Love may be the greatest force for good in the world. But trust makes the world go round.

In fact, without trust, love would be little more than an afterthought. We wouldn’t have the emotional bandwidth to concern ourselves with such a luxury. Our first order of business is to survive. We don’t want to be hurt or humiliated. Opening ourselves up to love, i.e. to the possibility of crushing disappointment and defeat, among other things, requires a visceral feeling of safety. Otherwise, we will protect ourselves. We will muscle up. To the extent possible, we will become invulnerable. Even if we stay in the relationship, without trust, we will not truly love. Indeed, we cannot. The risk is too high. The consequences are too great. In a relationship of low trust, our brain warns us to sell, not buy. Once our brain’s defense mechanism of freeze, flee or fight is activated, until we can be made to feel safe again, our ability to love is compromised.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, trust in a romantic relationship requires that both we and our partner answer affirmatively the following questions:

Will you honor me, even when I’m not present?

Will you be loyal to me, even when you’re tempted not to be?

Will you speak kindly of me, even if I will never be made aware of what you say?

Will you tell the truth about me in the best light possible?

Will you protect our secrets? Indeed, will you protect my secrets?

Will you hold sacred the things that are sacred?

To answer any one of the above questions negatively erodes trust and jeopardizes not just the relationship’s longevity, but its ability to fulfill us in any meaningful way.

When considering a potential partner, therefore, you should concern yourself first not with whether or not you could love this person, but with whether or not you could trust him or her. Otherwise, you will have put the cart before the horse. The consequences of which can be devastating.

If you’re already in a committed relationship, don’t begin resolving conflict by assessing just how much you love each other, if at all. Consider first just how much you can trust each other. If there’s no trust, then there’s no foundation upon which love can survive, much less thrive.

Of course, the challenge of determining whether or not someone is trustworthy is exacerbated by the fact that people have become really good at lying. In fact, we’re taught from a very young age to develop the skill of deception. To find evidence of our ability to mislead people—to include ourselves—just spend a little bit of time on social media. It’s a smorgasbord of half-truths and outright lies.

The only way to combat our as well as others’ deceitful heart is to tell the truth, or at least don’t lie. Not only will this instill in us the value of honesty so that dishonest people become less attractive to us (which makes us less likely to be blinded by love), but it will also help us to better detect when someone is attempting to deceive us because we’re doing the hard work of identifying when we are attempting to deceive ourselves or others.

To be sure, love can be a dangerous game. And although we all play it, few of us understand the rules well enough to be able to win at it. But if we at least understand that trust precedes love, we won’t be fooled into believing love could ever be enough.

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