Many couples (whether they are dating or in a committed relationship) spend so much time and energy whirling around in circles. They’re trying to understand each other, guessing if the other truly cares, wondering if they are committed… mostly just trying to figure out if they can trust each other. Part of the game is due to not knowing what trust looks like. We often think it is a feeling. A person may say, “I know I should trust my wife, but I just don’t feel like I can. I don’t know why.” When couples learn that trust is tangible (something they can build), it can bring new hope to a relationship.
John Gottman is a relationship expert who has studied the interactions of thousands of couples in his “Love Lab.” In one of his latest books, “What Makes Love Last,” Gottman describes trust as a state of being where we are willing to change our behavior for the benefit of another. Trust develops when we experience pleasure in our partner’s successes, and when we can empathize with them when they are emotionally upset.
The ultimate payoff in a relationship is that the relationship lasts. In order to achieve results that benefit the relationship, we sometimes have to let go of our own search for a payoff. Gottman uses a simple example of house cleaning to illustrate a point: if each partner thinks the other should do all the cleaning, the payoff for the relationship is not as beneficial as it would be if they were sharing the work. The ultimate goal is not the house being cleaned, but how it can be done in such a way that lessens the stress on the relationship and leaves both feeling they can count on each other to make adjustments that enhance their relationship. Most importantly, it may answer a fundamental question couples have; “Are we in this together?”
He also notes the difference between trust and trustworthiness. Trustworthiness involves what Gottman calls “creating the sacred.” Creating the scared involves putting the relationship before individual dreams and goals. Couples who have learned to protect the sacred know that “when the chips are down” they can count on each other to put their relationship and their family first.
In addition to working together for the relationship and the benefit of being able to count on one other, Gottman also stresses the importance of emotional attunement in building a trusting relationship. Emotional attunement involves first an understanding that all emotions are valid. We learn an emotional language in childhood. Sometimes this involves not addressing emotions or even the idea that emotions are bad.
Understanding that experiencing emotion is part of a relationship, part of our existence, and that it is ok, is the first step to emotional attunement. Once we learn this we can learn to turn towards our partner by showing interest and listening when our partner is upset without judgment or blaming. Couples can help each partner identify their emotions, open up about their feelings by showing compassion and empathy. They can learn to validate each other by being an “ally” verses a “problem solver.”
Couples can end the games that often play out in a relationship by learning how to come together, creating the sacred, and by learning how to turn towards each other during emotional pain. A foundation of trust can be built that will open the door and opportunity for deeper connection and greater likelihood that their love will last. If you would like to learn how to build trust in your relationship, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services located in Metrowest Orlando at 407-443-8862. Several counselors in our office are trained in Gottman therapy.