Trust and betrayal: What makes love last?

Oct 5, 2012, 3:22 PM | Updated: Oct 9, 2012, 12:17 pm

Dr. John Gottman has found that there are two key ingredients in the success or failure of any relationship: trust and betrayal.

Bill Radke wanted to get deeper into these topics with psychologist Dr. John Gottman, author of “What Makes Love Last?” about what separates healthy relationships from struggling ones.

Dr. Gottman, co-founder of Seattle’s Gottman Relationship Institute, has spent 40 years studying the way couples interact. He says his basic method is to bring them into his Love Lab to observe them for 24 hours just doing what they normally do. Dr. Gottman follows up with these couples, studying some relationships for as long as 20 years.

He and his wife, Dr. Julie Gottman, use this basic research to understand and prevent marital discord and try to turn around unhealthy relationships.

“We really focus on, not only helping the general public, but also training therapists and also doing the research that shows that what we claim is really credible,” says Gottman.

Based on this research, Gottman has found that there are two key ingredients in the success or failure of any relationship: trust and betrayal.

“There are lots of ways to betray somebody,” says Gottman, “For example, just lying is a betrayal. Not being transparent – being hidden – is a way of betraying.”

When most people hear the word betrayal in a relationship context, they think of a partner who has an affair, but Gottman says betrayal is much simpler than that. One of the most common forms of betrayal Gottman sees in relationships is when one partner forms a coalition with another family member against their partner.

One of the most deadly betrayals, however, is when a partner is constantly thinking that they can do better than their current situation. It prevents couples from working on making their partnership better.

“For example, when you start thinking, ‘I can do better than my partner,’ rather than cherishing what you have, resenting what you don’t have – that’s the seed of betrayal and predicts affairs,” says Gottman.

Individuals who think, ‘How can I do better than my partner?’ are betraying the relationship because they aren’t really committed. To be loyal to your partner, it’s important to think about the positives – even when you might not want to.

“Going through life looking at the negative, rather than really being grateful for what we have – and that nurturing of gratefulness is the secret of loyalty in a relationship,” says Gottman.

According to Gottman, it’s important to get in the habit of being appreciative and thinking about the positive aspects of your relationships. Many couples have different ways to do this.

Gottman, who is Jewish, says he sings a proverb to his wife every single Friday. It’s a traditional Hebrew hymn written to appreciate the good things about the partnership that they have.

When he sings to his wife, he says, he always appreciates her positives and what she adds to his life, rather than focusing on resentment for what’s missing or what makes him angry about their latest argument.

“It’s hard for me to get through it without getting choked up because I’m really telling my wife, ‘You know, you’re really amazing. And because of you I really feel honored among men,'” says Gottman. “‘I feel proud of the fact that I have this wonderful family and if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have this great daughter, you know, you’re an amazing mother. You’re a giving, charitable person, you’re a wonderful friend.’ And as I think about that I feel tremendously blessed by my wife.”


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Trust and betrayal: What makes love last?