Dating and Mate Selection — 25 November 2007
How to assess the trustworthiness of your future partner

Trust is one of the most essential factors in securing attachment between partners. When the trust is weak, shaken or doubted, the connection is at risk. What should individuals do to ascertain trust prior to making a life-commitment to each other?

Trust is learned and experienced from birth. In infancy, babies learn to trust the mother as a nurturing and need- fulfilling agent. They associate her presence with safety and trust that she will guard and protect them. When a mother does not engender both physical and emotional safety for her baby, the infant shows signs of insecure attachment to her.

Intuitive reactions often guide us to feel safe in trusting others. It may be born out of a wishful desire to be cared for by a specific individual or may be part of the ‘Halo effect” of endowing the other with traits based on other more evident ones. For example, an intelligent, charming and articulate person may be so appealing, that the observer may believe that he/she is also trustworthy.

Since trust is so crucial for safety and security, it is surprising how quickly some people in love extend it to each other. The desire to love and be loved sometimes interferes with our better judgment in securing our long-term safety. People in love often abandon the scrutiny they would give those with whom they deal in business.

Trust in relationships can be assessed in various areas: Physical, emotional, moral, financial, spiritual and psychological.

Physically, partners need to feel safe and secure that they will never be bodily harmed by their mate even when one is stressed, drunk, emotionally distraught, or angry. According to U.S. Department of Justice, Violence by Intimates: “Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend per year – to three million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year.”

Emotional trust is gained when one’s concerns, feelings and even failings are greeted with acceptance, support and love. Criticism, judgment, advice or reprimand are inappropriate responses to a partner’s shared confidences.

Morally, partners need to trust that their mate is trustworthy by being honest, law abiding and decent. They expect that one’s promises will be kept and that exchanges are based on truth. Deceit, untruths, lying, or irresponsible, immoral or illegal behavior are often not new and a major risk to the partner’s safety and security.

Financial trust is another way that mates’ partnership solidifies. Since all financial agreements, contracts, earnings and expenditures affect both mates, each person must be secure that all financial matters are openly shared and handled as designated by the pair. If one mate, for example, proceeds to secretly sign a contract or irresponsibly overspend, the safety of the other may be jeopardized.

Spiritual violation of trust may involve: restrictions of free spiritual practice, disrespect of one’s beliefs, coercive use of religion to enhance personal gains, or unkept early commitments about the couple’s planned religious practices.

Being psychologically trustworthy means being able to count on the mate’s loving energy and caring. The desire to be the center of the mate’s focus gets violated if disloyalty, affairs, disinterest, inattention, or apathy replace single-minded attention.

• Assess your future partner’s trustworthiness prior to making a life-commitment. It is essential to your overall safety and wellbeing.
• Identify any signs of poor impulse control tendencies. They declare themselves early, are worrisome and only get exacerbated with time.
• Pay attention not only to your partner’s language but also to his/her facial expressions. Dr. Paul Ekman, a pioneer in research on emotions and deception, found that nonverbal communication has priority over words when the two are inconsistent with each other.
• Observe your loved one’s actions toward others. A decent person will also treat you fairly.
• Evaluate not only how this person makes you feel in his/her presence, but also how you feel afterwards. Do you feel better, worse or the same about yourself after you have spent time together?
• Is this person accepting or judgmental of others? You will eventually be treated similarly.
• Notice the attitude toward money. Is it a primary goal above all or earned means for a better life?
• Evaluate your date’s spiritual perspective and determine its compatibility with yours.
• Most of all, gauge whether this individual is likely to consistently hold you in in reverence and the center of his/her concerns. If so, you have found an individual worthy of your trust.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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