Read Me Like a Book: A Metaphor for Trust in Relationships

Trust is a part of the foundation of a healthy relationship. It’s encouraging while being built, and fulfilling when strong and constant. It’s painful when broken and often painful to heal, though trust truly can be healed after it becomes damaged. To trust your partner means to know that their behaviors, words, feelings and desires will stay consistent with who you know they are. While you may not be able to predict your partner fully (and, if you could, you might find yourself quite bored with them anyway!), finding your partner trustworthy means that you can rely on a certain level of cohesion between their actions and your conception of them. Let's explore the idea of trust in relationships using the metaphor of a book.

The Unattractive Partner

Imagine you start reading a new book. As you get into this book, you find that the characters are fully predictable, the plot thin, and that no surprises occur as you turn the pages. It is unengaging, offers you little and feels like a waste of your time. You might stop reading halfway through and have no motivation to pick the book up again. Why would you read something that brings nothing to your limited reading time? If this book were a potential partner, you may never choose to partner up with them, even if they would technically be completely trustworthy. Such a person would be consistent, but offer no spark. They’d be reliable, but offer no depth. 

The Attractive, Untrustworthy Partner

Instead, the person you would partner up with may be someone who, in some way, brings you interest, play and a sense of potential. Imagine, now, a book that is more interesting than the one above. It keeps you turning pages. It builds as it goes. You find yourself lost in its storyline and wondering what will happen next. You’re excited to have found a good book. You spend your time reading it deeper and deeper. Then, suddenly, the writing completely changes style. It goes from long, eloquent sentences to short, colorless sentences. The change feels abrupt. You’re confused, but you keep reading because you wonder if you’ll receive an explanation later on. Two chapters later, not only does the writing style change for a second time, but the plot seems to lose its vigor, and the lines for the characters aren’t as distinct and funny as before. It starts to feel like the author doesn’t care about you as a reader. You faithfully read to the end, and are left with no explanation for or resolution to these odd changes. You close the cover with a thud. You’re mad at the book for cheating you out of these hours this way. If this book were a partner, they might be someone who broke your trust. It hurts to have someone change being the person you thought they were, whether in slow and subtle, or sudden and shocking ways. Inconsistency can wound. This person may be alluring and enjoyable, but they seem untrustworthy. While they have genuine spark, they are not consistent.

The Attractive, Trustworthy Partner

Now imagine a book that draws you in, just like the one above. However, this one is different. It keeps bringing you new twists and turns, but rarely confuses you with its changes. When it does confuse you, it reliably offers an eventual explanation that fits within the overall plotline. It is fun to read, and you are happy to spend your time with it. As you approach the final chapters, the excitement for the ending heightens. The book engages you as a reader, and ultimately resolves with a satisfying ending. You close the cover feeling happy, respected by the author and like you’ve just finished a great ride. If this book were a partner, they might be someone who cares that you trust them. They make an effort, out of their own integrity, to present their authentic self to you, and to remain authentic as time passes. When they make mistakes, hesitate to reveal secrets or disrupt your understanding of who they are, they put in effort to resolve this disruption and to get back to being open and honest. If they can’t offer resolution right away because of what they’re going through themselves, they at least offer support until they’re ready. They are a balance of intriguing and consistent. While they are unique and sometimes unpredictable, they are trustworthy overall.

Trust Takes Time

While reading through these metaphors, do you think of certain people? Do you think of what you want, or moments that stand out? The metaphor of a book helps explain certain nuances of trust between romantic partners. First, think about how you’d feel in the first few pages of any of the above books. You’d probably feel the same in all of them. You’d be reading curiously. Your trust in the goodness of the story wouldn’t be built yet, but you’d be excited for it to be built. You’d need time for trust to build. The same is true for human connections. It takes us time to build the foundation of trust, because we need to understand who a person is in order to know what either matches or breaches consistency. Some of us are quicker than others to judge a book or person as trustworthy or untrustworthy, based on our personalities, desires and pasts, and that’s okay. If you’ve been wounded by a past partner, it may take longer to build trust with the next one, even if just in certain areas. Deep trust can be a journey to build in romantic relationships, and your own pattern of trusting can be unique.

When Trust Breaks

Think about how your trust in a book might be broken. Likely, it would happen partway in, after you’ve given the story a chance. You’d have spent your resource of time reading a few chapters before the inconsistency would occur. When something occurs that breaks your trust, it can hurt deeply. It might feel like a betrayal. This is why some relationship hurts can be called “attachment traumas.” A trauma can be defined as something that radically breaks your expectations. Such a radical breakage can truly wound the heart and psyche, which is why traumas require healing when they occur. When something someone does or says breaks our expectations, it can shake our world. The pain of broken trust is real, and it’s okay to need external support when seeking to heal it.

Back to the Real World

Let’s make sure to remember the limits of the metaphor. While a book is a giver of a story, and is passive while held and read, a relationship involves two complete and unique people in constant interaction. While a book is already written, a relationship is ever-evolving. So, if trust becomes broken in a relationship, it’s not the end of the story, so to speak. You and your partner are always writing the next page together. The pen is moving as you go. This offers some hope. If there ever is a breach of consistency that hurts, or an attachment wound that traumatizes, don’t be discouraged. Trust can be rebuilt, and the plot can be regained. Also, hurtful patterns of trust or attachment can be helped to grow into healthier patterns. Sometimes, reaching out for therapeutic support can help you to best write the next, healing chapters. A therapist can help to comfort the wound of the broken trust, as well as guide couples or individuals to rejoin in their ongoing authoring of a beautiful story. 


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