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Why Does Love Last for Some, and Not Others?

by Jeannie Assimos - September 19, 2014

Unless you are dating just for fun — for companionship, laughs, excitement — then chances are you’ve asked yourself the question at the top of this page. If you desire an enduring, stable, fulfilling relationship, you want to know exactly what fortifies love year after year.

That’s a critical question, because as we look at the society we live in, we see clear evidence that very often love DOESN’T last. If you’ve been deeply hurt by a marriage that ended badly — your own, your parents’, your friends’ — you want to do everything you can to create conditions for lasting love in your next relationship. The good news is that you can take much of the guesswork and wishful thinking out of the lasting-love equation.

For the past three decades, Dr. John Gottman has studied romantic relationships (especially marriages) up close and personal at his “Love Lab” in Seattle. After examining thousands of relationships, both stable and unstable, he has identified several key components that make love last. One ingredient stands out above all the rest, the very glue that holds together every long-term, loving relationship. It is — drum roll, please — trust.1

In fact, you’ve probably heard about the importance of trust, and maybe you too would rank it at or near the top of your own most-essential list. But the question remains: How exactly do you evaluate a person’s trustworthiness? How can you accurately assess if someone can truly be trusted? Thankfully, Dr. Gottman provides five specific criteria:

Honesty. Do not trust someone who lies to you. Too often we come up with excuses for the other person. It was a misunderstanding. She had her reasons. It wasn’t that bad. It was only one time. Take a clear-eyed look: Has this potential lover ever deceived you? Have you witnessed him or her lying to others? Do you find yourself questioning the veracity of what he or she says and then talking yourself out of your doubts? If so, move on.

Transparency. A partner’s life should be an open book, without secrets. Make sure this new person invites you to meet friends, family, colleagues, and also confides in you about major stresses, ambitions, goals. When you ask, “Where have you been?” he or she should answer without hesitation.

Accountability. Is there proof that this potential partner keeps promises? Are you able to check the details of any significant transactions with others, financial or otherwise? Do not trust someone who remains vague or unreachable about these issues. It’s best to be suspicious of people who say “Just trust me” in response to a specific question. Trustworthy people don’t feel the need to tell you what to think.

Ethical Actions. Does this person display just and fair conduct with consistency? Does he or she express and demonstrate values in tune with your own? If you’re not comfortable with someone’s morals, do not continue the relationship.

Proof of Alliance. Any potential mate should demonstrate being on your side and having your back — even in small ways. You want evidence that he or she does not operate out of sheer self-interest nor form coalitions against you. You want proof that he or she takes your interests to heart. It is a wonderful sign if someone demonstrates selflessness toward you.

If you subject people you meet to this clear-eyed assessment, you will gain confidence in your ability to size up others and determine if a potential partner has the trustworthiness to make love last.

1. John Gottman and Nan Silver, “What Makes Love Last?” (Simon & Schuster, 2012).