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The Secrets of Trust and Betrayal

September 12th, 2017

Not all romantic relationships end badly. Some don’t even end. Relationship researcher John Gottman writes about the “Masters of Marriage,” couples who live and love in tenderness and contentment for decades.

The secret to these couples’ happiness, Gottman says, is seemingly obvious. Happy couples enjoy a deep-seated trust in one another and they avoid betrayal. Although unhappy couples may insist that they are faithful to one another, Gottman writes that “betrayal is the secret that lies at the heart of every unhappy relationship – it is there even if the couple is unaware of it” (emphasis in original).

In his book What Makes Love Last, Gottman points out that couples can easily betray one another even when they are romantically faithful. This is because trust consists of knowing that your partner will always put your interests first, whereas betrayal is when your partner puts any other interest before your own. It doesn’t matter if this other interest is career, hobby, friends, family, children, or anything else. When some other interest comes before the partner’s interest, then that is often a betrayal.

But here’s the catch: This elevating of the partner’s interest must be fully reciprocated. You should expect your partner to put your interest first, just as your partner should be able to expect that you will put your partner’s interest first. Thus, trust becomes a mutual experience of prizing and elevating one another.

Take the example of a young couple with a newborn child. For many couples, relationship satisfaction levels crater after the baby is born. If the baby comes first in the relationship, however, a common experience in the United States, partners are going to feel neglected and start to feel lonely. But how can parents adequately care for a newborn if they don’t put the baby first?

Think of it this way: Who has interest in caring for the baby? In most families, both parents! Caring for the child is a form of putting the partner first, because the partner wants the baby to be taken care of. But if taking care of the baby becomes more important than the partner (Or, worse, if shirking the responsibilities of caring for the child becomes more important than the partner’s interest) then the seeds of relationship dissatisfaction are sown. Betrayal has begun.

Imagine that couple finally able to get some sleep one night, but then the baby starts crying. Both parents are exhausted. And one spouse says to the other, “Go ahead and get some sleep, you took care of her last time. I’ll take care of her now. Rest up.” The partner’s interests are nested deeply within the process of caring for that child. Both people know that they are cared for, and eventually so will the baby.

By recognizing the hidden aspects of betrayal and by implementing the quiet, subtle methods of prioritizing one’s partner so that each can grow in trust, couples can build a lifetime of happiness that is resilient against whatever difficulties life may present. Mastery of marriage and committed relationships is a lifelong process, but it doesn’t have to be a mystery. The secret is to always put your partner’s interests first, and to be able to expect the same in return.

This photo, “There is All About Love” is copyright (c) 2017 Daniel Avelino and made available under a Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

 

 

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