“Give me your cell phone. What’s the password?” Ever since the affair, they seem to require this measure to make their relationship work, a relationship now precariously riddled with suspicion, shame, fear and guilt.

“You are late, AND you lied!! You went to see your boyfriend! We told you he’s no good for you! You’re grounded!!” Their 16-year-old turns away from them, sullen, and slams the door behind her, under her breath vowing to see her boyfriend at the next opportunity regardless of mom and dad.

In some cases, relationships remain fraught with feelings far too intense to give enough place for trust to be rebuilt. Nevertheless, most relationship have probably experienced some form of broken trust, even if just to a lesser degree. In that state, we often seek remedies that amount to quick fixes based on control. Unfortunately, such approaches have the tendency to make matters worse. Control is what we tend to do to lessen our fears of things breaking down on us, much like wrapping ugly duct tape around an ailing couch to keep it together, however tentatively.

In contrast, genuine dialogue looks at the true condition of the couch, gently – in order to prevent further damage – examines its frame, its upholstery, its cushions, and mends and replaces the broken parts. Genuine dialogue seeks to understand gently without blame, judgement, or condemnation, and begins with a realization of just how much we really do not know about ourselves and the other. Both parties are responsible to approach with gentleness and curiosity, regardless of our perceived self-justifications and social situations.

Here are a few tips that can allow for true dialogue and genuine questions of curiosity; that can help us break down judgement, blame, shame, and condemnation:

  • First notice the state of your nervous system. If you are in fight/flight mode, STOP and BREATHE. It is almost impossible to embody genuine curiosity in a fight/flight state. Let your biology come to peace. Give yourself 20 minutes at least.
  • Avoid starting questions with, “Why…?!” Too accusatory. Try starting with how, when, or what.
  • Know the difference between closed and open-ended questions. Lean toward using open-ended questions. That takes a lot of practice.
  • Be aware that your tone and body language have the power to set off another person’s fight/flight signals on a deep and almost involuntary subconscious level. The state of your own nervous system is probably more important than your exact wording.
  • Take your time. Diligently pull back on the tendency to address/fix/solve it now. Very rarely do things need to be solved right away. On the other hand, do make sure to come back to it.
  • Bend yourself towards empathy for yourself AND for the other person involved.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY, begin a journey of personal healing, of processing specific memories of hurt, pain, and possibly trauma. Nothing can replace the invaluable influence of a genuine healing journey upon our voice, tonal inflections, body language, wording, and upon the perspectives we hold of ourselves and the people we relate to closely.

Finally, remember that these are often very complex situations. You may benefit greatly from having a psychotherapist who can help you navigate your full personal healing journey and the journey of rebuilding trust with your loved ones. Then, we are more likely to experience compassion, safety, and genuine dialogue, from which we are more likely to rebuild trust in our closest relationships.


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