Attention — 10 November 2003
Loyalty in relationship most important of all

It is commonly accepted that loyalty is very important in love relationships. What it actually means is more elusive. Being loyal is defined as “Being faithful to one’s oath, engagements or obligations. Being faithful to one’s allegiance to a government or state or to a person conceived as imposing obligation”. This definition seems formal and obligatory. I suggest that loyalty is not an obligation imposed by outside influences, but internal moral characteristics and decisions that are given freely.

Conduct that is externally imposed by law or by others is likely to be adhered to out of obligation, or in order to avoid punishment. Behavior that is initiated from within and guided by moral principles is a choice conduct of an open and free will.

Any personal stance that advocates harm to others is not part of the universally accepted moral framework. Loyalty through obligation can be a very harmful quality, since it hinders the loyal person’s access to conscious judgement about his or her actions. When one does what is right by his or her values and morals, and that is also supported by societal norms of good conduct, it usually enhances others as well.

Loyalty in the personal realm, which comes out of love, devotion, dedication and commitment to the well being of another, is healthy.
Yet, at times, people are not aware of all the aspects of loyalty within a relationship.

No marital contract spells out, or even defines loyalty. Yet, both partners assume that this commitment will be honored. Loyalty does not only mean physical fidelity it includes emotional devotion.
Being loyal in every aspect of a couple’s life has many manifestations. . Here are some ways in which loyalty is expressed in love:

  • Being loyal means being respectful of your partners’ weaknesses and discretely helping them compensate for those weaknesses. For example, if your mate is absent minded and loses her keys often, you may help her set a system to make it easier for her to find things and help her search, when needed, without anger or shaming.
  •  Being loyal means never saying anything that may shame your mate in private or public. “Well, she told someone she was sick, when she didn’t feel like entertaining.” Though this is a small offense, when it is revealed to others, it is shaming and disloyal.
  •  Being loyal means keeping confidences, without fail. Any information that is private, or labeled as secret must be vigilantly guarded as such. Telling “just one other person” means it will be told to one person at a time. If it is your partner’s secret, it may not be shared with ANYONE.
  •  Being loyal means siding with your partner, even when you think he or she may be partially at fault. When your mate tells you about difficulties at work with a colleague or supervisor, it is imperative that you affirm your mate’s frustrations, empathize with his feelings and refrain from saying: “Your boss just wants you to work harder.” That assumption may be made later, not at a time of emotional difficulty for your mate.
  •  Being loyal means reassuring your partner that you will be there emotionally and physically, whenever you are needed and following through with this promise. Your presence, helpful action and kind words are important signs of trust and security for your mate in the relationship. Many spouses hold resentments about their mates not being there at crisis points in their lives. These resentments can be avoided with conscious loyal behaviors.
  •  Being loyal means not speaking disparagingly about your spouse to others. You may share YOUR frustrations with a close confidant without blaming your spouse. “I feel so frustrated when he comes home and is too tired to help with the kids homework or dinner.” This is complaining without denigrating the mate.
  •  Being loyal means that when others say less than positive comments about your mate, you abstain from joining them in discounting your partner. Even if their grudge bears some truth, it is incumbent upon you as a loyal mate, to defend your partner’s actions and present him in a more favorable light.
  •  Being loyal means keeping your partner’s needs as primary over all other peoples’ needs. Any obligation or commitment to other people has to be assessed in importance, once your mate requires your attention. It does not mean that your parents do not get your attention until all your spouse’s needs are satisfied. It means that the spouse gets first priority in all-important or urgent matters.
  •  Being loyal means keeping your word, being truthful and reliable in keeping your promises to your mate. Not honoring your word discredits you and disappoints your mate.
  •  Being loyal means accommodating your mate- even when it not a choice activity for you. If your partner needs you to be present to help her with her volunteer party, your loyalty will aid you in rescheduling your previously planned recreational activity. If your spouse wants you to attend his business meeting, which is less than thrilling for you, you do it with grace.

Choosing to be loyal in attitude, actions and words is a personal decision. Being truly loyal is very hard. Yet, no other way works for truly intimate and loving couples.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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