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 relationship 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 the other’s perspective. They are able to empathize with each other, even when they don’t agree, and they are there for each other during times of illness or stress.
They understand that the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. As Neil Barringham says, “The grass is greener where you water it.”
Trust is built in very small moments. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner.
One single moment is not that important, but if you’re consistently choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship—very gradually and very slowly.
When this happens, the story of your relationship begins to turn negative. You begin to focus on your partner’s flaws. You forget about their traits you admire and value.
Eventually you start making what researcher Caryl Rusbult calls “negative comparisons.” You start to compare your spouse to someone else, real or imagined, and you think, “I can do better.”
Once you start thinking that you can do better, then you begin a cascade of not committing to the relationship, of trashing your partner instead of cherishing them, and building resentment rather than gratitude.
Behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains this phenomenon in dating.
Building trust and commitment requires an intentional effort. Here are fives 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 big difference.
When bids fail, as they inevitably do in all relationships, seek to repair. 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, according to research by Robinson and Price. This makes it difficult to build trust.
Learn to separate specific relationship problems from the overall view of your partner. Make an intentional effort to replace negative thoughts with compassion and empathy.
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 rather than thoughts about someone else.
Think about the things you appreciate about your partner and tell them. Thanks for being so adventurous with me. You’re such an amazing cook. You’re such a great dad.
Learn to Fight Better
Happy couples complain without blame by talking about what they feel and what they need, not what they don’t need. They are gentle and they give their partner a recipe to be successful with them.
Schedule a weekly State of the Union meeting to discuss areas of concern in your relationship.
Create We Time
It’s easy to find excuses for not dedicating time for your relationship. We’re too busy. We work a lot. We’re always with the kids.
Find time go on dates, ask each other open-ended questions, and continue to create rituals of connection that allow you to connect emotionally. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.
We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. Choose each other, day after day.
This article was originally published on The Gottman Relationship Blog