

    Not feeling understood by her significant other or, worse yet, feeling as though her S.O. doesn’t really care about how she is feeling inside, *kills* a woman from the inside out. And if her man demeans her or, as you say, mentally/emotionally abuses her, even if it is unintentionally done, it not only destroys her trust in him, it destroys her spirit. She becomes a shadow of her former self if she continues to stay in the relationship. So it’s not so much that she leaves him because she’s unhappy, but rather she’s leaving him because he’s quite literally killing her from the inside out. No exaggeration.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Matt says:

    Your post really hit home for me, I believe that I’m a good person and all that stuff that you were saying and my wife has been telling me very similar things for a long time. She just recently told me I’m a failure as a husband which hit me like a shotgun blast to the heart but after reading this I understand more of where she is coming from. Thank you for writing this I really needed to hear it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Arlene says:

      I get fascinated with people that recognize their mistakes. i have read a lot of defensive men’s posts in response to Matt’s posts. some have really failed to understand that the posts are not just about the dirty dishes but being considerate of another person’s feelings. i believe there are women that also disregard their spouse’s feeling, demean them and disrespect them in so many ways. As a woman, this post doesn’t only talk about my feelings and rights, but it has opened my mind to see how often i take other people’s feelings for granted.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. […] that there is a loving and compassionate way to respond to this child in a way that will help to build an environment of safety and trust in that relationship, and that the examples shared above are not […]

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  12. Jane says:

    I finally feel like I’m not alone. I read the entire post after having a huge argument with my husband this morning. What a sigh of relief to know that what I am trying to say about safety is true! I’ve never seen it put quite so matter of fact and on point with what’s been happening. My husband cheated on me when we were engaged, and I only found out after we were married (a year after) and felt stuck ever since, married 3 years now. Of course he blamed me for cheating because we were arguing all the time. I felt lost and sad for leaving my life and family just to be with him. But, I felt that way even before I found out he cheated. Now, it affects how I view him and now he thinks that because of that mistrust, I have an advantage over him and will always hold it over his head when I feel mistrust or when he does something wrong. I wish I could send him this article but he will roll his eyes once he’s done with it. I wish there was a solution but i feel better knowing that what i feel is NORMAL! I still have faith in our marriage but starting to doubt that it was a marriage at all. I’ve told him how scared i feel, that it hurts me more then it hurts him, and he thinks I cry the victim when i explain.
    Thank you any ways for sharing this! God Bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Yolandi says:

    It’s like crazy reading this. It’s like reading my own life. I feel so guilty, angry and hurt. He’s an amazing guy but he’s also not. And my daughters father was abusive. So I literally just went for the good guy. I think I need to speak to someone about it.

    Like

  14. […] I didn’t know that my inability to love and respect myself and step up courageously following my layoff had eroded her trust in me and our relationship. […]

    Like

  15. London Lady says:

    This is exactly right, this is where I live, and im trapped by so many circumstances, even leaving I will never be truely free because of my child, my sweet girl is also going to suffer from this. She wont grow up in a healthy happy family like I hoped. Cant even leave until this dang virus is over! TRAPPED!

    Like

  16. Crystal says:

    This paragraph is what it boiled down to with me. My hope for change or resolution was just all used up. So I asked him to leave.

    “A wife or girlfriend loses trust in her husband or boyfriend after repeated attempts to explain why something hurts and requests for help in making it stop haven’t resulted in any positive outcomes nor any evidence that he wants the painful thing to stop.”

    Like

  17. yboxman says:

    I think I understood more of what my ex went through after reading your post. But to be honest my primary conclusion is, well… good riddance. Not to my ex, with whom I am in an excellent relationship (we live next door to each other) and whom I deeply care for.

    I meen good riddance to the whole marriage-cohabitation-bundle concept. Because when two people are living together, and one of them (the woman, for ease of reference) is deeply, incremently and irrevocably hurt when the other (the man, for ease of reference) does not do what the other wants and asks for, whether it is putting the glass in the dishwasher or not going on activities with friends, or doing things in precisely her way when going on an outing, then you are setting things up for failure.

