Does integrity matter in romantic love?
Without structural integrity, a building will collapse. A bridge without structural integrity will cause cars to plunge into the water. A ship without integrity will sink. A plane without integrity will fall out of the sky.
The same principle applies to human beings. Indeed, it is human beings who create and build those bridges and airplanes and ships. You wouldn’t want to ride on an airplane or ship if you knew most of the people responsible for designing and building it lacked personal character, would you? Of course not. You’d rather ride on a ship built by individuals who are in focus and alert; by individuals who are honest, and value excellence.
If you don’t want to trust your biological life to someone of low integrity — by flying in a plane owned and run, say, by the Mafia, or a group of corrupt politicians — then why would you place your psyche and personal life in the hands of someone who’s morally lacking? Don’t you value your personal, psychological happiness in the same way you value your physical health? If you don’t, you should.
Just as you wouldn’t want to drive across a bridge without structural integrity, so too should you avoid marriage to someone lacking in personal integrity. Honesty is never optional. We sometimes delude ourselves into believing that it is, but it isn’t.
Imagine the following scenario. It’s your wedding day. Your spouse-to-be says to you:
“Oh, by the way. I can’t promise to always tell you the truth. I’m sure I will tell the truth most of the time. But there may be times when I have to lie.” This is not a preposterous scenario. Many people consciously believe they have to lie to their spouses at times. They would not phrase it so bluntly, especially on their wedding day; but they do believe it, and their actions later on in the marriage are consistent with this belief. My years of experience as a couples therapist overwhelmingly confirms this claim.
So what would you feel — and why would you feel it — if your spouse-to-be said such a thing to you on your wedding day? If you possess self-respect and are mentally in focus, you would understand that there’s no way a marriage to this person could possibly work.
All of your expectations about your lives together are suddenly built upon quicksand. You’d realize, for example, that his expressed interest in having children might not be genuine; so once you marry him he could change his mind and say he doesn’t want to have children. “But you said you wanted children,” you’d insist. He would have every right to reply: “I lied.”
Or you’d realize that his promise to remain monogamous is meaningless; because if he’s given himself a moral blank check for dishonesty, then anything goes. If he grants himself permission to lie about one thing, one time — then, by implication, the permission exists all the time. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and there will only be a few white lies, here and there, over things which are not that important to you. But who knows?
People who feel comfortable with telling white lies, here and there, become desensitized to lying. As people become desensitized to lying, then they become more and more willing— when the circumstances seem convenient — to tell a whopper. Dishonesty in a spouse is like having weeds in your front yard. Ignore them and they will spread.
If your spouse has integrity, then you will feel secure about your marriage. Integrity is what holds everything together. You know if unexpected crisis or disaster hits, that you can count on him to act in an honorable way. If crisis rarely comes, life can still be full of stress; and just knowing you can count on another’s integrity and rationality makes all the difference in the world.
Honesty and psychological health are closely connected. Individuals of high integrity, for instance, are psychologically introspective. “Introspective” means being aware of your inner states and emotions; and being willing to have conversations — with yourself or others — about what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it.
To be introspective means to be honest with yourself about your core emotions and motivations — including the ones you don’t necessarily like or want to admit.
If your partner is honest with himself, then it’s much more likely that he’ll remain honest with you. If he’s not in the habit of fooling himself, then he’s less likely to try and fool you. Introspective people are the type who keep journals; or are willing to go to therapists (or some kind of confidante) when experiencing a personal conflict; or are, from time to time, willing to talk to people in their lives about what’s bothering them.
Evaluate your spouse’s psychological health before you marry him. You need not be a professional psychologist to do this. Even professional psychologists don’t have mental x-ray machines to judge people’s psyches. They just observe, and watch carefully over time.
You’re in the presence of your spouse-to-be more than anybody else. Observe him. Watch how he handles stressful situations, in particular. Does he habitually deny and evade his emotions, even when he could benefit from examining them?
Is he unwilling to talk with you about your concerns, acting as if he expects you to simply change your emotions like a light switch? If so, he probably treats himself the same way.
Does he experience over-reactions to small things, out of proportion to the actual stress of the situation, without knowing why — or caring to know why?
Any of these could be signs of trouble. If you notice and are bothered by these characteristics during normal times, then imagine how it might be during a financial or health crisis; or when you’re trying to buy a house together; or discuss long-range career plans; or trying to raise a child together.
Marry someone who’s introspective — or at least willing (for his own sake, not yours) to become more introspective. The more honest your spouse is with himself, the more honest he will be with you.
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