MORE THAN COMMITMENT

 The Marital Virtue of Loyalty

Young couples often dream of growing old together. How can you really stay together for a lifetime? Are feelings of happiness the kind of “glue” that keeps people together? Not likely, and certainly not alone. What about commitment? Does it take a strict sense of duty and conscious decisions to make a lifetime marriage possible? That’s part of it. But there is something more.

The noted actress, Simone Signoret, wrote: “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.”

Day-to-day activities and events give partners shared experiences and memories. Over time, these small moments grow into a shared history that is deep and binding. We feel strongly connected to our spouse not just because we feel love for him or her, but because we have a life together, every day, including good times, and bad times. Children bring new threads that can tie us together even stronger as a family. Their day-to-day smiles, tears, and growth tie us to them as well as to each other. The tiny threads of our interactions and care for them over time weave rich bonds between us in the fabric of our lives.

When we married we made a commitment. As our shared history builds on our commitment, our sense of being part of one another takes that commitment to a higher level called loyalty. Loyalty is both this powerfully binding feeling and the quality of our actions, both with our spouses and with others, to strengthen our ties and keep us together. There are two places loyalty is especially important in character friendship marriages: in our conversations and in our priorities.

Are you your spouse’s first critic or first champion? In popular culture, sarcasm and playful criticism are often glorified. Sometimes we’re entertained by television and movies that show spouses mocking each other and that negatively emphasize differences between men and women, especially in parenting. What we really need to emphasize is the togetherness between husbands and wives. Parenting is hard, so it’s easy to feel incompetent as a new parent. As you struggle to adjust to the demands of parenting together, it’s especially important to defend and generously build each other up in your conversations with each other and with friends.

Another way to be loyal in conversation is simply to listen to our partner with our full attention. Supportive, whole-hearted listening lets our partner know that he or she is really our first priority. It takes time and effort to understand one another and to be cheerleaders for each other. And, because new parents go through so many changes and life becomes more hectic, loyal listening can be even more difficult. But we also need it more than ever.

Keeping your partnership a priority is a big part of being loyal. Living with a new baby is also a time when friends and hobbies may seem like an easy way to escape from tough daily problems. Being loyal takes staying focused on your shared life goals, even when it is difficult and takes sacrifice. You may have to reexamine the time you give to other interests outside your family. Everyone needs time to rejuvenate, but you’ll probably have to adjust the way you use your time to make sure that your family becomes your highest priority.

A unique challenge to your loyalty that some couples experience during the transition to parenthood is getting too much advice from family and friends. For the most part, becoming parents has a wonderful effect of bringing extended family and friends closer together in a supportive way. But, sometimes, the advice from family and friends divides you as a parenting team. Being loyal to each other may mean letting well-intentioned people know you appreciate their help, but keep the boundaries around your relationship firm. Your spouse is your first and most important advisor. Making decisions between the two of you about how to care for your child as he or she grows will strengthen your loyalty and partnership.

Practicing loyalty to your partner means remembering all that you owe to your spouse and being true to your shared history and shared future. That leads to a constant effort to keep your relationship strong. Cultivating the character strengths of friendship, generosity, fairness and loyalty is a life-long process, but it gets easier over time as these traits become second nature to you. The birth of your child is only the beginning of many new adventures. As your relationship grows stronger through practicing character friendship, generosity, fairness, and loyalty, you will go beyond “happily ever after” to discover that the every-day moments in your marriage are deeply meaningful and rich with real joy.

As you complete the following activities, you will build more than commitment, you will cultivate the marital virtue of loyalty. All of the activities you have completed in these lessons have given you a good beginning for a lifetime of thinking and doing the things that will help these virtues become part of you and keep your marriage strong not only as you become parents, but for the rest of your marriage.

Further Reading
Beyond the Myth of Marital Happiness, Chapter 7

Personal Activities

1. Loyalty Check-Up

Take this quick true/false quiz and then follow the scoring instructions below.

1. ____ My spouse sometimes feels second place to my parents or siblings.
2. ____ My spouse feels I give more attention to work than to him/her.
3. ____ I sometimes talk sarcastically about my spouse.
4. ____ I laugh when others tell jokes that make their spouses seem incompetent or would make their spouse feel disrespected if they heard them.
5. ____ I don’t always carefully listen to my spouse when he/she is talking.
6. ____ My friends sometimes get more of my best time or happiest energy than my spouse.
7. ____ I sometimes get so carried away in my hobbies I don’t notice when my spouse is trying to get my attention.
8. ____ I sometimes feel that preparing for this baby (or taking care of the children) is more important than working on my relationship with my spouse.
9. ____ I sometimes get more worried about taking care of our home than I do about taking care of my spouse.
10. ____ My spouse sometimes thinks working to strengthen our marriage is my last priority.

