After studying more than 3,000 couples in his Love Lab over the last four decades, Dr. John Gottman has discovered that the most important issue in marriage is trust.
Can I trust you to be there for me when I’m upset?
Can I trust you to choose me over your friends?
Can I trust you to respect me?
Couples that trust each other understand that a good marriage doesn’t just happen on its own. It needs to be cultivated. These couples express appreciation for each other. They brag about each other’s talents and achievements. They say, “I love you” every day.
Even in the heat of conflict, they consider their partner’s perspective. They can empathize with each other, even when they don’t agree, and they’re there for each other during stressful times.
They understand that the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. Instead, they know that the grass is greener where you water it.
Trust is built in very small moments. In any interaction with your partner, you can connect or turn away. One single interaction may not be significant, but if you’re consistently choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship—very gradually and very slowly.
When this happens, your relationship story becomes negative. You begin to focus on your partner’s flaws, and you forget about their traits that you admire and value. Eventually, you start to compare your partner to someone else, real or imagined, and you think, “I can do better.” Researcher Caryl Rusbult refers to this as making “negative comparisons.” And when that happens, you begin a cascade of not committing to the relationship, of trashing your partner instead of cherishing them, and building resentment rather than gratitude.
Building trust requires intentional effort. Here are five ways to invest in your relationship.
Turn Towards Bids for Connection
Bids are the building blocks of lasting love. In one study of newlywed couples in Dr. Gottman’s lab, couples that stayed together turned towards each other 86% of the time, whereas couples that eventually divorced only did it 33% of the time. That’s a huge difference.
When bids fail, try to repair the hurt or negativity. Remember that repair attempts are the secret weapon of emotionally intelligent couples.
Flip Your Internal Script
Negative thoughts cause you to miss 50% of your partner’s bids. This makes it difficult to build trust. Make an intentional effort to replace negative thoughts of your partner with compassion and empathy. Learn to separate specific relationship problems from the overall view of your partner.
The best way to keep yourself from making “negative comparisons” is to actively cherish your partner. Get in the habit of thinking positive thoughts about each other – why you appreciate them, why you admire them, why you love spending time with them – and tell them!
Learn to Fight Smarter
Happy couples complain without blame by talking about their feelings and what they need, rather than criticizing and voicing what they don’t need.
Create We Time
It’s easy to find excuses for not dedicating time for your relationship – you’re too busy with work, you’re always with the kids, you need to spend time with your friends. And on, and on.
But here’s the thing: your relationship is the best investment you’ll ever make. So, make the time go on dates, stay curious about one another, and continue to create rituals of connection that allow you to bond emotionally.
We tend to forget that a happy and fulfilling relationship doesn’t come from getting something we don’t have, but rather from recognizing and appreciating what we do have. Choose each other, day after day.