TRUST AND COMMITMENT
Drs. John and Julia Gottman teach us that trust is cherishing each other and showing your partner you can be counted on. They go on to share that choosing commitment means accepting your partner exactly as he or she is, despite their flaws. Their book Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, co-authored with Doug and Rachel Carlton Abrams, is an excellent tool for growing closer as a couple.
In a neurodivergent (ND) relationship, where one or both partners has a neurological difference such as autism or ADHD, trust may not come easily or quickly. Some NDs (and certainly also some neurotypical or NT partners) have a history of trauma, neglect, abandonment, rejection, and/or other social-emotional stressors. Any of these can make it very difficult to trust again. Many autistic adults have been overly trusting, and as a result may have been used or taken advantage of. Even after finding the person who loves and is committed to them and their happiness, if someone’s personal “mistrust switch” has been in the ON position for a long time, it cannot simply be switched OFF immediately. It takes time. If you want trust in your ND relationship, here are a few tips to remember: WANT TRUST.
WANT = Wait, Ask, Nonverbal, Tell.
TRUST = Time, Remember, Understand, Slow, Thank.
Wait for your partner to be ready to have a conversation about trust. Don’t try to rush into the next stage of your relationship before you are both equally ready to move forward. This applies to the transition from friendship to romance, to exchanging house keys, first vacation as a couple, moving in together, adopting a pet, getting married, buying a house, or having children. Never try to push for your partner to catch up with you if you feel ready for more. Your patience will mean the world when you finally do take steps forward as a couple.
Ask your partner how they feel about where you are as a couple, and where you are going. Don’t try to second guess them, or imagine how you think they feel. Don’t impose your ideas of how ready they ought to be for a trusting, committed relationship. Set a time when you are both comfortable and you know the topic in advance, rather than surprising them with a potentially stressful discussion. Once you are both ready for a chat about your relationship, then go ahead and ask. You won’t know where they’re coming from, and where you two might go together as a couple, if you don’t ask.
Nonverbal communication can be extremely helpful, especially when discussing emotionally charged conversations. Remember, even good or happy stress is still stress. It can be hard to put big feelings into words. Consider writing love letters to each other, or playing charades to mime or act out your feelings. Having a sweet hand written card with a proclamation of your partner’s love and devotion is a treasure which can be kept and reflected on in the future. And remember, when it becomes hard for your partner to use their words, either shift to nonverbal by writing notes, or take a break until everyone feels better able to talk about it.
Tell your partner how you feel. Don’t assume they know. Don’t imagine that because you said you loved them once you never need to say it again. Human beings thrive on love. Hearing those three simple words, or finding a love note on the refrigerator or on the bathroom mirror, can go a long way toward developing trust.
Take your Time. Do not try to rush into the next phase of your relationship. Do not try to push your partner to commit before they feel safe and ready. Just take a breath, take a moment, take it easy, and take your time. It will be worth it in the long run. And isn’t that the best run there is?
Remember your partner’s history before charging forward into a deep discussion about trust issues. Have they been hurt before? Has someone taken advantage of their trusting nature and used them? Have they been the victim of a scammer or con artist? Have they been bullied? Many NDs have experienced one or all of these. Any of them can make it difficult to trust again. If you are in love with an ND (or NT) with a painful history, remember and keep it in mind. If their previous partner used to yell at them, and this can trigger a meltdown or shutdown, try your best to always use a softer, gentler voice with them. Breathe and take a step back to calm yourself down if your voice starts to go up in volume. Whatever it is that makes trust difficult for your partner, remember it while discussing your relationship.
Understand why your partner might struggle with some things. Do they have intense sensory reactions that make physical closeness difficult? Do they have insomnia, and need to sleep separately in order to get enough rest to function the next day? Do they become overwhelmed by too much touch, so that after a day caring for a small child with high touch needs, they may need a hands-off evening? Are they exhausted after talking and making decisions all day at work? If so, they may not have the mental or emotional energy they need to chat about your days, or help decide what to have for dinner. Don’t take it personally. Don’t assume they don’t love you. Understand that you are in love with a complex and wondrous person who may have different needs than your own, or in different ways or at different times. Understand and respect them for who they are.
Slow down. There is no need to rush big important conversations about your relationship. This means slow down your scheduling of the eight dates until you both feel up to enjoying the discussion. It may mean slowing down the speed of your relationship’s progress from early days to long-term commitment. It may even mean speaking more slowly and clearly if your partner has an auditory processing disorder. There is no rush, so take it slowly.
Thank your partner for sharing this life journey with you. Gratitude is an important part of love. Every little thing you do for each other, is something to be appreciated, not just silently, but in so many words. Say it out loud. Say it proud. Say it over and over. Thank you for making dinner. Thank you for working hard all day. Thank you for doing the laundry. Thank you for the loving way you care for our children. Thank you for choosing me to go through life with. It is an honor. Say it: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Follow this blog for more posts with a neurodivergent take on the Gottmans’ Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. You can purchase Gottman’s Eight Dates book from Powell’s Books or from Barnes and Noble, or ask your favorite independent bookstore or library.