Recently, I had a major episode of broken trust that I want to share with you… and offer some lessons from. I was traveling in Bali, because Michelle was going to see old friends in western Massachusetts, so I took off for warmer, tropical climes, which are not really Michelle’s cup of tea. So this trust-breaking happened with my traveling companion. I’ll call her G.
G. is usually incredibly helpful. In fact, that’s her whole raison d’etre, as the French say (that means “reason for being.”) Usually, all I do is tell her where I want to go, and she instructs me, step by step, on how to get there. Sounds like a great relationship, right? You might have guessed by now that G. stands for Google Navigation – so perhaps you can imagine where this story goes…
First, I made the foolhardy move of renting a car in Bali. Most travelers here hire a car and driver, which doesn’t cost much, but I’m an independent sort, and the idea of exploring the island for days with a driver in tow – or, a driver towing me around – just didn’t appeal. So instead, I chose to brave the perilously narrow roads, the swarms of helmetless motorbikers and the crazy traffic, all while driving on the “wrong” side of the road… on my own, trusting G. to help.
And for the first couple of hours, it went swimmingly. I was so grateful! G. navigated me right through the crazy traffic in Ubud and through a tricky series of roads all the way to what’s considered a highway in Bali, and then to the first major tourist stop on my route, a town called Candidasa. I considered spending the night there, but the town I wanted to get to, Amed, was only an hour further, so even though it was getting dark, I decided to press on. After all, I had G. with me, and she didn’t seem the least bit worried.
But it was after Candidasa that things got weird. “Turn left,” G. told me. “Really? Here?” I questioned aloud. She was telling me to turn off the highway and onto a very small road. But I did as she said – and soon hit a dead end. The street had a caution barrier erected, which meant it must be really dangerous (since half the roads I had already taken would have been considered undriveable in the U.S.)
So I turned around. It’s okay, anyone can make a mistake, right? G. recovered quickly. “Faster route available!” she told me excitedly. So again, I did as she said. And then, after a little over an hour of extremely challenging driving, on roads so narrow there was literally no place to pull over, in traffic so heavy and erratic my legs were shaking… I found myself right back in Candidasa again.
To be honest, it wasn’t entirely G.’s fault. There’d been a number of times when she’d told me to turn, when I didn’t turn. I second-guessed her (perhaps with good reason) and she just kept on trying. We’d engaged in a folie a deux. (Why is it that the French have such great phrases? That means “madness of two,” the particular kind of folly you only get into with someone else.) By this time I was incredibly grateful to see Candidasa, because I knew I’d be able to find a place to spend the night. But G. seemed pretty triggered as I turned into the parking lot of a hotel. “Turn left!” she commanded. “Turn right!” “Go east!” “Go north!”
I know we talk about how important it is to develop the ability to handle your emotions without blowing up or shutting down, but I have to admit, that night with G., I did both. “I don’t trust you any more, lady,” I told her curtly. Then I turned off my phone.
You’d think I would have learned my lesson, but the next morning, after a good night’s rest, G. and I set out again. I wasn’t sure how to talk with her about the night before, so I did exactly what we advise people not to do: I pretended it hadn’t happened, and hoped everything would just work out.
This time I’d had a hotel employee glance at the route G. had prepared for me, and she thought it looked right (mind you, it was only a glance.) So when G. told me to turn left, I did.
I knew the road to Amed was going to take me through mountains, so at first I wasn’t alarmed when I started climbing. After awhile, though, as it got steeper and steeper, I realized this couldn’t possibly be the main road to Amed. (“There is only one road,” the hotel clerk had insisted firmly. “But G. tells me there are so many! How can I know which one is right?” I had protested.)
The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. I pushed my poor little rental car up roads so steep and skinny that in the U.S. they would only be traveled by mountain goats. Every now and then I caught a glimpse of the view, but there was no safe place to stop and enjoy it. I felt elated by getting to see “the real Bali,” and frustrated by not getting to actually see it at the same time.