SCORING: For every item you mark FALSE, you get one point. If you have less than 10 points, circle one of the items you marked “TRUE” and spend this week doing whatever it takes to turn it around.

2. Beat the System

Below are a few areas which can easily challenge our loyalty as a baby comes. As we discussed in the lesson, these things can start to take more priority than our relationship if we are not careful. Next to each area, list ways this area could potentially become a problem for your marriage. Then describe a creative way that you will approach things differently so that it doesn’t detract from your marriage.

Areas Potential Problems Creative Approaches

Leisure & Hobbies ____________________ ____________________

Work ____________________ ____________________

Friends ____________________ ____________________

Extended Family ____________________ ____________________
Partner Activities

1. The Threads that Weave You

For this activity, you will need two pieces of paper, something to write with, and a pair of scissors. Try to find two different colored pieces of paper or two different colored writing utensils.

Fold the first piece of paper in half lengthwise. Then fold it in half again. Open it up. Fold the top down about an inch. Open it up. With your scissors (or with your hands if you don’t have scissors) cut (or rip) along the long folds up to the fold across the top so that your paper looks like this:

On the top of the first piece of paper, write “THROUGH GOOD TIMES.” Think together of four memories you share of very good experiences that brought you and your spouse together. Write each experience on one of the flaps you just cut. Now your paper should look like this:

Now take your second piece of paper and fold it in half the other way. Fold it in half again. Then open it up and fold the top down about 1 inch. Open it up and cut along the folds like you did with the first so that it looks like this:

On the top of the first piece of paper, write “AND THROUGH BAD TIMES.” Think together of four memories you share of very difficult experiences that eventually brought you closer. Write each experience on one of the flaps you just cut. Now your paper should look like this:

Now weave the good times and bad times together by laying the flaps over and under each other so it looks like this:

Now hang your masterpiece on the refrigerator as a reminder all week of the ties that bind you.

2. Loyal Listening Ritual

Rituals are an important part of the experiences that bind us. Keeping rituals in marriage is like intentionally weaving extra little threads into the fabric of your relationship to keep it strong. Rituals may include the unique way you say goodbye to each other every day, or the way you celebrate a certain holiday. In order to establish more loyal listening in your marriage, you may need a ritual that will give you the time and space it takes. Create a ritual by completing the following:

1. Think of what to include in your ritual.

What will you do to set the stage for Loyal Listening? Have specific things, like these:

Have a specific time of day or signal word that lets you know it’s ritual time.
Go to a specific setting, such as a bedroom or out to a special park bench.
Turn off all electronics (cel phone, television, radio, computer).
Turn on answering machine.
Lock door.

What will you do to practice loyal listening? Be creative! Decide specific things that will work for you that will help you be sure you are really listening carefully, like these:

Stand facing each other, or stand together in front of a mirror, or have different
positions for the talker and listener.
Take turns talking and listening by holding cards that say “TALKING” and
“LISTENING” and swapping them when you are ready to trade places. Draw them
blindly to decide who will do what first.
Have a list of “rules” about what the talker and what the listener should and
shouldn’t do (e.g., the listener cannot offer advice, only empathy).
Have a code word or time limit to know when to switch speaker and listener.
Have melodrama cards (a smiling face or a sad face) that the listener will hold up
as a reflection of what they are hearing and a silent way to show empathy.

How will you know you are finished with your ritual? Choose specific things you will do to end your listening time, like these:

Always finish your ritual with a hug or a kiss or a certain phrase of love and
appreciation.
Return to ‘normal’ by turning on the phone or going back home.

All couples are unique and will have different ways of communicating. Choose together things for your ritual that will really work and be comfortable for you. Describe your ritual below and commit together to do it regularly. Establishing this ritual now will make it easier to make time to listen to each other when the baby comes.

Our Listening Ritual:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Create Your Own Activity

You may have even better ideas than these for activities that will work in your particular relationship to build loyalty in your marriage. Be creative! Think of something you can do either as individuals or together and write your activity here:

Loyalty Activity:

 

 

 

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