Faithfulness, integrity, and freedom in relationships

Freedom and faithfulness are intimately connected with love. Many people think that a commitment to a partner and freedom are incompatible; they believe or know from experience that partnership means restrictions and complain about their loss of freedom. As a result, we have decided to examine if love could bring more possibilities, more freedom. In addition, faithfulness and lack thereof are central topics in discussions about relationships, which is why we want to discuss the concepts of faithfulness, unfaithfulness, and integrity in relationships. Faithfulness and Love Faithfulness is true love; it means to remember with love. Formal faithfulness, as a religious or lifeless moral concept, is rarely spontaneous or voluntary. However, if faithfulness is a criteria of love, partners do not have to ask „Are you faithful to me?“ (a questions that already implies distrust) because the lover wants to be with the beloved and nowhere else. Faithfulness is knowing that one can rely on one´s partner: faithfulness implies trust in the other person and in the strength of the relationship. The partners do not have to fear abandonment at the slightest crisis; a common bond ties them together despite all problems. Faithfulness means trusting that
° my partner will try to understand me
° my partner will not behave arbitrarily but in a way that reflects his/her commitment
° I can be myself
° my partner has my best interests at heart
° I can rely on his/her commitment to our relationship

Growth is Unfaithful
Living means growth, constant development and change. Growing per se is being unfaithful, and people would petrify if they didn´t change as they grow older and as their personalities emerge. Herein lies the eternal dilemma and the paradox of human existence: how to reconcile our basic desire for faithfulness (our wish to feel protected and secure) and our desire to grow and change? Maria Gambaroff, in her book The Utopia of Faithfulness, says: „Neither faithfulness nor unfaithfulness – even though both are viable options – can be realized as principles, not without living an immense lie. Whoever claims to be completely faithful in both thought and deed is fooling himself. The same is true for somebody who claims to have no problems with his/her partner´s unfaithfulness.“ Deciding to be Faithful The issue is not to be faithful to just anything: this would result in fanaticism, stubbornness, habit, or nostalgic clinging to the past. WhatÕs at stake is the decision to be faithful and voluntarily so, to practice faithfulness while constantly examining its validity. A person who is faithful in this sense will always remember his/her commitment to a person or idea and, unlike unfaithful people, will actively engage in the commitment at hand. This kind of faithfulness is radical, uncompromising, and holistic. Unfaithful individuals accept this or that, manipulate a concept and interpret it to suit them. These people deny and betray what they remember and forget what they have betrayed. Andr? Compte-Sponville says: „Unfaithful love is not free love: it is forgetful love, disloyal love, love that despises its object and thus itself. But is that still love?“ He continues: „Faithfulness is the fight against denial and forgetting.“ One can very well be faithful to former relationships and ideas by regarding them as valuable and right for that time. There is a retroactive appreciation, which leaves good things be and does not demean and deny that which is no longer valid. This is faithfulness toward one´s lived past, which does not censor personal history and thus confirms its uniqueness. Integrity: Being Faithful to Oneself Being faithful to oneself sometimes requires revising a conviction, changing an opinion for good reasons; change demands elasticity and a willingness to learn. Not to learn unfaithfulness, but to learn to be critical of oneself and to revise, change, say farewell, give up relationships, and endure loneliness and insecurity if emotional or formal ties need to be dissolved. In ShakespeareÕs Hamlet, Polonius tells his son Laertes: „This above all, to thine own self be true, / And . . . Thou canst not then be false to any man. To be faithful to oneself in order to be faithful to others means to say „yes“ and mean it. To marry the partner one loves and not the one who will merely be a good provider. To choose one´s profession according to oneÕs abilities and interests. To do what brings joy, not just what is sensible. Acting against one´s convictions, against one´s inner voice, leads to distortion, denial, suppression, and self-estrangement. Horst Eberhard Richter, the prominent social psychologist, calls this the „dispossession of consciousness.“ At the onset, children have an inner gauge to determine what is fair and unfair, good and bad. If parents keep forcing their own standards on their children, they will lose their own sense of right and wrong and might develop a false dependence on authority as they grow up because they constantly have to compromise their own convictions. Co-dependency, obedience, blind adaptation, and conformity mark a person who had to give up integrity and self-responsibility. People with personal integrity, however, will base their decisions on their conscience, not on the expectations of others. They act authentically (believably): in harmony with themselves and the situation. Individuals without integrity react predictably and statically to all situations: they are always co-operative and friendly, always motherly, or always detached; individuals with integrity adapt their behavior to a given situation and thus become responsible for their actions. Authenticity bestows character and personality, a dynamic disposition, and the ability for life-long growth. Victor Frankl comments: „I don´t just act in accordance with what I am; I develop in accordance with my actions.“
Personality shows in the values a person is attracted to, values he or she tries to live by in an individual and unique way. Developing an individual personality is important for our relationships because it makes us a specific „thou“ to others. The more we are ourselves, the better we can deal with the world, regulate closeness and distance, and escape the danger of fusing with or estranging ourselves from our partners. An example will illustrate the degree to which traditional ideas can influence relationships and undermine our personal value system: Mr. N. loves to play soccer; he trains three times a week and plays in matches every weekend. When his girlfriend becomes pregnant, she expects him to give up soccer, to grow up and take responsibility. Without enthusiasm. Mr. N. succumbs to moral pressure. At this point, Mr. N. no longer had the ability to decide and to evaluate his priorities. His partner never asked his opinion and never gave him a choice. His personal interests had been devalued from the start and subordinated to moral principles. His only choice was to be declared an egotist if he remained faithful to himself, or to retain his moral image by limiting his personal freedom. Mr. N. said later that he felt something break in him, that at this moment the relationship turned into an odious duty. The couple should have dealt with the possible collision of values much sooner.
Possible questions for Ms. N.:
What does it mean to be involved with a soccer player?
What will my future life look like?
Can I say „yes“ to this?
Am I interested in soccer?
Would I be willing to become interested for his sake?
Questions for Mr. N.:
Do I know my girlfriend´s expectations of me?
Do I know what she thinks of my hobby?
Am I ready to have a family, even if it means giving up soccer?

