How you respond to someone helps gain trust or erodes trust. As you validate their feelings or invalidate their feelings. Someone’s truth may not be your truth. But their truth is still very real to them, even if you can’t relate.
In Matthew Fray’s book, “This Is How Your Marriage Ends” he provides many great example of how we gain or erode trust.
The one example that really hit for me was involving children. In his relatable example, he looks at two possible outcomes to your child being scared of monsters under their bed. At some point I think most kids believe there is a monster in the closet or under their bed. They are very scared of the monster. As adults, with many years of not seeing the monsters under the bed, we are certain their is no monster under the bed. But for your three year old, your logic is not going to make a lick of difference.
You could invalid your child by saying, “you are being silly. There is no such thing as a monster under your bed. Stop being ridiculous. Go to bed.” Leaving your child to possibly cry themselves to sleep as their parent invalidated how they were feeling. This might be the first of many invalidations over the years that start to create a pattern, that if repeated enough, erodes trust. Your child came to you with a very real feeling and you invalidated that feeling. Your child takes an unconscious note and over time they may come to conclude that "I can’t trust my parents. My parents don’t believe me and so I should hide these feelings from them. I can’t trust anyone with these feelings, I will stuff them down instead to keep me safe from judgement." This is not a conscious conclusion, but they come to it all the same over time.
I would not assume the above is common. Most parents can easily relate (as they have been there before) and show compassion. A more typical conversation for a parent, “I am sure you are really scared. Let’s go turn on the light and see if there are any monsters. If we don’t find any, but you still feel scared, I can lay with you until you feel safe. Or you know what we can also do, say BOO whenever we think we hear a monster. Did you know monsters get scared when they hear BOO!?!” You validated their fears, you showed compassion and you worked to find a solution together. And the best part is you cultivated trust. This parent, in real time, confirmed they are a safe space for their child to share their emotions.
I assume this one is easy to see as most of us were scared of monsters as a kid and most of us can be compassionate.
But where it can get harder to validate is when we can’t relate. We do not have a previous life experience that allows us to easily empathize. But just as our kids need validation, so do some of your closest and most important relationships. In a marriage your spouse needs validation to cultivate trust. A marriage can end pretty quickly and at minimum erode away trust if someone is unfaithful. This erosion of trust is usually pretty easy for most people to relate to. However, Matthew Fray believes that most marriages end not because of infidelity or abuse.
Instead marriages end all the time because trust is eroded away slowly and quietly. In a way that isn't easily detected by most people as it's so common place as breathing it is just there and not in our awareness.
Over time the erosion happens as feelings that are viewed as illogical and therefore not valid are repeatably invalidated by a spouse.
This very sneaky invalidation erodes trust over time and eventually means the death of a marriage through a thousand paper-cuts.
In Matt's book he suggests that typically the wife is more often invalidated by the husband. However I believe both are invalidated throughout a relationship.
What does it look like when a spouse invalidates? This example may still be easy for some to relate to as they have felt this way before. Others this example will feel like a stretch because they have not had this experience before.
This example is my perspective on how a spouse could cultivating or eroding trust. In todays society most of us expect both able bodied adults to work. The wife and husband share in the financial responsibility of earning money to support the family. In this example, the husband comes to his wife with a desire to quit his job. He tells his wife he is burnt out. He wants to quit his job tomorrow and focus on a passion project. He can’t work another day at his 9-5.
The conversation could go a couple of ways.
Wife exclaims, “Are you kidding me? You are going to quit your 9-5 and focus on a passion project? Where are the people going to come to support you? I don’t love my job. I would love to quit my job too. But that isn’t real life. Absolutely not.” She totally invalidates her husband. She can’t empathize and so she tells her husband his desire and need to quit his job are not logical and invalidates him. This conversation is just as damaging as the monster under the bed. Trust is lost as something that feels very big to the husband is invalidated by the wife. Just as with the child, over time if this pattern is repeated, your spouse will learn not to trust you. What is a marriage without trust? Your spouse takes an unconscious note, that over time they conclude that they can’t trust their spouse. Unconscious or maybe conscious dialogue in the husband's head, "They don’t believe me and so I should hide these feelings from them. I can’t trust anyone with these feelings, I will stuff them down instead to keep me safe from judgement." Although, stuffing down usually isn’t successful longterm, it just builds up over time. It builds up until the person is like a boiling pot of pasta, likely to bubble over at any moment if you don’t keep a constant eye on it. I don't know about you... but I usually don't keep a constant eye on those pasta pots and inevitably they always overflow 🙃.
Now obviously the wife doesn’t think he can quit his job. She thinks she is just disagreeing with him. After all he is an adult and they are having an adult conversation. But she is invalidating him while also disagreeing with him. Adult conversations should also take into account emotions/feelings because most of our lives are us logically trying to explain and validate emotionally driven decisions.
Here is option two on how this conversation could have gone. She can still validate the feelings and not agree on the action. Instead open up the conversation for a path that feels better for both. Wife could take a deep breath and say, “That is a lot to unpack at once. Can you give me a moment to chew on this.” A few moments of silence, then wife continues, “It sounds like you are really unhappy, is that correct? What isn’t working for you at work? How long have you felt this way? For me it is a big jump for you to go from your 9-5 to just your passion project. Obviously the job isn’t right for you anymore if you want to quit. Can we maybe talk through a few scenarios over the next few days or a week and see if we can find something that we both feel good about? I want you to be happy, so let’s find a way to get you there.” The wife didn’t totally agree or disagree. Instead validated feelings, asked for clarity which allows the husband to feel seen. And left the door open for more conversations where they might find a solution they both felt good about. She did not agree with him, but she also created space to validate his feelings. Now the solution may still be that the husband quits and the wife may struggle to agree with the decisions. This will take trust from the wife. A trust that her husband knows himself the best and whatever decision he comes to, she can find ways to support.
Or a third conversation that would come from a person who could relate. His wife leads with compassion and empathy by saying, “Oh man, I totally get it. I hated my one job for years. If you want to quit, I think that is what we should do. I know how hard it is to be at a job that you hate. We can always make money and it sounds like you are ready to put your energy into your passion project. Let’s give you an opportunity to work on your passion project and see where it takes us. Best case scenario, you love focusing on your passion project and it takes off. I know when I left the job I hated, so many things got better.” This situation is ideal for cultivating trust. The wife can empathize, she is understanding and she is supportive and trusting that his desire to quit is the right one. But this came from a previous experience and so was an easier conversation for the wife to be compassionate, trusting and understanding. She did something similar and it all worked out for the better, very easy to trust in that.
I can sit back and write out these scenarios because I am not in the heat of the moment. I still can default to invalidation in the moment, especially if it feels like it is a threat to me. Most times we invalidate because it feels like what we are faced with is an us versus them. With the child scared of monsters, it is us having the night to unwind versus giving them our time for the rest of the night (probably when we have felt we have given enough already). With the husband and wife, the invalidation comes from a place of fear. Fear that she will have to take on all the financial responsibility and he won't succeed, again adding stress to her plate. These fears are valid and real and that is where multiple conversations or time to digest may be required.
Now this awareness, this blind spot I had on invalidation is coming up so I can see it. It doesn't go unnoticed like the thousands of breathes I take every day. I am giving myself a chance to maybe have a second or third conversation until I get to a place where I more naturally can show compassion. I can apologize for my reaction to their vulnerability. Work to build that trust with my kids or husband. Work on my emotional intelligence so I can see the person and their emotions just as they are and give them space to process. Have them know I am a safe place to come to talk through these feelings as the come up. Validate those people most important in my life to cultivate trust, which is the foundation for everything 💕