If you’ve ever watched the popular show THE OFFICE, which was introduced to me a few years ago via a DVD box-set gift from my parents-in-law, you might remember a particularly funny episode when Dwight tells a co-worker that he buys his clothes ‘by the pound’.
Now Dwight, who is of Amish heritage in the series, makes it no secret that he grew up on a farm and that he was raised with some of the same practical, minimally materialistic, no-frills ways of his ancestors: thus, clothes by the pound.
Just give me the right materials, says Dwight, crafted into some solid, quality clothes, and I’ll buy them by the pound with no need for further details other than fit.
So, what’s all this got to do with trust?
TRUST BY THE POUND
The other day, as happens on most days in my life, I was talking with someone about their relationship, and, more specifically, about how one might go about choosing a good spouse to build a life with; in other words, what to look for by the pound.
I remember telling this person that I myself would look for ‘trust by the pound’.
Another way of saying this is that I wouldn’t necessarily look for the usual niceties and ideal behaviors we’ve come to expect and to even thrive on early in our relationships. (Remember the ‘idealization phase’ that I talk about in my marriage book?)
No, you can keep your gifts, your sweet tone with me, your doing little things for me, etc., although these things are nice; because I also know that they are often fleeting, temporary, and only available during the initial, idealization phase of a relationship. Furthermore, I know that these things often have very little to do with who the other person actually is in the long run.
You know how it goes: We are on our very best behaviors and we are also willing to overlook many things (many things!) when we are ‘in love’ or when we think we’ve found our ‘soul mate’.
For me, when I say, ‘trust by the pound’, I’m thinking about how I want my children to choose someone when it comes time; I’m thinking about core characteristics of a person’s character and personality.
I’m looking for the heavy stuff, not the window dressing.
I’m looking at whether the person is a cup which can hold water, or more of a chronically ‘leaky’ cup.
Do they know (or want to learn) how to live a good life, connected to others and to their work in the world?
Are they willing to question themselves and to grow?
Are they consistently empathetic in their behaviors towards others in terms of seeking to truly understand, listen, and learn? Do they display compassion? And not just in the beginning and not just when they stand to gain something immediately in return.
Do they seem engaged in their lives; in their relationships and in their work and other activities?
When they say, “I love you”, do they have or are they trying to grow the Emotional Competence to back these words up.
Can they commit, and do they really understand commitment?
WHAT ‘TRUST BY THE POUND’ DOESN’T MEAN
Looking for trust by the pound doesn’t mean looking for perfection.
None of us are perfect, and we’ve all made our mistakes and have hopefully learned from them.
It also doesn’t mean initial great behavior or attitudes which fade when the person’s true colors eventually become clear.
Let me observe someone for a day or two and I can generally tell you how much trust you can safely have in them without getting severely hurt or ending up feeling completely betrayed when they ‘change’.
I’ll be looking for how they conduct themselves with the wait staff at a restaurant.
I’ll be looking for how closely they follow through on what they tell people they are going to do.
I’ll be looking for how honest they seem to be with themselves and how at peace they appear to be in their own skin.
I’ll also, and perhaps most importantly, be looking for their willingness to learn and to grow as a person.
WILLINGNESS TO LEARN
If there’s one thing my work has taught me over the years it’s that I have great admiration and affection (I just can’t help it!) for the people I’ve met who are willing to learn about and humble themselves even when what they are seeing or feeling about themselves isn’t to their liking.
These are the people who, in the long run, can carry the most ‘trust by the pound’ from us.
All the best,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, DON’T GET MARRIED (UNLESS YOU UNDERSTAND A FEW THINGS FIRST)
(Please don’t forget to tune in to WNYT NEWSChannel13 this coming Saturday morning at 8am when I’ll be talking to Dan Bazile about what goes into making a healthy marriage. Then, if you’re in the Clifton Park, N.Y. area, please stop by Borders Books where I’ll be doing a book signing and hanging out a bit from 1pm-3pm. See you there!)