Recently I’ve been thinking about a short Facebook conversation I had a couple of years ago with a male friend. I explained, in a post, the dilemma I always go through when I feel someone has broken/betrayed my trust.
I always wonder if I can trust them at all and to what degree or if I should even continue to put myself in their sphere—like I might just be asking to be betrayed again if I do.
I’d have no one but myself to blame, at that point, because they’d already betrayed me, and I’d just be setting myself up for more of the same if I continued to interact with them in any way.
I feel, when this sort of thing happens, that I cannot trust them at all—in any area. The distrust I feel extends to the entire person and to everything they do and say.
I went on to write about how I could still love that person without being around them and without interacting with them much—if at all, and how that might be much more healthy than hanging around being jumpy about if I’d be betrayed again or not.
My friend was amused by my throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water approach and proceeded to explain how wrong I was. He used the analogy of knowing he could trust his dog, because he knew her from years of experience. He also knew, he wrote, that if he gave his dog a cookie and asked her to take it over to his wife, that his dog would eat the cookie instead of taking it to his wife.
Therefore, he reasoned, he knew he could trust his dog, just not with cookies. So why was I so ready to throw away a person and their friendship just because they couldn’t be trusted with one thing?
I followed his logic and even felt a bit chastised and kind of ashamed of my ready willingness to be so “callous”—especially since it had been such a public discussion. I reexamined my own logic long and hard, trying to find a way to adopt his way of looking at the situation.
But I just couldn’t. It didn’t feel safe to me. To adopt his way of thinking felt like not taking care of myself. It felt like I was putting myself in possible harm’s way, like I was not standing my ground and maintaining my healthy boundaries.
I have discovered, though, in the intervening time—and after much research—that we were really having a conversation about how men’s and women’s brains function so very differently. We just weren’t aware we were having that conversation.
His explanation and how he classified the trust experience is a classic example of how men’s brains work. Men compartmentalize. Each subject/person/idea has its own separate “box/compartment” in his brain. Men’s brains are, for the most part, single-focused—while women’s brains are considered to be multi-focused.
I envy men this ability. I wish I could turn off all but one subject and focus exclusively on that one subject/idea. I also wish I could compartmentalize the way they do.
Instead, with my female brain, when one (even small) thing feels not right, then my whole world feels not right. That not-rightness extends into everything I do and feel and say, etc. It colors everything in my life/world.
Mark Gungor explains it well in his video about how women’s brains connect everything to everything else.
Because our brains connect everything, if one part of our life is not going well, we tend to connect that to everything else in our life and conclude that really nothing is going well.
To men, this often looks like drama. To women, this looks normal.
This is especially true of trust in relationships. Women are all about relationship—of all kinds. We value relationship above most everything else—with co-workers, friends, lovers, our children, the volunteer committees we’re a part of, our community, the world.
Just yesterday when a client read off her homework list to me in my office, this was once again brought to my attention. She is coming to me for relationship coaching and after listening to her go up and down and around and back again about what she did and didn’t and might want in a relationship last week, I gave her the task of making a list of what she wants in a man/relationship.
I told her to simply write everything down that came to mind. “Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense, or contradicts itself,” I told her, “just write it all down. Let’s start there.”
After she read off her items, I brought it to her attention that she had several items on that list that all pointed to safety/certainty. Most women rank “comfort/certainty” as their number one priority in life and relationships when asked to take a look at Tony Robbins’ Six Human Needs list. She had written: He walks his talk, he’s trustworthy, honest—among others.
Gentlemen, to feel safe in the world and in a relationship, a woman needs to know she can trust you. When you don’t follow through and do what you told us you’d do, we begin to feel like we can’t trust you and that makes us feel unsafe in our relationship with you and unsafe in the world.
We begin to think things like, can I trust him at all—with anything? Simply because that is the way our brains work; we connect everything to everything else and begin to worry that we need to paint the whole picture of you with that same he-didn’t-do-what-he-said-he-would-do brush.
When I explained to my client that because of the difference in the way men’s and women’s brains work, “trustworthy” might not look the same to her as it does to a man, she was stunned. She had never considered this possibility.
Gentlemen, we know that you just spaced out what you told us. We know that you separate everything into “boxes” in your brain and consider one little forgotten promise to be just that: little.
We know your guy friends wouldn’t bat a proverbial eye at the same space-out, because they categorize everything too. We know they’d think just like my Facebook friend did: I just can’t trust him with cookies; they’d shrug and forget it.
We know you’re a good person; in fact, we love you. And then our brain circuitry takes over and starts making connections (true or not) and we begin to worry that we have chosen an untrustworthy man.
Oh my gawd, I’m in love with a man who cannot be trusted! And I have to make good decisions for myself in my life, I have to take of me, and I know I need to be in a relationship where there is trust, therefore, I am gonna have to leave this untrustworthy man!
Ladies: Stop. Breathe.
Before you throw out the man with the bath water, put on your man-cap for a minute or two and create a few compartments. Just because he spaced out one little thing, does not mean he is not worthy of your trust. Maybe he doesn’t even remember promising you that, because he was distracted when you asked him about it.
One, learn how to really get his attention. Two, maybe you can’t trust what he says about that one subject or in that one area of your relationship. Granted, you will have to designate the worth factor in that one area of your relationship.
But that doesn’t mean he is totally untrustworthy. That just means when he promises you something in or about that category, you know that may or may not happen. You teach yourself to mentally shrug, to let it go and not use it against him.
You love him, remember? Let him be human. Humans make mistakes.
I’m not talking about a man who continues to betray you and lie to you and/or cheat on you. I’m also not talking about compromising your values and putting up with abuse or neglect or anything else that is abhorrent. Those men are a totally different subject for another post.
I’m talking about the man you love and with whom you have an otherwise great relationship—a man who has proven you can trust him in every other category.
That (usually) trustworthy man loves you and is hardwired to make you happy and might have been so dazzled by your sweet smile, or distracted by the lights, the crowd, the noise, (his erection, your body, that beer he had, a work problem, etc.) that he just nodded and said yes. At the very least, give him the benefit of the proverbial doubt first.
Don’t punish him for the way his brain works.
And gentlemen, when we bring this mess of connecting thoughts and fears to you in our pain and confusion, and when we are so upset because we love you and can’t bear to think you might have lied to us and we’re thinking we might have to leave you (!), please don’t punish us for the way our brains work either.
A version also published at elephant journal.
Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo.
Grace is a Certified Hypnotherapist and Registered Psychotherapist in Ft. Collins, CO, USA. She sees clients and facilitates Divine Feminine Hypnotherapy workshops for women. She’s a flaming, Earth-loving, tree-hugging, save-the-bees, believes-in-faeries, bike-riding, card-carrying, spiritual but not religious, hippie cowgirl liberal poet therapist—yep, they do exist. You can find her creations here. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.