What people really mean when they say, “Trust the relationship.”
Love Island is a wild ride of a TV show. Do I recommend it? Not sure! Is it interesting to study from the perspective of dating and connection? Absolutely.
So let me give you some quick context for this post. Love Island is a reality TV show where young, conventionally attractive folks all live in this huge villa (though they all sleep in one bedroom) on an island for a summer and try to find love. The hope is to couple up with someone else on the island, and then at the end of the show, one couple is awarded a cash prize. The show is incredibly gendered, wildly heteronormative, and highly problematic in many ways.
So…why am I writing about it?
Well, it’s two fold. One, I’ve absolutely become a reality TV bitch. (That’s all for reason one! Nothing profound here!) And two, as much as this show is problematic, I think it’s problems aren’t that far removed from how we relate to each other in real life. A show like Love Island is actually a good teacher when you’re able to recognize the mistakes of the folks on the show and learn along side them.
So here’s what happened on this episode. Beloved house “couple” (their official label is half-girlfriend and half-boyfriend…) Curtis and Amy seemed to be going strong until the “boys” and “girls” were temporarily separated and a new group of men were introduced to the women and a new group of women were introduced to the men. This apparently happens every season (UK season 5-this season-is the only one I’ve watched) and the question becomes, will the couples stay intact amidst the new temptations?!?!? Dun dun dunnnnnn *cue suspenseful music*.
Curtis and Amy reunited without a new sweetheart in tow (yay!), but then Curtis sits Amy down to confess that he had wanted to recouple with another person (boo!) but that person rejected him. He then was still going to pursue said other person, but then “something just clicked”: he realized he had been lying to everyone here, lying to himself and lying to Amy. He realized that his relationship with Amy wasn’t perfect and had stuff they need to work on, and he was SO CONFUSED how he could possibly be attracted to A VERY HOT woman who he was meeting when his half-girlfriend wasn’t around.
To which Amy said, “You just put your feelings before my feelings, which is fine. That’s fully within your rights to do.”
Then this happened:
Amy: “So what are these issues that we need to work on?”
Curtis: “The main thing is, and this is going to be the hardest freakin thing now because of what I’ve just done, but-”
Amy: “-trusting in the relationship.”
Curtis: “… yeah.”
“Trusting the relationship”, in this monogamous context, can be translated to mean “trusting I won’t leave you”. Or trusting “my head won’t be turned,” as they say on Love Island.
But here’s the thing.
I don’t believe “trusting in the relationship” is actually possible.
The relationship itself is not something that can be trusted. I find that sentiment vague at best, gaslighting at worst -like it is in this context.
There is zero way to ever guarantee that your partner(s) won’t leave you, that you will stay perfectly content with each other until the end of time, or that one of you won’t die suddenly and be abruptly removed from the relationship.
Plus, do we actually want our partners to feel like they can NEVER leave us? Or that we can never leave them? When folks ask someone to “trust the relationship”, usually there is a deeper desire that isn’t being met. There is something else that might be trickier to ask for. Instead of figuring out that deeper desire and learning to voice that, folks say this vague phrase that potentially leaves people to agree to something that is unclear or unfair.
So let’s look at this situation through a lens of relationships we might have in our lives. What might it mean when a partner asks you to “trust the relationship*”?
(*When gaslighting isn’t involved)
What “trust the relationship” might actually mean: a non-comprehensive list.
They want to know that you will be okay without them.
They want to see you cultivate a really strong sense of autonomy.
They want to know that intimacy does not equal loosing their autonomy.
They want you to trust yourself.
They want you to be more transparent about when you’re experiencing jealousy, and to collaborate on possible solutions.
They want to be able to be friends with folks who are attractive or of the same gender as you.
They want to be able to be friends with folks who are a different gender than you.
They want to have friendships that are flirty.
They want to be able to express their needs, and want you to be open to receiving that information.
They want to be able to grow and expand and keep evolving, and want conversations to be transparent and meaningful.
They want you to trust their deep love and respect for you.
So, what’s the alternative?
Assuming someone really means one of the options listed above, what might we say instead?
“I want you to trust that I will communicate my needs and desires with you when they pop up. I want you to trust that I won’t break the agreements of our relationship, and if I have the desire to, that I’ll come talk to you first. I love being with you and am not interested in other people*. If that changes, you will be the first to know.”
Being indoctrinated with “needing to trust the relationship” forces us to stay in relationships too long. To agree to future plans before we are ready. If someone you’re seeing asks you to “trust the relationship” I encourage you to ask, “what does that mean to you?,” and take the conversation from there.
In the meantime, focus on trusting yourself first. Focus on trusting that you will maintain an open channel of communication between your body, your heart and your mind, and that if there is someone else in the picture who’s heart is part of the things you tend to in this world, that you’ll give them access to the information that affects them as soon as possible.
So, let’s try that instead, yeah? Let’s be specific in our requests and transparent with our needs, so we can make our dating and relating work in a way that is truly aligned for us.