Being in a relationship with someone who has put up barriers because of trust issues can be frustrating. Consider the following scenario: you finally find someone that you really like. You think it’s going to be a great experience because initially they had all these amazing qualities that made them wildly attractive. You get to a point where you both agree to be exclusive. Now comes the fun part—you get to start something new and exciting together, just the two of you. But after a few months of getting closer, you suddenly discover that this person isn’t exactly what you thought. It’s as if the relationship suddenly comes to a screeching halt. Everything gets stagnant, and you’re left in the dark as to why. Slowly, you notice the walls that this person is throwing up. If you’re the kind of person that sees the glass half full, you might make excuses—there’s not anything really wrong, you tell yourself. It’ll get better soon.
But it doesn’t. In fact, the relationship seems to get worse. And then you realize it’s not just a few walls you’re dealing with, but the person you thought you knew so well after those amazing dates and time together has constructed The Great Wall of China around themselves. So what do you do?
You have some tough decisions to make. If you decide the relationship is going to be too much trouble, you can just end it and move on. But if you’re not ready to throw in the towel, there are some things that you can, and must, do, in order to get them to drop the barriers.
People throw up barriers for many reasons: childhood trauma, sexual abuse, being abandoned, cheating, abusive marriages, and simple day-to-day interaction with people who just want rip you off. There are a lot of reasons we all go on the defense with others. And it seems society is getting worse as it relates to trust. As reported in the Huffington Post by an excerpt from a comprehensive survey entitled, Sex Lies: ‘The Normal Bar’ Reveals What Partners Fib About, only 53% of men completely trust their partners while a meager 39% of woman trust their partners. In the same excerpt it was revealed that over 70% or both men and women lie to their partners on a regular basis. Yikes! It gets worse when you’re talking about life in general. CBS News reported on an AP-GfK poll in 2013 that revealed only one third of Americans say people are generally trustworthy. We have to face it: we have become a society of not trusting others.
So no matter who you decide to date, you’re probably going to run into someone who has trust issues eventually. They may play a good game up front by keeping their insecurities hidden, but once you get closer the walls might be thrown up. And they’re going to test you, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously. Who can blame them?
But take hope. If you’re patient enough with a person who has trust issues, you may get doubly rewarded, and the benefits can far outweigh all the frustration you had to go through taking the time gain that trust.
I’m going to share a story that I think you will see as relevant to this post even though it’s about a dog and a girl. Maybe you’ll even decide that humans and animals aren’t so different. 🙂
Heather and Daisy’s Story
Heather left her hometown after college and fell in love. The man she fell in love with ended up being physically abusive. While Heather finally got the good sense to leave, her next few serious relationships ended up the same way; Heather fell into a pattern of dating physically and verbally abusive men. Fed up with relationships in general, Heather decided to move to Va. Beach and start her life all over again. It was a brave move, because she had no family or friends in her new location, but a job opportunity and the chance to start all over prompted her to make the move. So what did Heather do to stave off the loneliness? She got a dog.
Enter Daisy, the German shepherd.
Little did Heather know, Daisy was not fit to be the companion she was looking for. Daisy had been an abandoned dog that had become feral, living in a community that saw her as a nuisance. Highly antagonistic towards people, she eventually ended up in an animal shelter and was weeks away from being put to sleep. Heather really had no idea what she was getting into when she agreed to adopt Daisy, but perhaps fate was at work.
Heather excitedly took Daisy home to her apartment. I remember her telling me that she was very positive even though the workers at the animal shelter had told her how distrustful Daisy was of people. But Heather didn’t mind a challenge. Besides, Daisy didn’t seem so bad. Heather believed they would adjust to each other fairly quickly with a little bit of patience.
The first week was relatively easy. Just like the animal shelter workers said, Daisy was exhausted after her shots and all the noise and commotion of the shelter. It was very stressful for Daisy being caged up after running the streets with her freedom. The shelter was noisy and confusing to her. So she mostly remained lethargic in the crate that Heather had bought for her. Heather yearned for interaction, but she followed protocol. She knew that they could begin getting to really know each other and provide companionship after that first week. Or so she thought.
After the first week, Heather did notice a change in Daisy. She seemed more energetic. Restless, even. Was she adapting to her new home? Could they begin getting closer?
Unfortunately, Daisy wasn’t ready to be a friend. Nor did she seem content to just be out of the shelter anymore. “Daisy began to show her feral personality,” Heather told me. “It was all I could do to put a leash on her for potty breaks without getting nipped or growled at. And feeding her? She wouldn’t even come near me when I bribed her with the good stuff like chicken or steak.”
Instead of trusting her more after a week in the apartment, it seemed like Daisy trusted Heather less. This went on for over a month. It was a tireless effort, sometimes taking thirty minutes just to get a leash on her.
“What was I doing wrong, I kept asking myself?” Heather explained. “Did I really make a wise choice going with this dog?”
