There’s a reason why most fairy tales and romantic comedies end with a first kiss, a proposal, or even a wedding. Falling in love is easy. It’s staying in love that can be the challenge. With that said, you can build long-term happiness and stability in your relationship with the proper tools.
So, how can you keep your romance going strong, long after the credits roll?
In his most recent book, What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal, Dr. John Gottman says it’s possible to predict whether a relationship will succeed or end in the heartbreak of infidelity. But it’s not all doom and gloom: with the right tools, he says, you can make sure your fairy tale is one of the happily ever afters.
Once the hormonally driven “falling in love” phase is over and couples move into the next phase of settling down, the big question becomes, “Can I trust you?”
At this point, Gottman explains, you are likely to start wondering:
- “Do I come first?”
- “Am I more important than your friends?”
- “Am I more important than your mother?”
- “Can I trust you to really work for our family, to be faithful to me, to keep finding me attractive?”
As these questions come up, you begin to either build loyalty in your relationship, or what he calls a “Metric of Betrayal.”
“You have to feel that your partner has your best interests at heart,” Gottman says. And your partner has to feel that way about you.
“Even before there’s any actual betrayal,” he explains, “you start acting in a way that creates betrayal.” Those actions, he says, involve comparing what you’re getting to what you think you could get. “If you get into a habit where you start thinking you could do better, where you can imagine a better partner,” says Gottman, “those negative comparisons lead you to nurture resentment about what is not there.” The seeds are then planted for eventual discord, distrust, and betrayal.
Alternatively, he says, you can act in a way that creates loyalty. “Loyalty is about nurturing gratitude for what you have,” says Gottman. The key, he says, is cherishing your partner, “which involves both people making a conscious decision to minimize their partner’s negative qualities and maximize the positive qualities. Masters of relationships have a way of scanning their environment to catch their partner doing something right.” If you want to create trust, you must start with the basic building blocks, and you must build bridges.
How can you work on building loyalty and trust in your own relationship? Dr. Gottman offers these tips:
1. It’s the “very small moments” that are important. Find little moments throughout the day to think about what it is you love, respect, and honor about your mate. Devote some effort to nurturing that way of thinking.
2. Share those feelings with your partner! Take the opportunity to show your partner affection, and take advantage of sliding door moments. “Let them know how great they look this morning,” says Gottman. Express how much you appreciate the effort they put into running an errand for you, or something you love about them. “Cherishing becomes a ritual of connection in your relationship.”
3. If you have doubts or concerns, bring them up! “Don’t avoid dealing with feeling lonely, or like you’re not as attractive to them as you used to be,” says Gottman. Talk about it so you can resolve the issues.
4. Reframe. If you have a complaint about your partner, pause for a moment to think about where they might be coming from. If, say, they can get a little controlling, maybe it will help you to remember that they’re also very supportive and protective of you. If it’s a constant issue, then it’s something you need to talk about with them — maybe they don’t know they’re doing it.
Of course, sometimes they’re just not the right partner for you. “You can’t build trust with just anybody,” says Gottman. “When you bring up an issue with your mate, they should be open to working on it, which, in turns, helps build even more trust. It’s a real active process, it’s a mental and emotional process, where you are both thinking how lucky you are to have each other.”
Note: Here’s something for our clinicians, and those of you who’d like to get your hands on the science behind these tips!