“Trust is built when someone is vulnerable and not taken advantage of.” – Bob Vanourek
In her book Daring Greatly, researcher Brené Brown beautifully and accurately describes how disengagement slowly eats away at the core of relationships especially at the aspect of trust.
There are moments in every relationship when one is deeply engaged in something, maybe one is absorbed in the last chapter of that novel, or at a suspense point in a movie, or in the middle of an intense video game session. One’s partner comes to one with something he wants to talk about, or perhaps one can notice that he is a bit low. Here one has a choice, to either connect with one’s partner, or turn away from him to one’s own pursuit. These instances are the defining moments of the trust levels in a relationship.
One such moment is not important, but if you are always choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship, very gradually, very slowly.
Brené Brown says that this is a form of betrayal which is far more dangerous than the bigger more explicit forms of betrayal.
“In fact, this betrayal usually happens long before the other ones. I’m talking about the betrayal of disengagement. Of not caring. Of letting the connection go. Of not being willing to devote time and effort to the relationship. The word betrayal evokes experiences of cheating, lying, breaking a confidence, failing to defend us to someone else who’s gossiping about us, and not choosing us over other people. These behaviors are certainly betrayals, but they’re not the only form of betrayal. If I had to choose the form of betrayal that emerged most frequently from my research and that was the most dangerous in terms of corroding the trust connection, I would say disengagement.”
Like trust, most forms of betrayal happen slowly, one instance at a time. In fact, the bigger forms of betrayal happen after a period of disengagement, and slowly crumbling trust.
“When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing, and stop fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in. Disengagement triggers shame and our greatest fears—the fears of being abandoned, unworthy, and unlovable. What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can’t point to the source of our pain—there’s no event, no obvious evidence—there’s no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. It can feel crazy-making.”
This is particularly hard, because on the outside, nothing is wrong. Your partner is doing everything they are “supposed” to be doing,
“We may tell a disengaged partner, “You don’t seem to care anymore,” but without “evidence” of this, the response is “I’m home from work every night by six P.M. I tuck in the kids. I’m taking the boys to Little League. What do you want from me?” ”
This behavior is particularly damaging with children. Since they do not understand what is happening, but need parental love and attention nonetheless, they start acting out to get it.
“With children, actions speak louder than words. When we stop requesting invitations into their lives by asking about their day, asking them to tell us about their favorite songs, wondering how their friends are doing, then children feel pain and fear (and not relief, despite how our teenagers may act). Because they can’t articulate how they feel about our disengagement when we stop making an effort with them, they show us by acting out, thinking, This will get their attention.”
Brene says that trust is not a grand gesture, it is a growing collection of instances when we chose to be present, when we chose to move beyond ourselves and our selfishness and connect with love and warmth.
“Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention, and full engagement.”