What Makes Love Last

We sat down with Dr. John Gottman and talked about trust, emotional attunement, as well as his book. What Makes Love Last?. For all intents and purposes of this posting, Dr. Gottman’s words will be bolded. One of the most integral parts of creating trust in our relationships is what Dr. Gottman describes as a deficit in emotional attunement, defined by psychologists and researchers in a variety of different ways. Dr. Gottman’s definition is the following:

“Attunement in adult relationships is the desire and the ability to understand and respect your partner’s inner world.”

Do not be deceived by the simplicity of this concept! The mechanisms behind a failure to attune are very specific. Based on his complex research, these mechanisms are referred to by Dr. Gottman in layman’s terms as The Five Steps. In his book What Makes Love Last?, he describes the results of the Five Steps and their domino effect, offering such resources as a test measuring Negative Sentiment Override. Speaking about his recent research on trust, with palpable delight and the usual twinkle in his eye, he describes his book:

“Prior to this [research on trust] we were suggesting that any two people who could learn these skills could establish a positive relationship, but this is not true! There is chemistry behind establishing trust! It involves hormones and neurotransmitters… this is the mystery. Now we are working to reveal the dynamics of this mystery…

In explaining his thoughts, Dr. Gottman refers to Kahneman, author of recent bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow, a book with incredible new insights into behavioral economics. It distinguishes between intuitive, creative, immediate conclusions that we come to in System I thinking and the slower, more critical, and analytical thoughts of System 2. As Dr. Gottman cautions, “When you start living with somebody you fall into Kahneman’s Type II thinking. You see the red flags.” Though the outlook may seem bright at the beginning of a relationship, trust makes or breaks a serious commitment to another person.

In his flurry of words and ideas, within the dance of his arms and the excited gesticulations of his hands, one thing is made clear:  “You have to find the right person.” Long story short, Dr. Gottman’s conclusions are these:

Love and romance and trust are conscious decisions to cherish what is wonderful about your partner and nurture gratefulness for what you have. What people frequently instead is nurture resentment for what they don’t have. Trust has got to be mutual.

Glancing over at his wife in their sunlit kitchen on Orcas Island, he stops and smiles. “I am always aware of how lucky I am to have Julie in my life.”

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.