Building Bridges

As many of us know all too well (having learned the hard way!) trust begins and ends with emotional communication.  Though we may wish this wasn’t so, no corner of our world is free from this rule. We are governed by it in our relationships just as our bodies are governed by the laws of gravity. Dr. Gottman’s studies cannot magic-away all of physics – he freely admits to this. Comparing broken trust in a relationship to a shattered mirror, he says: “You can glue it back together, but it will never be the same again.”

Nonetheless, his many years of research on our endlessly complicated human relationships fill him with hope. He offers it to us, bestowing tools upon those of us who dream of protecting trust. Though we’ve all been shattered by its fragility, we are not forever doomed to stand amid shards of glass. Dr. Gottman’s research-based insights into the complex world of relationships offer us real tools, ones we can apply to our own relationships easily and effectively. His studies have shown that a little bit every day goes a long way. If both partners build habits of turning towards each other in simple everyday moments, they build bridges wrought of affection, fondness, and admiration for each other: these are the bridges of trust.

Think of the exercise below as a list of ideas, of building blocks, and remember – they are not set in stone. Every relationship is different. Whether you’d like to build bridges, carve intricate tunnels, or sail messages in bottles towards each other, the connections you create will bring the two of you closer together. Practice affection, and trust will naturally follow.

Things to Do for Your Spouse:

  • Fix coffee, a snack, or a meal for your partner.
  • Wait on your partner when he or she is ill.
  • Compliment your partner, say thank you, praise his or her efforts around the house.
  • Listen. Listen. Listen.
  • Buy a silly gift. Buy something inexpensive. Make it an inside joke.
  • Do something kind for your partner’s friends or family.
  • Run errands for your partner.
  • Call or send an email during the workday. Ask how it’s going.
  • Put a loving note into your partner’s lunch or briefcase.
  • Draw a funny picture or write a sweet note. Hide it in your partner’s coat pocket.

Things to Do Together:

  • Hug.
  • Kiss.
  • Hold hands.
  • Cuddle.
  • Have a snowball fight.
  • Reminisce.
  • Take a class together.
  • Volunteer together.
  • Talk over drinks, or coffee, or tea.
  • Build a fire in the fireplace. Read. Talk.
  • Philosophize.
  • Wash the dishes: you wash, they dry.
  • Go camping.
  • Create artwork together.
  • Help to take care of aging relatives.
  • Take a shower or a bath together.
  • Fold laundry.
  • Take a spontaneous trip to somewhere beautiful.
  • Plan your future. Dream.

This activity is one we found in the pages of Dr. Gottman’s The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening our Marriage, Family, and Friendships. To learn more about bids, emotional connection, and the many other building blocks of trust, be sure to check it out! Next week, look forward to learning some of Dr. Gottman’s skills for building intimacy! In the weeks anticipating the release of his new book, we will continue to discuss his previous research on trust, and to share with you some fascinating previews of what is yet to come! For now, we wish you a beautiful weekend.

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.