“I can love you…if”
by James F Johnson (C)
I can love without trust,
…from a safe distance
I can forgive without fear,
…if you cannot find me
I can forget and move on,
…knowing I’ll never return
I can learn to trust again,
…but I will set boundaries next time
Loving another person can be one of the most beautiful experiences in human life. Participating in a successful Love relationship can be both a wonderful and demanding task. If done well, the act of working through a long term relationship will provide us the most valuable personal growth of any other experience in our lifetime. It’s why people sometimes say “You make me want to be a better person.” The feeling of wanting to be a better partner drives the positive changes we put ourselves through because we love someone else.
Of Love versus Trust: Not the Same Things
Separate these two words. Love and Trust. They have different meanings. A lot of couples have legitimate trust issues between them even though they are truly in love. By bundling “Love and Trust” into one idea, we add the potential for misery into a relationship. Love and Trust are not the same things—and we don’t need one to have the other.
“If you love me then you’ll trust me” is a phrase used to manipulate. The phrase is meant to unfairly leverage a friend, relative or partner’s long-standing love in order to guilt them into adding trust so as to get something they want. The arguer wants support but isn’t providing proper evidence that they can be trusted. Saying “If you love me then you’ll trust me” is like saying “If you drive a Toyota then you’ll let me borrow it.” How does the first half of either sentence support the second half? It doesn’t. In either case, the first half might be correct, but it doesn’t lead to the second half.
Anyone who’s raised children knows that a parent’s love is unconditional, but that their trust is based on having once been a child themselves. Parents know the process children go through as they learn, in sometimes difficult ways, how to become honest people. A parent who chooses to grant unearned trust just because they want their child to feel loved and respected, is teaching that child that lying works so it’s okay to do. It also frees that child to sneak out at night and risk unknowingly wandering into a dangerous world, unprepared for reality’s traps. In the case of child-rearing, a parent shows love by guiding the child through the process of learning how to earn trust. Not by giving free trust cards so they won’t feel unloved.
At its ugliest, this Love-Trust entanglement is often used to keep abusive relationships from ending. It holds abused spouses imprisoned in bad relationships that last far longer than they should. “If you love me then you’ll trust me” often allows an alcoholic to sneak off to bars when asked to pick up groceries. The phrase is used to sneak off for illicit love affairs, illegal activities or even brutal nights of child or wife beating.
Some siblings use family love as a strategy for obtaining unearned trust in order to “borrow” money, solicit support, or coerce a brother or sister into taking a risk he wouldn’t take for a friend, coworker or stranger. A general rule of thumb, that many forget to follow, is if you wouldn’t trust a friend in this situation, why would you trust a relative? Because you love them? Because if you don’t, that means you don’t love your family? Because Love is exactly the same as Trust?
Love is an indescribable emotion that can come over us, sometimes at the first sight of a stranger’s smile. We’re hard-wired to love our children unconditionally, no matter how good or bad those children are. Love requires commitments and unconditional forgiveness and it bores roots deeply into our hearts. If we lose the person we’ve loved, we feel an invisible, but gaping wound in our chest that cannot be reasoned away. Only time heals the wounds, but only to a certain point of acceptance. We can forever be prisoners of love.
Trust is nothing like this. We’re only prisoners of trust if we choose to be. To trust or not to trust, is a decision we have the right to make—and with everyone. It’s a concept we are wise to understand. Put into simplest definition, trust is little more than “the ability to accurately predict.”
The $5 Example: Trust
If my hypothetical friend, Chris had borrowed $5 from me four times, and had returned it all four times the next day, I would not be crazy to trust (predict) that if I loaned Chris $5 today, I’d probably get paid back tomorrow. Chris has now earned my trust five times. I have five reasons to trust (predict) swift repayment.
Does it mean Chris and I have to be lovers now that trust (predictability) has been established between us? No, of course not. Chris could just be an office cube-mate who routinely forgets to bring coffee money to work.
Does it mean I’ll never be betrayed by Chris? No, not necessarily. Trust is not a guarantee, but by learning how to take the proper chances with trust, I’m reducing my odds of falling into a larger number of dishonest traps over my lifetime.
What would it say about Chris, if after paying me back five times, I refuse to trust a sixth $5 loan request? In this case, it really says more about my inability to give trust, than it does about Chris being trustworthy (predictable). Perhaps I have classic trust issues that I’m taking out on Chris.
The $5 Example: Love
Now let’s say that Chris and I are boyfriend and girlfriend. Chris has borrowed $5 for coffee five times but has repaid it only twice. Today, Chris asks for a sixth $5 coffee loan. Do I give the $5? Probably—but here’s the difference in the scenarios: I won’t loan the money because of trust (predictability). The odds are against me ever seeing that $5 again because Chris’s track record is marred with failures to repay. In the matter of coffee loans, Chris is unpredictable.
Does it mean I can no longer love Chris? No, not at all. I may choose to give Chris the $5 because I feel love in my relationship. I may roll my eyes in a joking response if Chris says, “I promise to pay this back.” In this case, having a partner who I occasionally have to buy coffee for is an acceptable part of our relationship. But it does not mean that I have to trust (predict) Chris’s promises to repay loans. I can untangle love and trust by saying, “I love Chris, but not with money.”
What would it say about my relationship now, if I were to choose to trust Chris with borrowed money? Again it says more about me than it does Chris. I might be confusing my love for a partner with my ability to count the times money is paid back. If nothing changes, the past will repeat itself. I have a chance today to stop any future frustration if I accept the fact of unpredictable repayment before it happens. Chris has proven to be untrustworthy (unpredictable) in this respect of our relationship, and it’s “shame on me” if I choose to overlook that untrustworthiness (unpredictability) in order to sign up for a huge mortgage on the condition that Chris will pay half of it every month for the next thirty years.
What would it would say about my relationship if Chris became angry at my distrust of ever getting back the $5? Is Chris the one confusing love with trust? Is this anger fair to me?
Summing it Up
What do we do with all this? Loving another person is a wonderful experience. Trusting another person is also a wonderful experience. I can trust my boss without loving him. I can love my teen child without trusting him. I can love an old car I don’t trust, or trust a new car I don’t love. The sweet spot is when I can legitimately enjoy both unconditional love and trust in a single person, place or thing.
Understanding trust is a science unto itself. Just because Chris seldom pays back $5 loans, it doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t a trustworthy friend who would fight to the death for me. I may choose not to trust a person’s money handling, but I may have all sorts of evidence to trust their admission of friendship, love and respect.
Trust is not unconditional. It’s situational. You don’t have to trust someone either in everything or in nothing to prove you love them. I trust my own wife to always tell the truth, to treat me with respect and dignity, and to support me in all my endeavors, but I would get out of a jetliner if I found out she was going to try and fly it. I don’t trust her as a pilot, nor as a brain surgeon, nor as a lawyer if I was in trouble. I trust her in the things that she has proven herself predictable in. If I live within my ability to know when to trust and when not to trust her, I’ll be a happier person for a longer time in this marriage.
In any relationship, work-related, neighborhood, friendship, family or love, those who learn when and how to give trust when and where it is appropriate are the people who are least often let down by the people they love.