Andy and I aren’t qualified marriage counsellors, but we invest a lot of our time coaching couples in trouble. We love seeing couples grow back together again. However, last year, after many hours with one couple, the husband made a comment that made us realise it was not going to end well. He said, “I just don’t trust her”.
He wasn’t talking about his wife being unfaithful. Over the course of their married life together he’d felt betrayed time and time again until his trust had been eroded to the point that he felt his heart wasn’t safe with her.
I wanted to know when he had first started shutting his heart down to her, and what had occurred to make him do so, but he couldn’t tell me. Sadly, in this case, they didn’t make it.
Trustworthiness is essential in marriage. Our hearts have to feel safe with one another, don’t they?
John Gottman, relationship ‘master’, believes that in marriage, we’re all quietly asking the same questions:
- Can I trust you to respect me?
- Can I trust you to do what you say you’ll do?
- Can I trust you to keep my confidence?
- Can I trust you to work hard for our family?
- Can I trust you to choose me over your friends?
- Can I trust you to be financially faithful?
- Can I trust you to help around the house – to help with the kids?
- Can I trust you not to cheat on me – to be sexually faithful?
- Can I trust you not to use my weaknesses against me?
So how do we build trust so that our hearts remain open and we feel safe?
Gottman, says trust is built in the small interactions of everyday life; when we choose to ‘turn towards’ our spouse in daily moments.
Every time a couple interacts they have a choice to either ‘turn toward’ or ‘turn away’ from their spouse. Each time a couple ‘turns toward’ they are building trust.
Let me give you a personal example from my own life.
We had some friends coming over for dinner and I was enjoying preparing them a special meal. Andy was in the study working on the computer, and I knew he was waiting on some blood results and was worried. As I headed into the study to get my recipe book I heard Andy groan “Uh oh”.
I remember in that split second thinking, “I really don’t want to deal with your health issues right now. Maybe I could just pretend I didn’t hear that and just sneak back down to the kitchen.”
But because I work at FamilyLife and travel around NZ teaching this stuff :), I checked my attitude. You see, I knew in that moment, I had a choice to either turn towards Andy, or turn away.
I walked into the study, put my arm around his shoulder and asked, “Tell me the bad news.” I was so glad I did because in that very moment Andy needed my support and reassurance. He needed to know that, once again, I will be there for him and that he can trust me with whatever “uh oh’s” come our way.
Can I encourage you, rather than turn away from your partner in those small difficult moments, instead choose to ‘turn toward’. It will build trustworthiness in marriage which is an antidote to conflict and foundational to healthy happy marriages that last.
Help for Today. Hope for Tomorrow – visit FAMILYLIFE NZ
If you haven’t heard of John Gottman then I highly recommend that you check him out. He heads up the Gottman Institute which teaches marital and relationship stability. His findings after 40 years of studying thousands of couples have revolutionised the study of marriage.
If you’ve attended our Weekend To Remember you’ll know we talk about 5 myths of marriage. Dr Gottman has come up with 12 Myths of his own. If you’d like to read all 12 then go to his website here. For a teaser I’ve selected 5 and added my two cents worth in colour.
1. Marriage is just a piece of paper.
The psychological and physical benefits of actually being married are enormous. After 50 years of social epidemiology, it has been established that in developed countries the greatest source of health, wealth, longevity, and the ultimate welfare of children is a satisfying and healthy marriage. God’s original design for us to enjoy a lifetime of companionship stands up under scrutiny and testing. No surprise there. Marriage is good for us.
2. Conflict is a sign that you’re in a bad relationship.
Conflict is inevitable in all relationships. Furthermore, conflict is there for a reason – to improve our understanding of our partner. Conflict usually arises from missed attempts to communicate, especially in one person attempting to get emotionally closer to the other. Conflict also emerges from discrepancies between partners in expectations. These are worth talking about. Ever thought conflict meant you had a bad marriage? Even the best of marriages have periods of hurt, disappointment and isolation. Conflict is normal, and if handled well may bring you closer together.
3. Love is enough.
Love is not enough, because in most marriages – especially after a baby arrives – people stop courting one another and they stop making romance, great sex, fun, and adventure a priority. Relationships have a tendency to become endless to-do lists, and conversation becomes limited to errand talk. You need to intentionally make (or keep) these parts of a relationship a priority. Stuck in a rut of to-do lists and emails? We have great resources to help you redefine your priorities.
4. All relationship conflicts can be resolved.
Quite the opposite. In fact, 69% of relationship conflicts are perpetual (they keep recurring), so what is required is acceptance of one another’s personality differences. Dialogue about these perpetual issues to avoid gridlock and resentment. The goal then is to manage conflict, not resolve it. Generally these on-going differences exist in a deep value or belief, even a dream that the other person has. It’s unlikely that conflict will resolve it. What we must try to do for each other is seek to uncover the real deep-seated cause. It may be as a result of an experience in their past. It may be necessary to let it be.
5. It’s compatibility that makes relationships work.
It’s diversity that makes relationships interesting. We are not looking for our clones. Agreeability and conscientiousness are the characteristics that people really mean when they talk about “compatibility.” These qualities are indexed by a person being able to say things like “Good point,” or “That’s interesting, tell me more” or, “You may be right, and I may be wrong” during a disagreement.” Did you read my last Notes from Nikki? I talked about this very point. Click here. I like that saying, Compatibility is very nice but not really necessary. Commitment is not very nice but absolutely necessary.
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