When I was first married and for years afterward, if you had asked me what a “good spouse” looks like, I would have said, “Someone who puts the needs and wants of their spouse ahead of their own.”
I left very little room for caveats to that sentiment. Meaning, when I had a need or want that conflicted with my husband’s and I wasn’t giving in, I thought it meant I was just being selfish. That’s not something a “good spouse” would do.
My default mode when we would disagree was to give in and get over it.
While I think getting over things and not holding grudges is an excellent idea, the ‘always giving in’ thing had some negative side effects.
I’ve come to realize that the truth is there are no default modes. It’s not a good idea to always default to prioritizing our spouse’s desires over our own. It’s an equally bad idea to always default to prioritizing our own desires over our spouse’s.
Allow me to play devil’s advocate with myself:
But our desires often conflict! (I want to buy a new car, my spouse doesn’t. My spouse wants more sex than I do. We disagree on how to discipline our children.) What then? We have to think through each different scenario individually?
That sounds hard.
What do I need?
A solid marriage lies on a foundation of a million little decisions made in integrity. Sometimes you will prioritize your desires, sometimes you’ll sacrifice by prioritizing your spouse’s.
But how will I know when to do what?
Your inner compass (ie your integrity) will tell you.
Sounds like I need a pretty strong inner compass.
Yes! You do!
Thanks for asking devil’s advocate Celeste, that’s what this post is all about!
4 Ways to Forge Integrity
1. Notice your feelings without judgment
The first step on any route to change is awareness.
Pay very close attention to how you feel. How do you feel when you know you are in the wrong? How do you feel when you know you made a good decision even if it upsets your spouse?
What causes you to feel resentment in your relationship? What causes you to feel love? What thoughts lead to love? What thoughts lead to resentment?
Start being a very close observer of your thoughts and feelings in your relationship. Start defining what acting out of the best in you feels like FOR YOU and chase that feeling as often as possible.
This will require both self-honesty and self-compassion. If we can’t course correct with love, we will avoid looking too closely at our course and thus avoid growth and forging integrity.
Chase the good.
Course correct with self-compassion through the bad.
2. Understand your personal integrity stumbling blocks
If integrity is so great- if it feels great and benefits us and everyone around us, then why the heck don’t we all just act out of our integrity all the time?!
Many reasons. Integrity, intentionality, honesty, taking responsibility for our actions- these things are so much harder and require more thought and effort than being reactive, blaming others, and numbing our negative emotions.
If we are serious about improving our relationships, we have to be serious about improving ourselves by forging more integrity. In order to do that, we must first identify and second seek to understand what is blocking us from our own integrity. That answer will be different for everyone.
Here are a few reasons we don’t always act in our integrity (notice which of these resonate):
- We don’t like to be wrong. It’s uncomfortable. It requires humility. We unconsciously stick to our own ideas rather than consider new ones that defy our initial beliefs and opinions.
- It is easier to be reactive to things that happen to us, rather than be proactive about how we respond. It takes much more energy and intentionality.
- Integrity requires regular self-confrontation and self-confronting is hard and potentially painful. We don’t always like what we unearth once we start digging. We’d rather leave our imperfections buried deep where no one, least of all ourselves can confront them.
- We want the worst in us coddled. We are naturally self-conscious about our weaknesses and imperfections. Often we are so insecure about them that we want those around us to make us feel better about our mistakes and character flaws. We would rather have someone tell us that it’s fine- no need to change- than to confront our imperfections and improve them.
- Taking responsibility for our actions and feelings is hard and requires self-compassion as well as compassion for others. In a recent podcast interview, Tony Overbay gave the example of a husband who knocked over his wife’s glass of water off the table. Instead of saying, “Oops, sorry about that.” He said, “Why would you put a cup so close to the edge of the table?!” Blaming others is easier than owning up to mistakes.
- Plain old busyness can be an integrity blockade, since it requires creating an inner atmosphere of peace and quiet where integrity loves to thrive. Busyness creates a lot of inner chatter rather than inner quiet.
- Integrity requires vulnerability. Vulnerability is risky. It requires a giving up of control, and we as humans LOVE control. Integrity means giving up both pressuring your spouse and disengaging with your spouse- both of which feel safer to us because we can control outcomes. Love, based in integrity means you can’t control any outcome. This is hard. This requires courage and full hearts.
What of those above bullet points caused a little pang of self-understanding?
In order to forge integrity, we need to be intimately familiar with the things that block it in our lives.
3. Practice RADICAL self-honesty coupled with RADICAL self-love
Integrity requires honest self-reflection. If we can’t take an honest look at our behaviors and imperfections without recoiling in shame, we will never reflect and consequently, we will never improve.
If on the other hand, we can take an honest look at our behaviors and weaknesses with non-judgment and radical self-love, we will be able to handle seeing our reflection and lovingly course correct where necessary.
This requires a strong knowledge of our own innate worthiness.
Sin is a word often laced with shame, but I love the meaning of the greek word for sin, ἁμαρτία hamartia. It is an archery term that means “off the mark.”
When an archer misses the bullseye, a good coach wouldn’t berate him, “What are you doing?! You are off!!! Aim better! Shoot further! Get your head in the game!”
Rather, a good coach would gently nudge the bow a little to the right, or a little to the left and say, “Try again.”
I like to think of this and lovingly coach myself when I see that I am “off the mark” in my marriage or some other area of my life. No need to berate or beat myself up. Just nudge myself a little to the left or a little more to the right. With love.
4. Consult your inner compass as often as possible
I don’t know about you, but decisions in my life often get made without even a sideways glance in the direction toward my inner compass. It is easy to just go along and let the daily demands carry me along without much thought or intention of integrity on my part.
In order to make decisions from my inner compass, I have to be really intentional. I have to get quiet and start noticing what is going on around me and what is going on INSIDE me. I have to quiet my mind and make my heart peaceful (not necessarily happy, but peaceful). If I truly have a quiet mind and peaceful heart, my integrity thrives and I find I make decisions that lead to further peace and contentment.
In conclusion, yes integrity is hard, yes integrity requires energy, and yes integrity demands we are intentional with our decisions, thoughts and behaviors. And no, integrity is not forged one time or overnight. It is the result of a million little decisions where we intentionally quiet ourselves enough to seek out our inner moral compass, where we choose to act out of the best in ourselves even when its hard.
Without integrity, life may be easier, but it will also be so much emptier. Integrity is the key to feeling unstuck in our lives and relationships. It is how we feel brave and fulfilled. I would encourage all of you to take some time this week to really ponder what is keeping you from living from integrity and to work to chop down your own stumbling blocks. I promise it will be a worthwhile endeavor.