Heather had another dilemma: when her sister came to visit one weekend, Daisy cornered her in the apartment and wouldn’t let her move. Her sister thought she was going to be bit for sure. Heather was beginning to see Daisy as a huge liability. What if she attacked her family? Her friends? A neighborhood child? Daisy was already constantly trying to escape on their walks. It was such a chore just to take her out.
Daisy’s behavior continued to get worse, and Heather seriously thought about returning her to the shelter, even though it meant she would probably be put down.
“There were many nights that I thought I could never get through to her,” Heather told me. “I had lost all hope. So on the recommendation from someone at work, I decided to hire a dog trainer.”
The first trainer seemed to help little. Although the trainer assured Heather that progress would be made with time, Daisy didn’t seem to respond well to a trainer who was clearly trying to establish authority through being dominant. Daisy seemed to get more defensive and aggressive after each training session. Again, Heather wondered whether or not she should keep Daisy. But she decided to try another trainer as a last resort.
The second trainer impressed Heather right away. She wasn’t forceful and didn’t try to establish dominance with Daisy. She used positive reinforcement only. Daisy was rewarded for the smallest of advancements. The trainer also advised her that Daisy was fear aggressive, not dominant aggressive, and that training through positive reinforcement would eventually change that. The trainer also told her it might take months, not weeks, to show real progress. Although Heather had doubts about what she was being told, she decided to spend the money and give it some time.
After three months of training on a weekly basis, Daisy started showing some noticeable progress. Daisy no longer fought her when she tried to put a lead on. Daisy didn’t get skittish around neighbors on morning and evening walks. She didn’t lunge at neighborhood kids when they walked by. And she even let Heather pet her. “I remember the first night that Daisy actually decided to snuggle with me a little on the floor for a few moments as I watched television,” Heather related. “She approached me slowly as I was folding laundry and came over and laid near me. At first I didn’t realize her true intentions, but as I put my hand out, she responded by nudging it. It was the first time I really pet her and I felt like it was our first real bonding moment.”
And the rest is history. Six months later Daisy and Heather became inseparable best friends. All the barriers had come down. Heather gained Daisy’s complete trust and Heather could be as affectionate with Daisy as she liked. And Daisy returned that affection on a daily basis without incident.
“Josh, you have no idea how much this dog changed,” Heather told me. “It was as if she became an entirely new dog!”
Heather later told me that the trainer taught her a valuable lesson—she didn’t have to be worried about when Daisy would reach out with trust, only that she would. Positive reinforcement, a lot of treats, and giving her the space she needed to get comfortable was what it took.
It took another few months for Heather to allow friends over without Daisy becoming aggressive towards them. But in the end, all her hard work and dedication paid off. Daisy began warming up pretty quickly with all the people she invited into her apartment. She also began letting some of the neighbors approach and pet her.
Sure, Heather could have decided that Daisy was too much work and went with another dog early in the relationship. She probably could have found another good dog that was easier to manage and a lot less work. But then she would have missed out on the very dog she now knows she could never do without. Now Heather felt like every difficult moment was worth it, and she couldn’t imagine having picked any other dog. Daisy had become the perfect, loyal, and trustful companion.
So why did I tell you that story?
Well, are humans and dogs with trust issues really all that different?
Perhaps in some ways, but not so much in others. The story of Heather and Daisy illustrates a beautiful bonding experience. Hopefully the relationship you may develop with another human won’t be as difficult as Daisy, but as their story proves, the rewards of a lot of patience and some sacrifice can cause a frustrating relationship to turn into something extremely rewarding that neither one of you could be without once the trust issues are resolved.
How to Help Someone to lower Their Defenses and Overcome Their Trust Issues.
First off realize that humans are just that: humans. We all have thrown up barriers and walls with people at some point. Even if a new steady partner has suddenly thrown up a potentially strong wall, it’s probably not there to stay if you can be patient. Knowing and understanding the reason for your partner’s wall is a must. It’s been my experience that the first level of trust a partner tries to establish involves sharing a part of their story.
Even if they don’t share all the details with you, understand that an attempt to speak about it is a big deal. Furthermore, trusting someone again means that they’re going to have to be vulnerable. Letting down their guard and giving you access beyond their walled defenses might really be a big step for them, even if you feel you are ready to handle it. You may know yourself, but a few months of dating isn’t long enough for them to understand this yet. So how do we deal with someone who’s really been hurt? Well, to start with, a little like Daisy. 🙂
Rule # 1 – Really Listen When They Share Their History
In my experience, my partner began sharing some of her history before the walls went up. It was almost as if she was preparing me for something because she knew we were entering a new phase in the relationship. She was warning me, much like Daisy warned Heather not to get too close. Remember, a person with trust issues realizes that they are going to be vulnerable as the relationship begins to heat up. I certainly didn’t really realize what that meant for us. And how could I? She hadn’t put up the walls yet. So as she shared her story, to me it was just that: a story, a past experience that happened and was now resolved. But nothing was further from the truth. So when the walls began going up I was initially perplexed. But slowly, I began to piece together the puzzle.
