In What Makes Love Last?, relationship expert John Gottman explains that trust is the fundamental requirement for long-lasting, fulfilling love.
Trust usually builds as a relationship progresses, through small and large opportunities to demonstrate honesty and reliability. We can see how a potential partner treats us and others, and we develop a sense of what this person’s overall character and behavior is like.
But sometimes there are issues that impair the ability to trust or distrust appropriately.
Gottman tells us that, in general, people who are good judges of character usually start with a trusting attitude – but not too trusting. When they notice that something isn’t quite right, they proceed with caution, and they know when to walk away.
Some people have difficulty with trust. Some have a constantly suspicious or skeptical attitude, so they end up rejecting trustworthy people. Others are too eager for attention and end up connecting to the wrong people and getting treated badly. People who have been betrayed in a past relationship may fear trusting someone new. And all of us at one time or another may wonder whether or not it is safe to get close to someone.
Gottman lists five significant characteristics of trustworthy people. While there are no guarantees, when we meet a person who displays these qualities, it is probably worth taking a chance and allowing ourselves to get close.
Honesty. A person who lies to you or others can’t be trusted. It may be tempting to imagine that there were misunderstandings or that the lies weren’t really important. But if someone has been dishonest with you, or if you find yourself doubting his or her reliability, it’s time to look elsewhere. Find someone who tells you the truth.
Transparency. Your potential partner’s life should not be hidden from you. You should know where he or she works, and be introduced to family and friends. You should know what is going on in this person’s life now, and what his or her dreams and plans are for the future. When you ask a question about where he or she has been or what the day’s events were, the answer should be forthcoming.
Accountability. You need evidence that promises are kept. It should always be possible to confirm that everything was done, or that there is a reasonable explanation if it wasn’t. You should always be able to get a verifiable accounting of any financial dealings that affect you. Don’t trust someone who omits the details and expects you to take everything on faith.
Is this person consistent and fair? Do you share the same moral values? Don’t get into a relationship with someone who is not playing by the same rules you are.
Proof of Alliance. Your potential partner should be loyal. If someone works against your interests, even in minor matters, this is not a relationship that should continue. Look for a person who cares about your needs and is consistently willing to back you up and make an effort on your behalf.
Of course, trust has some risks. Even in the best of relationships, there is a chance, however small, that a betrayal will occur. But without taking that risk we will never have the opportunity to find real, lasting love.