Learning to trust. It’s so basic to our psychological health that the renowned psychologist Erik Erikson proposed the need to feel a sense of trust as the first hurdle in our psychological journey through life.  From infancy onward, we continue to look for, and need, relationships in which we feel we will be cared for, able to express our true selves, and safe.

How do we learn to establish this basic sense of trust in our close relationships? According to SUNY Buffalo psychologist Sandra Murray and her colleagues (2011), trust takes two forms.  Reflective trust is the form that operates at the level of your conscious awareness, and refers to the expectations you have about how much your partner is committed to, and cares, about you.  This is the relatively easy form of trust for you to understand and articulate. It’s the unconscious form of trust, called impulsive trust, which may be more of a challenge.  By definition, you’re not likely to be aware of the automatic ways you evaluate your partner.  If your partner turns out to be trustworthy in reality, then you won’t get hurt.  However, if your unconscious trust in your partner blinds you to a partner who isn’t worthy of your trust, the outcome could be disastrous.

Murray and her team based their research on what they refer to as the “risk regulation model” of trust in relationships.  The model goes something like this. When you trust your partner, you feel that you’ll be safe. You can be with, and depend on, your partner because you feel that you’ll have something to gain.  In other words, you will feel that you can approach your partner without putting yourself at risk. You’ll let down your guard, because you won’t feel that you have to protect yourself against this person. By contrast, if you feel that you have something to lose, because your partner isn’t trustworthy, you’ll pull away. The risk you regulate, in other words, is the risk to yourself of getting too close to a person who will cause you harm.

This article continues and has some great insight into building relationships – Empowered Team

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Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her latest book is The Search for Fulfillment.