How do we rebuild trust? Dr. John Gottman was a mathematician before he became a psychologist. As an enthusiastic math wonk, Dr. Gottman sought to mathematically measure what most of us believe to be..well, unmeasurable.
Gottman has found that there are two key ingredients in the success or failure of any relationship. The tension between the felt sense of trust and the memory of betrayal.
Gottman’s research has uncovered what he calls a “trust metric.”
Gottman’s research tells us that while trust may seem like a relatively straightforward concept. It isn’t, because there are far too many paths to betrayal.
“There are lots of ways to betray somebody. For example, just lying is a betrayal. Not being transparent – being hidden – is a way of betraying.” says Gottman.
Feelings of gratitude and appreciation for the positive aspects of our life with our intimate partner help to inoculate us from the disquietude and restlessness that provoke us to wonder, “can I do better than what I have now?”
This is one of the reasons why commitment is such an essential aspect of the trust metric. With trust as a foundation, a marital commitment naturally deepens over time, unless the trust is broken by a betrayal of some sort.
Dr. Gottman says that the foundation of marital trust is based on an abiding attunement with your intimate partner.
Attunement in the Gottman sense of the word contains several relational concepts that just so happen to fit beautifully into a handy and appropriate acronym:
Trust is not a static concept. It is either built up or torn down as a couple moves through time together.
That doesn’t mean that if you are a new couple, the trust you currently enjoy is weak, immature, or deficient.
But the trust that you enjoy today is hopefully not as strong as it one day will be.
Trust is an emotional muscle that strengthens with continued use, sometimes under stress, over time.
Gottman tells us that we can rebuild trust, moving through time together, participating in an unfolding “art of intimate conversation.”
To Dr. Gottman, engaging in an intimate marital conversation is an art form, which deepens intimacy with each subsequent encounter. And relational intimacy is a fundamental building block of how to rebuild trust.
The art form of intimate dialogue includes the healthy struggle to use your words to describe complicated feelings, to be vulnerable, curious, and open when asking questions, and doing your best to manage anxiety when you work to keep the conversation going.
Empathy and compassion build a reserve of goodwill that will buffer you against the inevitable disappointments and misattunements that are also a natural part of married life. When there has been an attachment injury, trust never sleeps. It starts tossing and turning.
Betrayals both large and small encroach on every marriage. These betrayals may be dents, fender-benders, or head-on collisions. But in every case, they offer an opportunity for repair and restoration. Some of the most significant opportunities for the restoration of intimate bonds are discovered by couples reeling from the impact of betrayal.
When trust is eroded, it may be restored by noticing its depletion and nurturing it back to health. Resilience rather than rigidity will serve you better in the long run.
If You want to know how to rebuild trust, follow Gottman’s guidelines.
I hope this post will prompt an artful “generative conversation” with your partner about your personal trust metric.
You might be grateful for the chance to go toe to toe… and heart to heart. You both will be happy you did. You can trust me on that.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.
We schedule three double sessions with you in total. You complete an extensive online relationship questionnaire. In that final meeting, we spend almost two hours with you explaining, from a science perspective what's working in your relationship, what's not, and how to fix it.
It's all done online, either week-by-week or over a weekend.