Did you enjoy Toni Morrison’s no-nonsense advice about love in on this post? Did you come away feeling ready to make some changes in your own life but uncertain how to begin? Read on!

Today, we extend our discussion of self-judgment into the realm of relationships, examining its connections to vulnerability and trust.

As Toni Morrison implied, those who seek happy, healthy romantic relationships must first love themselves, and take a good, hard look at their dreams. Here’s why:

The stories lovingly read aloud to us as children often have an unintended side-effect: in combination with other culturally-transmitted fairytales, storybooks confound our expectations of reality, and warp our personal narratives.

This might seem like a cute problem. It isn’t. An inability to see ourselves or our partners clearly, or to picture the reality of a healthy or unhealthy relationship, poses a very real threat to our personal lives.

As fairytale logic deprives us of agency and individuality, it leaves us suspended in a state of anticipation, in which our only job is to construct elaborate fantasies of romantic resolution, redemption, and bliss. This bliss, of course, arrives as soon as our fundamentally inadequate selves finally come into contact with another who judges us worthy and completes us.

As long as we see ourselves in this way – in need of universal and unconditional approval by others, in need of perfection, in need of “another half” – our relationships with ourselves and with others will suffer.

Luckily, our awareness of this phenomenon gives us the power to avoid it!

Understanding that neither happiness nor strong relationships are built through seeking others’ approval, we can make a different choice.

We can make a commitment to belong to ourselves first. We can take back agency, and follow our own dreams. We can commit to treating ourselves with compassion and acceptance despite human imperfections. After all, we are consistency-loving creatures, and the way we see ourselves roughly translates into the way we perceive others and their judgments! We can even get to know ourselves, so that we can answer the questions in the Love Maps exercise!

Having done this, we can trust ourselves to do the same for others. We can commit to treating our partners with compassion, learning about their vulnerabilities, their values, and their dreams, building strong Relationship Houses, and enjoying the consequences of acting with purpose and integrity.

By making these choices, confronting these misconceptions, and getting to know ourselves and each other more deeply, we grow better equipped to build strong, healthy bonds. As Dr. Gottman explains, the presence or absence of trust in your relationships may have a greater literal impact on your life than you ever imagined:

For everybody, a stable, trusting relationship is linked to relatively high survival rates from cardiovascular disease, cancer, surgery, and other illnesses. Love increases the odds of living a long life and having good health… [High trust] partners benefit each other by ‘co-regulating’ their physiologies. Put simply, they calm each other when they are unable to calm themselves.

Their willingness to share vulnerabilities with each other strengthens the couple’s bond and actually enhances their physical health. Pretty ideal, huh? (On the other hand, couples in low trust-relationships have higher death rates!) For more fascinating tidbits and an extensive discussion of the research and its applications, check out Dr. Gottman’s recent release, What Makes Love Last?

You can find a hands-on application of these ideas in our next post, Learn to Trust Yourself.

By: Ellie Lisitsa

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

We'll deliver the blog to you
Get our tips straight to your inbox, and master your relationships.
We never spam!