Trust is one of the most important aspects of a relationship. It's one of the five characteristics every relationship needs, but the other four are necessary in order for trust to exist. Keep reading to find out why!
Imagine you're on a first date with someone and you think it's going really well. You really like them, and you think they like you, too, so you decide to tell them everything about you--your past, the other people you've dated, all about your family.
Sounds great, right?? ...right?
Mmm, probably not. You can imagine that this wouldn't be smart, and maybe even wouldn't be safe. If you hadn't built a little trust with them first, sharing everything about yourself isn't a great idea. On the other hand, it's hard to build trust without a little honesty. These two--trust & honesty--have to grow hand in hand.
Part of honesty is feeling the freedom to be your whole self, without pretending or hiding. So you wouldn't share everything on a first date, but if you've been with someone for a while and you still feel uncomfortable being yourself, or you feel like you have to hide parts of your story or personality, that can be a sign that the relationship is lacking healthy trust.
Here's a thought experiment for ya: Say you're in a relationship with someone you really, really like. How do you think you'd feel if they cheated on you? Even if they were eventually honest with you about it, it would still be difficult to trust them, wouldn't it? Maybe you or someone you know has even had this experience, so you know or can imagine that it doesn't feel very good at all, right? Obviously, no one is sitting around just dreaming of the day their significant other cheats on them. It's clear that we value loyalty in relationships, but what does loyalty really mean?
Let's say you're dating someone who is attractive, funny, smart, all the things you're looking for. Does that mean you'll never find anyone else attractive again? No, of course not! Being in a relationship doesn't just turn that side of us off. Still, sometimes people kind of act like finding our "perfect person"--soulmate, if you will--is going to fix all of our problems.
The thought might sound like this: "Once I meet my person--you know, the one I have everything in common with, who understands me on a soul-level and who will be my best friend--I'll just know they're the one." And even if we don't admit it to ourselves, we expect that to be our "happily ever after." Here's the thing, though--all relationships have conflict at times. Expecting a relationship--any relationship--to be easy the entire time is just setting yourself up for failure. Loyalty doesn't just happen when you "find the perfect person," it's a choice. It's deciding the person you're with is worth fighting for and choosing them even when it's really hard. Relationships take work! Over time, you can become the kind of soulmates that have a deep love for one another and who understand each other better than anyone else. But it takes being intentional about choosing them and staying loyal to them.
Important side note: We're not talking about toxic relationships here. We discuss that later in the Day Three lesson, but it's important to know that it's is rarely, if ever, better to stay in an abusive or unhealthy relationship just because you're trying to be loyal, even if you really love each other. Sometimes the best and most loving thing to do is to break up with them. What we are saying is that all relationships are hard at times, and sometimes a little endurance, patience, and loyalty can get us through those times.
Can you see that this kind of loyalty increases trust in a relationship? So now we've learned about honesty and loyalty, but what else is necessary for a relationship to be healthy?
Can you define respect? ...It's kind of hard, huh? We know that it's important, but what does it really look like? Here's a definition we like: respect is treating someone like an equal. It's all about human equality--every human being is important, and their values, beliefs, and boundaries matter. No one should have to compromise any of these things whether it be in a relationship or in order to be accepted by other people.
Okay so imagine that you and your friend decide to go to a party. You didn't really want to go, but your friend said it'd be chill so you tag along and when you get there it's actually like a full-on party-party. There's drugs, drinking, sex games, etc., and you're just not wanting to be there. Maybe you've decided you don't want to drink in high school, or you're uncomfortable that there aren't any adults around, or worried that someone will ask you to do something you don't want to. You tell your friend you want to leave, but they shrug it off. Maybe they're like, "Chill, have a drink, let's just stay! Loosen up!" They're having a good time, they want to stay, but you've expressed how awkward and uncomfortable you feel. Are they respecting you by ignoring your beliefs and boundaries? Obviously not.
But if we're honest, what's easier? To do something that I want even if it clashes with someone else's beliefs or boundaries, or to put myself in their shoes, think about the kind and respectful thing to do, and maybe even sacrifice what I want in the moment in order to do what's best for the other person? The opposite of respect is selfishness. Doing what's easier isn't usually the same as doing what's right.
So that's the basic idea behind respect. What's the fifth thing that's needed for a relationship to be healthy?
The fifth thing that's necessary for a relationship is really the foundation of any relationship that's going to survive and be healthy.
Some relationships, in the beginning, can be full of lovey-dovey happy warm fuzzies. To an extent, this should be true throughout the relationship, but if you think about someone you love--could be a best friend, a parent, a sibling--do you always feel love toward that person? No! And that's normal, right? Sometimes the people we love make us angry or frustrated or annoyed and maybe that's all we feel for a while, but we know we love them anyway even if it's difficult. This is important in romantic relationships, too! Those lovey-dovey warm fuzzies can't and won't always exist in a relationship. Instead of relying on those feelings the whole time, it's really important that the foundation of a relationship is friendship. It's important that a couple enjoys spending time with one another, getting to know each other, helping each other pursue their hobbies. It's important for both people in a relationship to feel comfortable being themselves, to feel good in their own skin, and to feel and be valued and respected by their partner.
One relationship that I (McKenzie) have always looked up to is the one between my best friend and her husband. They have been together for seven years and I have known my friend for eight, so I've seen their entire relationship unfold. I'm always third-wheeling with them and that's how I knew they were really good friends--because I could hang out with them and have so much fun! I even spent Valentine's day with them once. (And don't be like, "poor lonely McKenzie!" We all actually had so much fun!)
You can learn a lot about someone by the way they interact with their friends and with other people, like your friends, or the server at a restaurant, or their parents. Hanging out in groups with someone you're thinking about dating is a really good idea because it helps you get to know them and to see how they treat people around them before you tangle your hearts together.
Ultimately, part of why I love my friends is that I get to be 100% myself around them. I don't have to put a mask on or pretend--I just feel comfortable being me. This is something I really value in a romantic relationship as well, so I try to begin them with a strong foundation of friendship. Plus, this takes the pressure off of feeling like you need to impress your crush once you do start to date--if they already know you and want to be your friend, it can help with confidence within a relationship.
So, as you already knew, trust is essential for any relationship to grow and be healthy. Now, though, maybe you have a better idea about why all five of the characteristics we covered are important for healthy relationships. Trust is difficult if the people in a relationship won't or don't feel comfortable being honest with one another. It's difficult to trust someone who isn't loyal, or who has a hard time with commitment and follow-through. It's hard to really trust someone that isn't your friend, that you can't be completely "you" around. And it's hard to trust them if they don't respect the people around them, or don't respect you.
Here's the thing, though: people aren't perfect. Sometimes they disrespect us, or they haven't been a very loyal friend, or they've kept a secret that ended up being really hurtful, or didn't keep a secret they were supposed to keep. When the people we love do something to hurt us it can be painful to forgive, but forgiveness is important--necessary, even. At the same time, sometimes the best thing that can happen to a toxic relationship is for it to end. It can be really, really hard to know when it's time to end a relationship, but we talk a little bit about that in the next part of today's lesson, "Unhealthy Relationships."