Betty Duffy

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Trust is Negotiable

In college I dated a boy who had the gay double life on the internet thing and a habit of telling lies. I was blindsided by the evidence when his roommate produced it for me.

Of course, a relationship cannot continue if one partner is only feigning interest, but beyond that, I had been deceived, and it seemed an inability to trust would render any relationship insupportable.

Last year, I sponsored a young woman as she came into the Catholic Church. She converted, and her fiancé reverted, both inspired by a deep sense of contrition about how their relationship began. There was apparently some overlap between their relationship and a prior (invalid) marriage for him.

I had this young woman over for coffee Friday, and we were talking about the plans for their impending marriage, her hopes and doubts. And she said that she was having trust issues, perhaps inspired by the circumstances under which their relationship began. People who begin a relationship under the strains of infidelity can’t help suffering from paranoia.

Like me, she thought that if she has doubts about her ability to trust this man, then the relationship cannot function. She keeps thinking she needs to postpone their wedding until she feels an adequate amount of trust.

I wonder if it will ever come.

Looking at trust from the other side of ten years of marriage (to a man who is undeniably heterosexual), I had pause to wonder if a failure of trust really is incompatible with a long-lasting relationship.

Having been stung by my aforementioned relationship, I spent many hours of my husband and mine’s early marriage waiting for the other shoe to drop. With each child we conceived, I felt more and more vulnerable. I would calculate my ability to handle life if our marriage, for some reason, ended. I could definitely take care of one child on my own, but could I manage two? What about three, or four? How many kids could I have and still be able to cut my losses and run? I was certain that my husband’s mid-life crisis or untimely heart-attack was right around the corner, and then I’d be up shit’s creek.

But at some point, one has to quit weighing trust against one’s insecurities, and choose faith. Choose to believe that I’ll be ok no matter what happens, that God will take care of our family even if my husband or I fail one another. Absolute trust in another person is overrated, even negotiable. It is fear and paranoia that undermines relationships.

Who can bear the weight of a beloved’s trust? In the course of our marriage, we have both lost and had to regain the other’s trust more than once. Maybe we haven’t committed the “big gun” acts of infidelity, but countless marriages, having suffered adultery, pick up their broken hearts and battle to keep their marriages intact until death. And so it seems that there is a sort of ebb and flow to trust, that in my pre-marriage days, would have made me feel very insecure.

I am NOT saying, “no one can be faithful, so just be honest.” I believe that spouses can be faithful to one another for a lifetime, but it takes work, and vigilance, and it’s scary how thin the line can be between a seemingly innocuous interaction and an outward turning change of heart. And even so-called minor breaches of trust are contagious. For every husband who looks at pornography, there is a wife googling her ex-boyfriend.

My husband is currently addicted to the Iron and Wine song, “Resurrection Fern.” The lyrics feel appropriate to this subject:

“And we'll undress beside the ashes of the fire
Both our tender bellies wound in baling wire
All the more a pair of underwater pearls
Than the Oak Tree and its Resurrection Fern”

Particularly, for couples who do not use birth control, there is a poignant vulnerability to the marriage act. Even when the fire has cooled to ashes, those “tender bellies” are always open to the possibility of new life, and the binding to one another that takes place with each conception. This is where we have no choice but to turn towards God and put our trust in him. We are less the stalwart Oak and its dependent regenerating flora than we are two delicate creatures growing together underwater in blindness.

A related post at Video Meliora

Another related post, by my sister at Back Bay View.


Jus said...

Great post.

I just had a conversation on this subject recently and the person with whom I was conversing suggested that if you love someone you will be faithful to them out of love and that if you are not faithful it means you were not "meat to be", and not in love.

My response was that love is kinetic. It is not a state you find yourself in and out of beyond your control but one that involves movement and effort. That line between normal interaction and infidelity can be so narrow you do not realize you are crossing it and in order to avoid that you must put fences around yourself (like the orthodox jewish perception of keeping the laws of the torah through extending the rules past the laws with fences) and I would contest that it is not a lack of love that causes one to set limits around oneself when dealing with temptations but love itself - through action and effort.

It is surely easier to simply let what will happen, happen. To divorce ourselves from the responsibilities for our own feelings and to allow ourselves to be stimulated in "casual" ways through interactions rather than to trace the lines between innocent and guilty until they are thick enough to always be seen requires effort. That effort is an outward manifestation of our commitment and without commitment can there be love?

