The Other Kind of Trust Issue

The most common kind of trust issue I see in my practice doesn’t involve infidelity. While I do see many couples and individuals who are recovering from betrayal, the most common trust issue showing up in my practice involves the lack of faith partners have in one another.

Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common situation. Partners are left doubting that their partner will be there for them when push comes to shove. Or, they have no faith that they will have each other’s back. The hidden reality is that even couples that have never managed any type of affair or relationship betrayal still struggle frequently with trust issues. It goes without saying that couples who have dealt with physical and/or emotional infidelity experience a lack this type of faith in each another too.

Under the Surface

Dr. Sue Johnson, who developed emotionally focused therapy, very effectively addresses this topic. She points out that the lack of trust in a relationship is not really about the “little issues.” Instead, underneath the surface, is where the fundamental sources of trust (or lack of trust) lie. For example:

  • Do they feel secure in their emotional bond with each other?  
  • Is she truly there for me?
  • Can he put me first?  

Without feeling secure in their shared emotional bond, unhealthy and unproductive conflict can grow. Dr. Johnson refers to these unproductive interactions as “Demon Dialogues.”

What are “Demon Dialogues?”

Dr. Johnson describes them this way: 

[when] partners get stuck in spirals of negative emotions and wind up shutting down and shutting their partner out.”

Once stuck in this spiral, it’s very difficult to get out. Each partner experiences hurt feelings and emotional pain that negatively impacts the next encounter. This leads to bot distrust between partners, which, in turn, inflicts further damage on the relationship.

EFT and the Demon Dialogues

In emotionally focused therapy (EFT) the goal is for the couple to eliminate the Demon Dialogues and create a more trusting bond with each other. This connection can foster healthier and deeper level conversations. Dr. Johnson refers to these discussions as “Hold Me Tight” conversations.  For example couples spend time

  • Talking about how one’s actions affect the relationship.
  • Expressing remorse for their part in hurtful discussions.
  • Sharing how they care about each other.
  • Showing forgiveness.
  • Acknowledging their own shortcomings.

A common problem is that many couples never even begin these productive conversations because their Demon Dialogues get in the way. They may have some desire to talk about these issues, but instead, get caught up in those negative cycles. Why? Because sharing their feelings is too scary and feels too vulnerable to even bring to the surface.

Becoming More Emotionally Secure

When couples do begin to have these productive dialogues, their external issues often fade into the background and become mostly insignificant. If you are angry over how money is spent or you are unhappy with your sex life, but at the same time you know your partner fundamentally has your back, you are likely to feel more comfortable discussing these issues in depth. As a result, you are both less likely to let these conversations turn into Demon Dialogues. Then you are more likely to feel secure enough to have Hold Me Tight discussions. Such emotional security is essential in order to have a satisfying and healthy relationship.  

If you and your partner find yourselves getting dragged down by Demon Dialogues too often, it is highly recommended you consider attending couples counseling. While working with a therapist, you both can learn how to eliminate hurtful surface-level issues and get to the real, deeper issues in your relationship. One you both develop trust and faith in one another, counseling can teach you how to communicate effectively so that you rarely find yourselves getting caught up in the downward spiral of the Demon Dialogues.

Relationships require constant work and attention. Yet, it’s more difficult to be with your partner when neither of you has the emotional security where you can truly count on one another. Through couples counseling, you can both learn to avoid the Demon Dialogues and begin to create a foundation of trust that will lead to more Hold Me Tight conversations.


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