True love is exhilarating, but requires the right expectations, according to world-renowned relationship therapist John Gottman, co-founder of The Gottman Institute.
“I think the ‘good enough’ relationship is one in which you get treated with respect and love and affection, and those are the essential ingredients,” Gottman tells NBC News BETTER.
He says the “good enough” relationship requires trust and commitment as a baseline for happiness in your relationship.
“Building trust really involves your partner really having your best interest at heart, not just their own,” he says, “and commitment means really cherishing what they have in you rather than resenting what’s missing.”
I think the ‘good enough’ relationship is one in which you get treated with respect and love and affection, and those are the essential ingredients.
Don’t have expectations that are too high or too low
Gottman says some people believe that to be happy in a relationship, they need to lower their expectations to avoid disappointment. This, he says, is a bad idea, because when you lower your expectations, you are more likely to settle for being treated poorly.
“A ‘good enough’ relationship is not a relationship where people are psychologically and physically abused,” he explains.
While a “good enough” relationship is a baseline for how you should expect to be treated, it’s also important be realistic, he says. All couples have ongoing conflict, he says; what’s important is how they manage it.
“All relationships have disappointments where people get their feelings hurt, that just happens,” he says. “It’s part of the course in relationships just because there are two brains instead of one brain.”
Intimacy and friendship: Essential ingredients for “the good enough” relationship
Most of us are focused on finding that perfect someone who sets off all the right bells, Gottman says.
“It’s a highly selective phase, only certain people can set off the cascades and neurotransmitters that are involved in this falling in the love phase,” he says.
But discovering Mr. or Ms. Right is only half the battle, he says. The next step —and one that will determine whether your relationship lasts — is discovering whether you can build trust and commitment together, he says. And just like falling in love, he adds, we can’t create that with just anyone.
“[Love] involves attraction, interest in one another, but also trust and commitment, and without trust and commitment, it’s an elusive thing,” he says. “It’s something that fades away. But with trust and commitment we know you can stay in love with your partner for a lifetime.”
The “Sound Relationship House,” one of Gottman’s theories, describes what couples in a “good enough” relationship build together: intimacy and friendship.
“That’s the ‘good enough relationship,’” he says. “One where friendship is strong, where affection [and] respect are strong, where people can cope with conflict, and they can build a life together that has intentional, shared meaning and purpose, where there’s trust and commitment.”
What couples in a “good enough” relationship do:
- They don’t settle for less: Couples in a “good enough” relationship settle for nothing less than being treated with honesty, respect, and affection. They also don’t have unrealistic expectations and manage conflict responsibly.
- They understand that falling in love is only the first phase: The next and most important step is building trust and commitment together.
- They are friends: With trust and commitment come friendship and intimacy, essentially ingredients for the ‘good enough’ relationship that lasts a lifetime.