"Eyes-Wide-Open" Trust: The Power of Effective Boundaries

by guest blogger and author of Trustology, Richard Fagerlin

Trust must be given, not earned, but I’m not advocating blind trust.

My wife and I have four boys: Christian, Preston, Jackson, and Lincoln. When they were little, the street in front of our house was completely off-limits. The risk was too great. But if they were still afraid to cross the street as 13-year-olds, or 20-year-olds, we’d have a problem. I want my boys to wisely take risks that are worth taking, and to not live in fear. But I don’t want them to walk across the street with their eyes closed. I want them to have their eyes wide open and look both ways. And then to walk forward.

In the same way, I’m not asking you to plunge ahead foolishly, but to make a mature, calculated, thoughtful decision to trust because you’ve decided the benefits outweigh the risks.

By all means, be aware of red flags when you sense that someone isn’t trustworthy—but the red flags don’t necessarily mean that there’s no way forward; still, you should ask where the person is coming from, take more careful steps, and set appropriate boundaries.

Not blind trust. Eyes-wide-open trust.

Have you ever known anyone who seemed to think that trust was a sign of weakness, and that putting themselves in a vulnerable position would make them needy? The truth is entirely the opposite.

The decision to trust is a profoundly free act. Far from being a sign of weakness, mature vulnerability can only come from a place of strength.

Only a confident, secure, courageous person can choose to trust.

For those situations when it doesn’t seem reasonable to give trust or where there are areas of concern with other parties involved in your relationship, you can approach the situation with your eyes wide open.

If you find yourself in a situation where giving trust or entering into the relationship is questionable, determine what it is that makes it questionable.

Get to the root and give it a name. Is there is a question of integrity? Are there illegal activities? Does violence or harm concern you? If you can pinpoint the area(s) of question, you will be better able to create the boundaries and plan going forward.

Also determine: what is the good or the safe part of the relationship? Just like you determined what is not safe, do the same for what actually is good. Is the integrity of the individual good? Is he or she fully competent? Does he or she have a good heart and a strong desire to do what is right? Whatever it is, focus on it and draw attention to the good.

Boundaries don’t keep you from playing the game, they allow you to play the game.

Creating boundaries is not easy but sometimes it is critical. Determine the few boundaries that will make the relationship safe and use them for managing the relationship. If you are in a position of authority, your boundaries may look very different from when you are not. If someone is verbally abusive, the boundary might be that you won’t accept the verbal abuse and when they do, you simply walk away. If someone fails to meet deadlines time after time, you may ask them to report on progress of their projects at various milestones along the way.

You will never get closer to someone if you don’t take a step toward him or her. Hoping and wanting doesn’t decrease the distance between you and another person. You must decide (you want high trust) and then do (take a trust step forward).

  1. Determine what is not safe
  2. Determine what is safe
  3. Create clear (but few) boundaries
  4. Take a step toward

In case you think that I can’t identify with the difficulty of boundaries, let me share a story from my personal life. In the post The Big Lie About Trust I promised I would address the crazies in your life. Many years ago we were friends with a couple and there were some areas of concern with the past of one of them. We were close and hoped for a life-long relationship with them. The concerns we had weren’t just questions or speculation – they were well founded and also shared by some of their own family members, several of their close friends and even the court of law had ruled and delivered a permanent restraining order to this individual. Without going into specifics, these areas of concern caused us to not feel comfortable leaving our children alone with them. The information that we had learned and our concerns alone didn’t make them bad people and we actually never thought badly about them individually. We just had discernment that it wouldn’t be wise or safe to allow our kids to be alone with them.

It is possible to love, respect and care for someone AND not allow your kids to be alone. The boundary that we created was that as long as I was there, the kids could be there. If I wasn’t there, it wasn’t OK. We didn’t expect them to do bad things or cause harm, we just weren’t willing to take the risk.

In this environment, we determined the boundaries and then within those boundaries, we could have a full relationship. These boundaries weren’t created to prohibit our relationship, they were actually create so we could have a relationship.

I wish I could report that this relationship is thriving and healthy. The fact is, about six years into our relationship using these boundaries, they felt hurt and angered and didn’t see the boundaries as protective, but rather as damning. They have chosen to not be in relationship with us and in the end, we both lose because of this.

Don’t go blindly into relationships. Don’t close your eyes and walk unaware into situations; but also, don’t cripple yourself with doubt and fear. Walk into a relationship, look both ways and take steps forward with confidence.

Lead Well, Lead Often and LEAD STRONG!

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