The trust bucket

Relationships are a marathon, not a sprint.

When trust has been broken, it is re-earned one tiny action-that-merits-trust after another, like drops of water slowly filling the trust pail.

  • When names have been called, and tempers have been shortit takes repeated conversations over time that are calm and respectful that has a person gradually begin to know that being shamed and ridiculed is not something that will occur.
  • When a person has felt minimized and ignored, it takes repeated experiences of having the other focus during conversation, repeated calls to notify of a unscheduled late arrival home, or repeated decisions made to attend to home life rather than the buzz of the Blackberry.



I find that often people get impatient with loved ones who don’t trust that new behaviors which start in therapy (or sometimes the behaviors are changed in anticipation of what will be discussed in therapy) will continue.

  • A husband has every intention of being newly supportive to his wife in encouraging her in her career and helping her achieve personal success.He recognizes how demeaning and devaluing his past actions were and he vows to change.
  • And as soon as he makes one thoughtless and meaningless comment, she becomes devastated, saying, “You haven’t really changed.
  • A wife who’s been cheated on, finds her husband who assured her he would come home straight after work is in a complete panic when he is 45 minutes late…and the panic doesn’t subside even after he explains the car trouble and shows her the tow truck receipt.
  • She’s trying to calm down, but her body won’t cooperate.
  • A husband whose wife gave him her word that she would stop smoking…and was cigarette free for 6 months, comes home with smoke on her breath, and she admits she bummed 2 cigarettes from someone after a bad day at work.
  • Even her devastation at her self-betrayal and her immediate efforts to call the smoker’s help line don’t calm his indignation at her broken promise, and his feeling of devastation at being betrayed.

Good intentions don’t always translate into successful behaviours. As a matter of fact, there are almost always failings when relating to each other in fresh ways–we all learn success through trial and error.That can be disappointing, even devastating, to another who was promised changes in the relationship.

I was thinking about this, when I came across two quotes:

“The North Americans’ sense of time is very special. They are short on patience. Everything must be quick, including food and sex, which the rest of the world treats ceremoniously. Gringos invented two terms that are untranslatable into most languages: ‘snack’ and ‘quickie,’ to refer to eating standing up and loving on the run … that, too, sometimes standing up. The most popular books are manuals: how to become a millionaire in ten easy lessons, how to lose fifteen pounds a week, how to recover from your divorce, and so on. People always go around looking for shortcuts and ways to escape anything they consider unpleasant: ugliness, old age, weight, illness, poverty, and failure in any of its aspects.”

- Isabel Allende, My Invented Country

Change is not an event. It’s a tiny decision made over and over again. Change isn’t once. It’s daily.”

Don Kuhl

Relationships are hard work.Relationships happen in drops and drips, in moments and seconds, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.The damage builds over time, and then takes much longer to heal.Safety with each other—to know the rhythms and to know the other will respond in a certain trustworthy way, takes time.When the safety is lost, it takes even longer to develop subsequently.It is possible—very possible—to rebuild trust and safety in a relationship.And boy, is it worth it.

But it takes:

  • Clear communication
  • Accepting of responsibility
  • An apology, well thought out and heart felt (and perhaps repeated to ensure it’s heard and absorbed)
  • A decision to commit to being the kind of partner/friend/mother/son you know you truly want to be
  • Effort to adhere to that commitment
  • Failure—and the recommitment to your goal and the relationship—and forgiveness/grace from that

There are occasions when a person makes an intention to change over and over again…and there isn’t true genuine change. A husband says, “I won’t mistreat you any more” and then breaks his promise…again and again…and again. A wife says, “I’m done gambling” and then gambles “just a bit” here and there, claiming it’s not big deal, and then yet another secret credit card is discovered. That’s different from what I’m talking about here.

Find ways to gradually allow the trust bucket to be filled over time…both people in the relationship having the tolerance to be in the time in between the certainty of failure and the certainty of success is a challenging time.

To hang in there, and to allow trust to slowly build…and to have the capacity and strength to allow for some occasional bucket-leaking over time as skills are developed and growth occurs is truly a skill that can take maturity and patience to develop.

But aren’t relationship marathons worth it?

marathon tolerance


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