This article is one post in a series entitled “When Talking about Forgiveness.”

In the previous reflection, we established that trust was a proportional virtue. This implies there are some kind of “degrees on the thermometer of trust.” In this reflection, we will offer a proposal for what those markers might be.

The progression below begins with a relationship at its most trust-broken point. Not all violations of trust should result in starting at “phase one.”

As you read through this progression two key questions to ask are: (1) Where was wise trust at the most broken point in this relationship? and (2) Where is wise trust now? The progress you have already made should be a source of encouragement for the journey ahead.

Movement through this progression can be compared to a dance between the other person’s efforts at change and your willingness to take relational risks. Growth in the other person alone will not create trust. Your willingness to take a relational risk alone is naïve. The dance may not be one step by the other person followed by one step by you. But unless both of you are moving, the two of you are not dancing.

1. Third Party Mediation

At this level of trust-brokenness you do not feel safe, at least emotionally, to be with the other person without someone else present. At this stage, trust is built as you hear the other person being honest with someone you trust and being willing to receive correction or instruction from that person. Having the third party there gives you the sense of security to be honest about your perspective. As the person who hurt you cooperates, you begin to trust them vicariously through the trust that you have for the third party (perhaps a counselor, pastor, or mutually trusted friend).

2. Listen and Validate

Now you are willing to talk with the person who hurt you in a one-on-one conversation, but you are skeptical of most everything they say. You don’t believe them. You believe facts. If they have facts to back up what they say, you will trust that much and little more. This is a tedious way to communicate but feels necessary in order to avoid pain greater than the inconvenience. Any statement that is not factual (i.e., future promise, interpretation of event, expression of feeling, etc.) is viewed as deceptive, manipulative, or insulting. As a pattern of validated facts emerge, you begin to trust that there is a commitment to be fair and forthright.

3. Listen and Require Less Validation

Listening to the person who hurt you now feels like less work. The rate at which you are searching for questions and processing information is decreasing. Giving the “benefit of the doubt” for things you are uncertain about may still feel unnatural and dangerous. Any statement that is incomplete or slanted too positively is often assumed to be intentional deceit and creates a trust regression. As the other person’s statements prove to be majority accurate, the practical necessities of life create an increasing reliance upon them. Each time you notice trust increasing you may still feel cautious.

4. Rely on the Other Person Functionally

You begin to “do life together again” in whatever way you did before. Life tasks (i.e., scheduling with your spouse, managing projects with a coworker, going to social events where a friend is also present) begin to be re-instituted. But the tone of these engagements is more functional than mutually enjoyable and free. The dissatisfying nature of this arrangement can often discourage continued growth (i.e., “I don’t want to work this hard at trusting out of a sense of duty”), but this discouragement should be alleviated a bit by understanding where it falls in the process of trust restoration. This is only phase four of ten.

5. Share Facts

As you functionally “do life” with this person, there is the opportunity for you to begin to share. To this point you have been receiving information more than giving information. Now, you begin the process of “giving yourself” again. You allow yourself to be known at a factual level. Questions from the other person that start with “Why…?” or “How come…?” are still met with defensiveness. Questions that start with “Would you” become more comfortable as you allow this person to influence the “facts” (i.e., schedule) of your life again.

6. Share Beliefs

As you become more comfortable sharing facts again, that naturally leads into sharing what you think about those facts. Conversations become more meaningful as you share more of what you like, dislike, agree with, disagree with, and want from the events of life. You can now talk about the way you believe things “should” be without a tone of judgment, sadness, or guilt overpowering the conversation. As you share your beliefs, you feel more understood. At this stage, you and the other person may have to relearn (or learn for the first time) how to have different opinions or perspectives without getting defensive.

7. Share Feelings

Up until this stage emotions have likely been “thrust at” or “shown to” more than “shared with” the other person. At this level of trust, you are willing to receive support, encouragement, or empathy towards your emotions. You are beginning to experience your burden being reduced and your joys multiplied as you share them with this friend. Friendship is beginning to feel like a blessing again.

8. Rely on Your Friend Emotionally

You are able to believe your friend is being transparent and sincere when he/she tells you about their day or shares with you how he/she is feeling. It is now the exception to the rule when suspicions arise within you about your friend’s motive for saying or doing something. Most interactions with your friend are now an “emotional net win.”

9. Allow Your Friend to Care for You

Allowing your friend to be kind or express appreciation has lost any sense of being unsafe, unwanted, or manipulative When your friend wants to serve you, you no longer think he/she is doing an act of penance or setting up a request. How your friend hurt you is no longer the interpretative center point of the relationship. Your friend’s efforts to bless you can be received as blessings rather than being treated as riddles to be solved.

10. Relax and Feel Safe with Your Friend

This is trust restored. Your friend’s presence has become a source of security rather than a pull towards insecurity. Your friend’s presence reduces stress in troubling circumstances. You find yourself instinctively drawn to your friend when something is difficult, upsetting, or confusing. Even when he/she doesn’t have the answer, their presence is its own form of relief and comfort.

Trust and Timetables

There is intentionally no pacing guide for this trust progression. In that regard, growing in trust requires trust. It is an act of faith not to say, “I’ll give it three months and if we’re not at level seven, then I don’t think there’s any hope.” That kind of time-pressured environment stifles the growth of trust.

Your goal in reading this progression is merely to gain an understanding of where you are and what is next in the development of trust. Efforts at artificially accelerating the process will ultimately do more harm than good. If you know where you are and what’s next, you have the information you need to gauge when your friend’s actions warrant you to begin taking the next step in wise trust.

There is intentionally no pacing guide for this trust progression... Efforts at artificially accelerating the process will ultimately do more harm than good. Click To Tweet

Questions for Reflection

  1. As you look over this trust progression, does there seem to be a large leap between any of the steps? If so, what markers would you add to balance the growth of trust between each step?
  2. How does having a list like this help to make trust less all-or-nothing? How does the fear-inducing nature of an all-or-nothing approach to trust make it harder to trust?