If you’ve ever watched children at the playground on a seesaw, you know that it takes two people to play. If one gets off, the other cannot play. The expression, “tottering on the brink,” comes from the older name for a seesaw. It was called a ‘teeter-totter.’ If you’ve ever been left dangling in the air and watching the person on the other end prepare to suddenly leap off and send you crashing, then you know exactly what that expression means!

Relationships are like seesaws. It takes two to play. If one person gets off, the other can’t play. There are many kinds of seesaw in relationships. One variety that often comes up when emotional aggression is an issue, is the ‘trust seesaw.’ Trust is a seesaw with two parts. The first part is a person hiding the truth or refusing to communicate. The second part is a person who has created an environment where it’s not safe to tell the truth or to safely communicate about emotional issues

If you react badly every time you hear the truth, don’t expect to hear the truth too often. While deception is a violation of trust, what often gets overlooked is the fact that the reason people resort to deception and sometimes to outright lying is that the other person in the relationship has made it clear that it is not safe to tell the truth.

This vicious cycle is self-reinforcing. The more one person hides the truth, the more the other person reacts badly when the truth finally comes out. The more a person reacts badly upon hearing the truth, the less likely the other person is to feel comfortable telling the truth the next time. The longer this pattern continues, the more likely it is to result in emotional cutoffs where neither side is capable of communicating about emotional issues without resorting to emotional aggression.

Getting off the Trust Seesaw

How do we end this vicious cycle? There are two ways to get off the trust seesaw. The first is that the person who is being deceptive or not communicating the truth can start being truthful. The second is that the person who usually reacts badly to hearing the truth can create a safe environment for truthful communications so that the other person feels comfortable telling the truth.

The difficulty in getting off the trust seesaw is that if one person gets off suddenly, the other is left ‘tottering on the brink.’ Unless both people agree to get off the seesaw, it’s going to be difficult to successfully navigate this territory without one or both parties resorting to some form of emotional aggression.

The best way to avoid this is to agree to communicate openly and honestly about trust while agreeing that there will be no negative repercussions for being honest. Getting off the trust seesaw and fostering mindful communication requires a combination of self-awareness, empathy, and effective communication skills. Here are some strategies to help you navigate this process:

  • Start by reflecting on your own communication patterns and behaviors. Identify any habits that may contribute to the trust seesaw.
  • Practice active listening by giving your full attention to the speaker. This involves making eye contact, nodding, and providing verbal cues to show that you are engaged in the conversation.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Understand their perspective, emotions, and concerns. Empathy helps build trust by showing that you value and understand their feelings.
  • Be transparent and honest in your communication. Avoid hiding information or misleading others, as this can erode trust.
  • Before speaking, take a moment to consider the impact of your words. Be mindful of your tone, body language, and choice of words to ensure that your message is clear and respectful.
  • Clearly articulate your thoughts and feelings. Use “I” statements to express your own perspective without blaming or accusing others.
  • Learn to manage your emotions during difficult conversations. Take a break if needed to prevent saying things in the heat of the moment that may damage trust.
  • Clearly define and communicate your boundaries. Establishing healthy boundaries is crucial for building and maintaining trust.
  • If you make a mistake or unintentionally hurt someone, apologize sincerely and take responsibility for your actions. Work towards repairing the trust by demonstrating positive changes in your behavior.
  • Consistency in your actions and words is key to building and maintaining trust. Ensure that your behavior aligns with your words over time.
  • Encourage open communication by seeking feedback from others. This shows that you value their opinions and are open to improvement.
  • Engage in mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, to cultivate self-awareness and emotional regulation.

Remember, building trust is a gradual process, and it requires ongoing effort and commitment. By incorporating these strategies into your communication style, you can contribute to a more mindful and trustful relationship.