I was lucky. I had some information from a talk one night that I could reflect on. When your partner gets serious with you about something that hints at the traumatic, be ready to listen and take to heart to the effect it might still have. Continuing to be consciously aware of it will allow you to be more prepared. They may have healed, but whenever they’re dealing with a new person such as yourself, it’s going to resurface because a level of trust needs to be established.
Rule # 2 – Patience, Patience, Patience
Patience is a must. There’s not really a whole lot more to be said except maybe the Heinz Ketchup slogan: “The best comes for those who wait.” 🙂 Of course it may not work out in the long run, but had Heather given up she would have missed out on what became her best friend. Patience is the key. And it’s often the hardest part to give room to, especially when you’re the one ready to take the relationship to the next level.
Rule # 3 – Never Burn Yourself Out and Become Frustrated over Another Person’s Lack of Trust
Even though I stated rule number two had to do with patience, it doesn’t mean you have to put your life on hold or cater to their every desire. In fact the opposite. When I dated the first girl with real trust issues, I became an undying giver as the walls went up. I found myself sacrificing a lot. I thought I could fix her trust issues with all my giving. I wanted to show her that I wasn’t anything like the person that had hurt her before. While my intentions were good, I discovered that I was trying so hard it became exhausting. A lack of progress on her part only got me frustrated…to the point of wanting to give up. Several times. I’m sure at times I felt a lot like Heather. Utterly hopeless. But I finally decided to switch tactics. Since I really wasn’t the person that hurt her, I just had to be myself. I didn’t have to work so hard to prove anything. Either she would take the time to learn who I really was or she would continue in her lack of trust and destroy the relationship. So you must realize that part of the responsibility lies with the other person as well. So continue to be patient, and relax along the way.
Rule # 4 – Give Them Space When They Ask For It.
When Heather first acquired Daisy, she expected the relationship to develop too quickly. But Daisy wasn’t ready, and understandably so. The most important thing you can remember about someone with trust issues is that they often need a lot of space so that they can assess you and feel comfortable.
It’s been said that “trust takes years to build and seconds to break.” I don’t really think it should take years to build trust in a relationship but someone might need a good six months to a year to really earn your trust. That’s really not so long to allow some space if the person turns out to have a lot of potential in other areas. Of course that is something you must decide, but know when they’re feeling comfortable enough to allow you in, they’ll let you know.
Rule # 5 – Be Consistent
One of the most important things that the second trainer taught Heather was consistency. It’s the same in a relationship with people. Anyone that has trust issues is going to be on the lookout for their partner to be consistent. This is their comfort zone. Seeing you being consistent builds trust. Do the things you say you will do. Be the person you say you are. Often times we promise a lot, and we mean well, but when the walls go up with a person with trust issues, it can be easy for us to become frustrated and change course. If you have decided that they have long-term potential once the walls come down, then stay consistent even though you’re not getting your way. Your consistency will allow them the comfort level they need to begin dropping the barriers.
Rule # 6 – Be a Friend First and foremost to a Person with Trust Issues
Although all good relationships are based on friendship first, sometimes you might have to step out of all the benefits that come with the romantic side of things and just focus on being the friend. At least for a time. When things get more serious, I’ve noticed someone with trust issues can get cold feet. You’ve got to be understandable and put your own wants aside. If they’re really ready for something serious, focusing on a friendship for just a few months can really help the other person see that you’re someone worth trusting. People with trust issues sometimes see things in black and white. All the other stuff that comes with the relationship that you may be pondering might not even be a concern to them. For example, if you’re secure in how it’s going, you might be making plans. Maybe to meet the family. Maybe you want to plan a getaway with them to bond more. It doesn’t matter what it is. The point is, they might just need a friend to see that you’re interested in supporting them without any expectations in return. All that other romantic stuff will fall into place in due time if you can show them that you’re main concern is to be that friend they need first and foremost.
Rule # 7 – Remember You’re Aiming for Long-term Benefits, Not Immediate Ones
We’ve all heard that they bigger they are the harder they fall. Well, if you can gain someone’s trust that has big trust issues, the deeper that trust can go when they decide to give it. Take Daisy and Heather for example; Heather feels that there was no greater reward than having the opportunity to gain Daisy’s trust. The same goes for Daisy. Heather can now get her to do things most dogs would never dream of. I witnessed it firsthand. Daisy will now follow Heather anywhere, and if Heather gives a training command, Daisy immediately responds, even in a new environment. They developed an inseparable bond and friendship that outweighs all the hard times they had to go through to get there.
Sometimes relationships are hard, especially with the ones we know have great potential. But this is natural. When two people begin to bond, your flaws and secrets will be displayed and tested. The greater the tests that are passed, the better the potential for something really fulfilling. When my partner let the walls drop, we had some great times. We still do. And it gets better all the time. 🙂
In most aspects of life, it’s all about the journey, not just the end results. It’s the same with good relationships.
For more great information for building trust, check out this great PDF entitled, Trust in Relationships.