What are the keys for building trust, at any stage in your relationship? What can you do to amplify the things that are going right in your relationship? What has research revealed about the secrets that make love last? And what can new parents do to ensure that their relationship stays strong even as it changes with the new addition to the family? On today’s episode, we’re going to hear from one of the world’s foremost experts on how to build a successful relationship - Dr. John Gottman. In his second visit to the Relationship Alive podcast (see Episode 1 for his first visit), John Gottman offers answers to these questions and more expert wisdom on how to take your relationship skills to the next level.
Trust is the core issue for new relationships. People new to their relationships are constantly wondering: Do you have my back? Can I trust you? Will you be there for me? The majority of arguments and conflicts are, at their core, about trust. Trust is absolutely essential to build safety in a relationship (new or old). Trust stems from the ability to think about your partner’s welfare as well as your own, and to work towards maximizing both simultaneously. It is only from this knowing that you are being cared for as much as you are caring for, and being loved and appreciated as much as your are loving and appreciating, that you can withstand the risks, doubts, and conflicts that inevitably arise in partnerships.
Build your trust metric: Trust is something to care take and to cultivate. It is an aspect of the relationship that needs continual attention. One important way to build trust naturally is to listen to your partner’s negative emotions. Really hear them when they are sad, angry, disappointed, etc. Listen with curiosity and openness and respond from this place, rather than from defensiveness or a desire to dismiss. Continual attunement means that at any point you are able to switch and see things through your partner’s perspective with empathy and compassion. Continual attunement not only builds trust, but it nearly immediately de-escalates the you/me tension that leads to criticism, contempt, conflict and disconnection. In fact, with adequate connection and empathy, conflict can be constructive in leading to creative problem solving.
Have each other’s best interest in mind. Adopt the motto “Baby when you are in pain, the world stops, and I listen”. Let your partner know that you are going to be there, even when they are upset with you. Turn the screens off and make time to listen and be with your partner with your whole heart and attention.
Good relationships require trust and commitment. Commitment is absolutely necessary for building safety in a relationship. Commitment is different than trust- commitment is about really saying “you are my journey, I have chosen you and I cherish what I have with you”. Couples that do not build this kind of investment in their relationship, or who make negative comparisons to other relationships, end up betraying the relationship. In fact, this alone is a predictor of infidelity. Check in with yourself frequently and ask yourself if you are thinking that the grass might be greener with someone else, or if you are starting to meet needs outside of the relationship through others. Remember- commitment is about loving THIS person- all the good and the bad.
Choose gratitude instead of resentment. Given that negative comparisons to others begins the cascade to betrayal, be sure to return often to gratitude for all you share, experience, and love about your partner and your relationship. Resentments and conflict are inevitable, however do not let this set the tone of your love. Look for the unique aspects of your partner that you can cherish. During times when you are having a harder time accessing this love, try to be honest. Avoiding conflict and avoiding self-disclosure threatens commitment and leads to infidelity.
Nurture and cherish! Gottman poses that “commitment is about going the extra mile- it means that even when your partner isn’t with you, they are with you in your mind, and that you are really thinking positive things about your partner’s character and the relationship”.
Invest in the relationship: Make sure that the time you spend with your partner involves 100% of your heart. Be ready and willing to invest and sacrifice for your partner. Dare to care more about their well-being than your own (over time these become one and the same).
Happy and strong couples tend to: Say I love you and mean it! Kiss passionately! Cuddle! Give romantic gifts! Show affection in public! Have a weekly date! Prioritize sex! Stay friends! Make time for each other! In conclusion- they engage in behaviors that foster oxytocin which increases pair bonding, and builds a deep sense of safety.
You can be great friends and great lovers: The essential elements are simple- keep touching each other and keep connecting emotionally. Learn together, play together, go on adventures together- don’t stop doing those things that you loved doing when you first met.
Don’t underestimate cuddling and kissing! Gottman shares that “kissing is the royal road to great sex”. Kiss each other for no reason, cuddle, be affectionate, say I love you… Bring your sexual connection alive by remembering that we are always on a continuum of exchanging sexual energy. Find opportunities for connection and affection throughout the day- while making coffee, brushing your teeth, etc. Basically, everything positive you do in your relationship is foreplay! Imagine that!
“The greatest gift you can give your baby is a loving relationship” Don’t let having a baby be a disaster for your relationship! Continue to invest in each other. Use babysitters and family, or trade time with another couple for child care. Get away for overnights. Take long drives. Check in with each other and commit to your connection. Stay friends throughout the difficulty because your relationship is the cradle in which your child will develop- so you want to make sure it is as healthy as possible.
Make meaning: We humans are meaning makers and storytellers. To thrive in your relationship and to feel that juicy sense of endless connection it is important to create mutual meaning. Ask each other ‘what is our story?, ‘what do we do together that creates meaning in our life?’. While these can feel like existential questions, they are also very concrete. Perhaps lighting candles at dinner feels good, or a shared morning walk, or an adventure now and then… Be intentional with your findings, knowing well that what gives meaning will inevitably change throughout your life together.
Learn more about Gottman’s work and find extensive resources on his website
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