We all know that living with integrity means matching our behaviors to our values. It means doing the “right” thing. Many times, having integrity is easy. But sometimes, upon closer examination, we may find that there are times when we slip unintentionally.
An example of slipping is when we withhold information from our partners because we don’t want to rock the boat or hurt their feelings. Maybe your partner does something that irritates you and when they ask why you seem upset you simply dismiss the question or offer a false reassurance that you are “fine”. This reaction may not seem like a big deal and if it happens once in a while it is unlikely that it will cause significant problems in your relationship. However, these innocent “white lies” can become a habit that can undermine your ability to fully engage with your partner. Clearly, your intention is good in the moment but the outcome of these repeated transgressions can actually lead to the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. It also easy to see that one partner can go from a “white lie” that is not meant to hurt their their significant other to a full blown lie because they may not want to admit things to their partner that they know are hurtful or damaging, such as that they spent money that they should not have or talked with an old flame.
Other examples of types of interactions that can undermine your integrity within your relationship are going along in a situation that you don’t agree with (e.g. riding in the car with your family while your partner is texting and driving) or not being honest about strong feelings you may have (e.g. feeling that you can’t trust your partner or that you are feeling frightened about something in your relationship). As you can see, all of these examples have the potential to erode the quality of your partnership.
So what can you do to maintain your own integrity and strengthen your relationship? Here are some ideas (adapted from Walser and Westrup, 2009):
Spend some time listening for the voice in your head or heart that guides you to make decisions that are in line with your own values. When you hear it, challenge yourself to follow your own advice.
Give yourself a moment to think before you engage or answer a question in order to ponder whether your answer is actually aligned with your true values and feelings. Be mindful and try not to let yourself get away with simply saying what is easy. Keep in mind that you have the opportunity and ability to respond with integrity in every situation. Know that you can be honest and sensitive at the same time if you give yourself a moment to formulate your thoughts.
Take some time to think about times in your relationship when your integrity slipped away (e.g. times when you may have lied or withheld information, times when you didn’t share your true thoughts or feelings). Think about what your own internal voice may have to say about those times now and how you might have wanted to behave differently if given the chance to do things over.
Look for an opportunity to take as step closer to living with more integrity in your relationship. Reflect on whether there might be a feeling or concern you want to share with your partner. Take a chance and tell the truth about something you might have otherwise told a white lie about. See how these changes influence your interactions with your partner.
Talk with your partner about times when either of you might be inclined to share a white lie rather than the truth. For example, if your partner asks how they look in a particular outfit. Talk about what the person asking is looking for (i.e. reassurance or honest feedback) and then move forward in those conversations knowing that you can provide an answer that matches what your partner needs and allows you to be honest. (e.g. you might say that your partner looks good no matter what they are wearing if they are looking for reassurance and you might give honest suggestions if they are looking for fashion advice)
Living and relating with integrity takes attention and mindfulness. Most of us don’t intentionally take actions or engage with those with care about in ways that undermine our values; however, as you can see, small actions repeated over time can have long term consequences that can have a lasting impact on the quality of your interactions. Take some time to notice how you can show up in a different way that is more closely aligned with what is important to you and you are likely to feel more satisfied in your relationship.
Dr. Stephanie Davidson is a licensed, clinical health psychologist and co-founder of the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine specializing in the use of cognitive-behavioral, humanistic and existential approaches to treat patients with a range of medical and mental health challenges. She has a strong interest in acceptance and commitment therapy and other mindfulness-based interventions to heal the body and mind. Her focus is on collaboration with the goal of assisting patients in adjusting to difficult experiences and achieving a greater sense of well-being, balance and peace in their lives.
Walser, R. D. & Westrup, D. (2009). The Mindful Couple: how acceptance and mindfulness can lead to the love you want. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.