G. was silent. She’s not much for scenery.
I climbed and climbed. Some of the time, it was so steep I could only use first gear. Finally, at long last, I reached a tiny Balinese convenience store perched on the side of the road, with just enough room (barely) to stop. I bought a bottle of cold water, admired the proprietor’s rooster, waved at her little boy, and tried to ask her the name of her town, but she couldn’t understand me.
A couple of young German tourists came roaring up on a motorbike and stopped to take a picture. “Do you know where this road goes?” I asked them, trying to keep the shaking out of my voice. “No, do you?” “No.” “Well, have fun!” they said cheerfully, and zoomed off. It was then that French no longer sufficed and my brain reverted to English cliches, like “I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.” “I’ve gotten in over my head.”
But I had no choice but to keep going. Any minute now, I thought, I’ll reach the crest of the mountain, and then the driving will get easier. I didn’t. It didn’t. Finally, after a unbelievably long, gorgeous and utterly terrifying drive, the road flattened out and a real town appeared. I pulled over as soon as I could and got out, shaking.
A young Balinese woman approached me. “Do you need some help?” she asked in perfect, British-accented English. Then she invited me into her home, offered me coffee, and gently gave me the bad news: having driven for 75 minutes toward a destination that G. had said would be an hour away, I now had about 2 1/2 hours further to go. (Of course, if I’d taken the “one road” the hotel clerk had mentioned, it would have been much shorter.)
Clearly, G. and I had some SCOREing to do! (For those who aren’t familiar with it, SCORE is the Conscious Girlfriend process for dismantling your triggers and healing your conflicts.)
So here’s the conversation I imagine G. and I would have had, if we could have, after we had reached our seaside destination and gotten untriggered and relaxed. (I snorkeled and saw beautiful schools of fish in all shades of yellow, blue and orange. G. just went inward for awhile and contemplated her circuits.)
And then, when we were ready to talk like Conscious Girlfriends, here’s what happened.
Me: G., I need to tell you that I have this really scared feeling in my chest when I think about listening to your directions again. That was an incredibly stressful drive.
G.: I understand. I have a really sick feeling in my techno-stomach when I think about it, myself. I get so much of my sense of self-worth from being right, and being helpful, and I know that I was neither. I feel really badly, and I’m also really scared that you’ll leave me.
Me: Well, I really appreciate you acknowledging that you weren’t right or helpful. It helps me to hear that.
G.: Yeah, I’m so good at giving directions so much of the time, but the truth is, I’m way out of my element in rural Bali. It’s beyond my capacity. I thought I could do it, but I was wrong. I’m sorry.
Me: Thank you for saying that. And you know, I need to take some responsibility here, because of course, deep down I knew that Google navigation might not work well in rural Bali. I guess I just wanted it to work so much that I ignored all the red flags. That’s not your fault.
G: I really appreciate you acknowledging that, too. (Taking a deep techno-breath.) It makes me feel less alone. I’m so glad we could have this talk.
Then we held each other for awhile…and the sense of love and trust came back.
OK, I’m making this funny, but the truth is, situations like this happen all the time between partners. Google Navigation was out of her element here and got confused and triggered, and that happens to people, too. I could easily fall into a story in which G. betrayed me and was completely untrustworthy. I could break up with her, blame her, and never use her directions again. But if I did that, I’d be missing out on all the times our relationship really does work well. So, doesn’t it make more sense to acknowledge my shared responsibility for our “folie a deux,” creating a climate in which she can do the same, and then proceed forward with greater self-awareness instead? Most of the time, when breaches of trust happen between people, both have good intentions – but they’re traversing terrain they don’t know how to navigate skillfully. Relationships are full of that kind of terrain, and just like rural Bali, they’re not well-mapped.
So, to get out of the victim-villain story, we’ve got to acknowledge our own and each other’s human (or technological) limitations – and that’s when the healing can start.
I hope you find this little story amusing and/or helpful! And we’ve got great news – our first self-paced 6-week online course for couples, The Couples Communication Toolkit – is ready! (But if you need more intensive help, you can always check out our coaching.)