Dr. Gottman’s research on trust is groundbreaking. Widely recognized as the world’s foremost researcher on marriage and relationships, his intuition and natural ease with people are not his only gifts. The secret to his success has always been their combination with his deep understanding of mathematics. With such a combination, his natural creativity has allowed him to invent incredible ways of measuring what has, until this day, proved elusive to others: the science of trust. 

In his new book What Makes Love Last?, Dr. Gottman explains that his fascination with trust in relationships was the product of a strange thought loop, a Eureka moment that he experienced in watching a popular TV show called Numb3rs. In an episode of the show, he saw a plot twist being introduced that described a mathematical program that calculated a loyalty level among suspected “bad guys,” which in this case were terrorists. He recognized that this fictional sci-fi dream could be made a reality. With the enormous quantity of data that he already had at his disposal, he had the key to unlocking real mathematical models, to measure what he calls the “trust metric.” According to Dr. Gottman himself, “Both trust and betrayal metrics significantly predict a marriage’s happiness.”

Drawing on the very real developments discovered by mathematicians, Drs. Neumann and Morgenstern, he develops his approach on a combination of game theory, his own previous research, and his incredible creativity. Intuitively grasping the futility of interviewing couples directly about their relationship (a rather ludicrous endeavor, given the interminably long list of biases with which we all approach ourselves and those most intimately entangled in our lives), Dr. Gottman immediately turned his focus towards what lies below the deceptively smooth surfaces of our relationships. Using a simple video-recall dial, he discovered something incredible: our behavior in what seem like throw-away moments – those simple day to day conversations – can make or break the relationships to people we hold most dear.

By gaining insight into the underlying mechanisms of loyalty or perceived lack thereof between partners in a relationship, Dr. Gottman has revealed the science beneath the questions that trouble us most. Watch the following video to see (just the tip of the iceberg!) inside his strange and wonderful Love Lab: 

Next week, look forward to more on the mathematics of trust, including details on the trust and betrayal metrics, attunement and connection, and a curious peek into Dr. Gottman’s systematic deconstruction of the forces and effects that fuel our decisions about trust (and ultimately, about those to whom we choose to open our hearts)!

More in What Makes Love Last
Inside the Love Lab

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.