    I have shared custody and 50-50 time division for our three children. I manage my household, and my children’s schedules (including social schedules for which I was always the main manager) in ship-shape. I don’t do it the same way she did/does. I spend less than a quarter of my time on picking up/ cleaning up and ordering things about. But the house is about as nice as hers. How? Cooking big, basic meals, rather than investing time and love a in the kitchen for dishes the kids couldn;t care less about. Cleaning and ordering once twice a week (before/after the kids come) rather than every day. employing a cleaning lady (whom I also sweettalked into cooking as well) about twice as much as we did when together (because she wanted us invested in housekeeping rather than outsourcing), and generally keeping making order within reasonable (to me) limits. Devoting one hour a week for clearing various other shit off my desk rather than recalling the same thing seven times a day and rediscussing it with partner to get the same response. Kids like being with me just as well as with their mother. So isn’t my way just as good for them, and better for my peace of mind and time-management?

    Not to mention that whenever I visit or exchange kids her sink is full and she asks me to take down the (overfilled) trash. It seems that it was never really about keeping the house spotless. It was about keeping me occupied in keeping the house spotless. because that made her feel safe.

    I had the same experience as a kid. My mother was a careerist (my father is an academic) and would occasionally take business trips abroad. She would ineveitably freek out at my dad when she returned because things were’nt exactly as she liked. Your implication he was emotionally abusing her by not investing the needed effort to make her feel happy about the household *every single day*. But what I felt when she left on business trips was mostly relief, and what I felt when she returned was that she was dumping on us. And frankly, I never saw a difference between how the house looked when she was gone and when she was there. Same – same. But I definately knew the difference when she was there. she shouted, scolded, nagged and generally made the house less pleasent with how hurt she was by how things weren;t exactly as she liked.

    So I don’t accept this whole “women take on all the household mania because men cop out”. Not without a grain of salt. What I see happening is that (many) women insist and obssess on things being done their way, won’t agree to lay back and let the man handle the household logistics, or an agreed portion thereof, unless the man does things their way and with their benchmarks for success, and then feel put upon when men fail to perform to spec – because they can’t. But much of what they do is to sate their own needs and social stature versus other women (eg; spending hours baking a birthday cake for the two year old’s child’s kindergarten and sending me to get groceries three times in one day instead of simply accepting the store bought cake I purchased. At that age a child does not care if the cake came from the store or from the oven – just that it is tasty and attractive) – not fill some objective household need. OK, so its an emotional need. And perhaps a need to feel loved rather than a need for a spotless house. I get it.

    You are articulating the differences between (most) men and (most) women well. You are saying that male expectation that women get over their need for reaffirmation and validation from their men doing as they want (don;t accept the “adult life/household requires” premise) is wrong. that it won;t happen. that by not focusing ourselves on fulfilling partner happiness we are pissing marriage away and deeply wounding our partners. But you are also requiring men to go against the grain of what most of them are – for the sake of their partners. because for their partners to do the same is killing them on the inside. I know that trying to accomodate my ex over seven years very nearly killed me.

    Shouldn’t the conclusion bee that if this level of validation and safety feeing is required by (most) female partners when cohabiting then doesn’t it make better sense not to cohabit? My ex and I are raising three kids in seprate houses just fine. I know plently of shared parentood couples (or triads or quads). Why try to drag the 1950s model of marriage into the “I will only feel validated and loved if you also do the housechores the way I want them and listen to me 24-7” into the 2020’s?

    What you are proposing is not an equal marriage. And it isn’t a traditional marriage. So why not ditch the whole marriage model, make the household-child rearing more transactional, and separate it from the romantic relationship?

    Like

    • Mike says:

      ” It seems that it was never really about keeping the house spotless. It was about keeping me occupied in keeping the house spotless. because that made her feel safe.”

      That seems like a profound observation.

      Like

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