Today we take a look at the impact trust (or mistrust) can have on couples in their relationships. There are takeaways from this that are pertinent whether you are in a committed romantic relationship or not. This is from John Gottman and Nan Silver’s book, What Makes Love Last…How To Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal.
Dr. Tara Madhyastha conducts married couples research. In a similar fashion to Gottman’s research, she observes and video records couples in a controlled setting having a conflict discussion.
Some couples cooperate to reach a win-win solution. And some couples endeavor to get their own individual way, whether it is to the benefit of the other or not. In other words, their orientation is win-lose. They call this win-lose orientation a “zero-sum” couple. In Gottman’s research, he has found the least common denominator in zero-sum couples is a lack of trust.
Dr. Madhyastha has found, over a twenty year study, that the odds of the husband in a zero-sum relationship of dying over that twenty year period were eleven times higher than men in mutually cooperative relationships. Their death rate was also seven times higher compared to couple with a mixed style (meaning one partner was a cooperative style while the other was zero-sum.) These results are consistent with a number of studies that find men who believe their wives love them are likely to have significantly lower severity of ulcers and lower rates of coronary artery blockages and angina.
Being in a miserable marriage takes a toll on women also. Wives who engaged in zero-sum conflict reported more psychological and physical health symptoms than the other women. Another researcher, Dr. James Coan, had female volunteers undergo MRI scans while their ankle received mild shocks. The women had pre-indicated as to whether they felt happy in their marriage. The researcher had a stranger and then their husband hold their hand while they received the shocks to their ankle.
When the stranger held the woman’s hand, the parts of her brain that signals danger and alarm were completely activated. If she had indicated she was in a high trust relationship, when her husband held her hand, her fear response was almost completely shut off. If she felt insecure in her marriage, she had much more danger and alarm activity from the shocks while her husband held her hand. Similar results occurred among gay men and lesbians who were either married or said they felt married to their partner.
Many researchers believe that a key hormone, oxytocin (aka the “cuddle hormone”) is a significant contributor. Oxytocin is produced through attachment and bonding and has a calming effect on our physiology. It guards against stress reactions that compromise health. The effect of oxytocin (especially for women) and vasopressin (its male counterpart), are further evidence of how the nature of our relationships influence our well being and health.
I could go on with further research findings. But, the point is that trust in relationships is more than something nice to have. It can literally be a matter of life and death.
This is all the more reason to get clear about how to create trust, maintain trust and repair broken trust. And, throw in how to trust again in another relationship after you have been shattered by betrayal in a previous relationship-whether it be a work, romantic, family relationship or some other type of relationship.
This isn’t just about couples. This relates to all of life….at work….in communities….between different people groups….in politics….between different religious persuasions….between nations…..it is universal.
In the next post, we start breaking down what trust is.