Faith

Healthy relationships depend on faith — not religious faith, or faith in one’s partner, but faith in relationship itself.

Having such faith means seeing relationship as an essentially safe place capable of meeting your needs.

It’s not unusual to lack this sort of faith. Growing up in a dysfunctional family teaches children to see relationship as confusing, unreliable, even dangerous.  As adults these kids tend to approach all subsequent relationships burdened with distrust and fear.

But faith is essential.  Since no relationship is perfect, there are times when every relationship hurts us or disappoints. These times are torment for the faithless, since they have no way to persuade themselves that things will improve.

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6 responses to “Faith

  • Shankar

    One person (Mary) nurtures faith in the relationship in spite of negative reciprocal behaviour by the partner (John). She continues for one decade…. two decade…. Whether John changes and brings faith in the relationship or not, Mary continues. If John changes Mary is happy, if he does not change Mary is not sad.

    Is Mary right in her approach? I see this in many families in India.

    • Steve Hauptman

      If Mary were my client, I’d work on helping her distinguish faith from denial. And I’d probably do it by pointing to the evidence.

      I too have clients who choose to remain in bad relationships, often for decades, and usually out of fear that ending them would lead to something worse. In those cases after a certain point I stop trying to change their minds, and content myself with making their choice to remain more mindful.

  • John

    Hello Steve,

    I’m a long time reader and follower of your blog, and now a first time commentor.

    You write: ” Having such faith means seeing relationship as an essentially safe place capable of meeting your needs.

    It’s not unusual to lack this sort of faith. Growing up in a dysfunctional family teaches children to see relationship as confusing, unreliable, even dangerous.  As adults these kids tend to approach all subsequent relationships burdened with distrust and fear.”

    Distrust and fear have many sources. People can have fairly normal non-dysfunctional upbringings but learn relationship distrust and fear through their young adult relationships. The world of relationships can be a dog eat dog world. There is often an underlying competitiveness going on — am I getting the best bang for my buck by choosing (or settling) for this partner. Hormones and the intoxicating chemistry of falling in love/lust can lead fairly normal people to take a chance and make some fairly odd (or risky or even unhealthy) choice in a relationship partner. Getting dumped, having your heart broken, going through a bad break up (or two) can certainly pose a very strong challenge to one’s faith in relationships and can then lead a person to be more cynical and faithless.

    The truth is (or seems to be) is that the world is full of all types of people, some who are to be trusted and some who are not. Trustworthy and healthy and decent people give us a legitimate reason to have faith in relationships. Unhealthy and untrustworthy and wounded people give us a legitimate cause to be wary of *some* people and to be a bit standoffish or suspicious about relationships. It’s very difficult to really know oneself or others unless we’ve seen how they act in difficult times (M.L.King Jr. said something much the same). And most of us don’t really know those closest to us, let alone ourselves. We go through life half-awake living behind masks, interacting with others who are also half-awake and playing roles, chasing after the wind in one way or another.

    I suppose a basic question to be asked and explored is: In relationships is trust to be earned or given or a bit of both?

    I suspect the answer is both. The world does have is share of pretenders, wolves in sheep clothing, people who are Machiavellian, people who are wounded but cover it over fairly well (at least initially when meeting someone new). But the world also has those who are genuine, well-meaning, fairly healthy, decent and kind-hearted and who don’t want to hurt others or take advantage of them. And then the world has plenty of people who are somewhere in between, a mix of both, capable of both, and not yet committed to being one way or the other, but who are leading fairly unexamined lives.

    Some people, and thus some relationships merit our trust. Other people, and hence, other relationships, merit our distrust or cautiousness.

    • Steve Hauptman

      You’re right, of course. Dysfunction in the family of origin isn’t the only thing that causes someone to lose faith in relationship.

      But I focus on it here for two reasons. Most of my work is with adult children who were damaged in such families, and are learning to connect the dots between their past experiences and their present pains and problems.

      The other reason is the power of those early family experiences to shape perceptions and expectations. Sure, many partners and relationships are untrustworthy, and people get disappointed and hurt all the time. But I find the people who are least able to protect themselves and/or learn from these experiences are those who were trained to see them as normal. It’s like they were hypnotized as kids and have lived ever since in a trance, unable to distinguish healthy from unhealthy, normal from abnormal, love from abuse. These are the codependents most likely to recreate past abusive relationships, or blame themselves for their partner’s bad behavior, or set themselves the impossible task of “fixing” their pathological partner or spouse. The work with such clients is to help them wake up from the trance, understand what really happened to them as kids, and start creating relationships safer and healthier than those they’ve known.

  • Ann

    Thank you, Steve.

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