Beyond that it seems to e that there must always be an understanding of that ebb ad flow you suggest. That with love comes forgiveness and the understanding that not only must you give it, you must accept your need to receive it - we are none of us innocent - and that this need for forgiveness is not simply a matter of the BIG "A" adultery but also a hundred small breaches in trust that must repaired in order to maintain the integrity of the whole. Marriage is not easy and there may be a time when the marriage NEEDS the reserve of strength and goodwill built over years of ending small fences.

Hoping you and yours are well in your corner of the world!

Betty Duffy said...

Jus, you make so many good points.

"To divorce ourselves from the responsibilities for our own feelings and to allow ourselves to be stimulated in "casual" ways through interactions rather than to trace the lines between innocent and guilty until they are thick enough to always be seen requires effort."

Well said.

Part of my conversation with the gal from Church also had to do with the importance of Sacrament--and that there may even be times when our own will is not willing to put forth the effort--that we then need to rely on the divine nature of this union, and that it is indissoluble.

and this:

"I would contest that it is not a lack of love that causes one to set limits around oneself when dealing with temptations but love itself - through action and effort."

You put that beautifully. I wonder where we get this idea that having another's "trust" means we should therefore expand our hedges?

I've been anxiously awaiting the next update from Dunia Duara. Ours are well, and I hope yours are too.

Emily J. said...

Aha! Now I know what Resurrection Ferns are! They grow on the boughs of the live oaks here - I admired them one day, and was saddened the next when they looked crunchy and dead, but, lo, with the next rain, they resurrected!

Nice metaphor for marriage, which certainly weathers its dry times, only to rejuvenate into something more vibrant after strong doses of repentance and forgiveness - and maybe some good red wine.

Amy said...

This is a wonderful post. I've been this way in my marriage - waiting for everything to change and the whole thing to evaporate. And it is faith, as much and more than trust in him, that makes the difference.

mrsdarwin said...

I've been wrestling over whether to comment, 'cause why be a punk, but here goes: I'm not sure if I know what you're talking about.

I mean, I also wait for the other shoe to drop, but I expect that shoe to be external. I feel like there's probably some cosmic price to pay for being so happy in a marriage: will one of us get cancer? Will we lose our job? A child? Will something bad happen because it's just unrealistic to expect any couple to be so peacefully happy?

Yet any of the hard times that we've been through in the past have not touched the heart of who we are as husband and wife. Perhaps that follows from the choices we make to keep ourselves in love. But I never doubt that love, or his fidelity -- I think it would be an insult to my husband, who fully deserves all my trust, and indeed any trust that anyone would bestow upon him.

Couples do indeed come back from infidelity, but that infidelity doesn't come out of nowhere (you mentioned the little innocuous actions that can be part of the long slippery slope toward adultery). Perhaps my own flaw is the opposite of not trusting enough: I wouldn't believe my husband had committed adultery if someone presented me with photographic evidence and a video. It would be so outside his character (the character that caused me to fall in love in the first place, and one of the reasons why I chose to marry him) that even speculating on it seems pointless.

Roz said...

Good post and excellent comments so far.

I think your friends are in good shape. Catholics going into a sacramental marriage and meaning it are equipped to build a marriage that will be strong in the face of temptation and buffeting.

Neither my husband nor I have ever strayed nor would we, but the reason I'm sure of it isn't that it's "just not in us," because of course it is. Instead, it's because we are intentionally building a oneness that takes into account our temptations, sins, and imperfections. As our mutual trust builds, we can share more of our own sinfulness with each other (it's that "naked without shame" thing), and receive love and acceptance from the other.

So, frankly, the reason I'm confident that I, say, won't have an affair is that as long as we stay at this level of connection, I'll be telling him if I'm experiencing early signs of restlessness or attraction or whatever. We have a good early warning system that takes work and is worth it.

So our union is physical, spiritual, emotional, and pithy.

Betty Duffy said...

Mrs.D. Punks are welcome here. In fact I thought I might receive more negative feedback to this post than I have. The two of you seem to have been very blessed. I appreciate that perspective.

"as long as we stay at this level of connection, I'll be telling him if I'm experiencing early signs of restlessness or attraction or whatever."

I think this kind of communication is so necessary. It can hurt, initially, to hear a spouse talk about these things, but considering marriage a sacramental vocation in which two people aid each other towards Heaven, spouses really can and should be the best accountability for one another.

But as you say, yes, it's hard to accomplish that level of comfort and openness.

My husband reads everything I write before I post it. None of this stuff is news to him, and maybe that takes away a little of the romance of feeling that everything is always perfect between us, but it also has been a great conduit of conversation.

If I didn't make it clear in my post, that one's inability to trust others is often one's own problem, and not necessarily reflective of the other spouse's trustworthiness.