The following case history will illustrate the consequences a lack of integrity can have in sexual relationships: Ms. M. seeks therapy because she finally wants to know what is „wrong“ with her body. For years, she has been faking orgasms, delighting her partners with her convincing display of passion. However, she herself never feels much, has never really experienced orgasm, and finds sex boring most of the time. Her biggest concern is that her partner could find out that she is not a complete woman: she wants to have an orgasm not for her own sake but for his. To be a woman, to her, means to be inferior, weak, dependent, and without rights. She is over-critical of her body and hates certain parts. Since puberty, she has seen herself treated as an object of lust, never mind her desire for friendship and closeness. So she learned to sacrifice her body to be „loved.“ She can only feel valued when men desire her. Psychotherapists regularly encounter cases like Ms. M., her rejection of femininity as well as her willingness to adapt her behavior completely to men´s expectations. As Ms. M. continues to do what she hates, she constantly undermines her personal integrity. She becomes unbelievable to herself and, because of her weak sense of self-worth, dependent on her partner´s satisfaction. If he is happy, she is too.
Adaptation can be defined as the conflict between what others expect of us and what we feel ourselves Ñ and the decision to do whatÕs expected. Adaptation does not create personal space (which can only come about through conflict), and thus aggression turns toward the self: on the inside, we punish ourselves for adapting to the outside.
Ms. M. was unable to see and value herself, and thus all the praise she received from others was in vain. Recognition went straight through her into nothingness. She needed ever-higher doses of attention, which intensified her dependence on others.
Not to be able to stand up for ourselves is one of the deepest wounds we can inflict on ourselves. We can spend years or our entire lives waiting for others to give us the recognition and love we desire. Of course, it is wonderful if others believe and trust in us and support us. But it is not a prerequisite for believing in ourselves. In the end, we all depend on ourselves alone Ñ but knowing this can give us the required strength and courage to be ourselves: who but ourselves can make us part of the world? Nobody can do it for us. As we make ourselves part of the world, we discover ourselves, our weaknesses and our strengths. This knowledge of ourselves is the first step toward integrity: standing by our own worth.
Ms. M. had been suffering from her dependence and her dishonesty for a while, but what made her decide to seek therapy was a new man in her life: with him she did not want to pretend. Ms. M. has begun to question her life and to confront her partner with her problems. These conversations created much closeness and relaxation on both sides, because he, too, had felt the artificiality and was happy that she had come out with the truth. This is the first time Ms. M. has been desired for her authentic woman-ness and not for her passionate display. It is a new experience for her that somebody could find her attractive because of her natural charm, that somebody could love her for herself. She is insecure but also curious about herself. Her joy in discovering herself by now outweighs her fear of encountering „nothingness,“ a terrifying emptiness or disturbing truths about herself.
If we are unable to find grounding in ourselves (if we resemble a bottomless barrel), we lack integrity, which results in a lack of confidence, in insecurity, distrust, vulnerability, and intolerance. People who cannot be faithful to themselves experience alienation instead of community: they feel that an in invisible wall separates them from the rest of the world.
Ms. M. was often in agony because she never dared to ask questions or set the record straight on anything. Now she feels more courageous overall, more trusting, and more separate than before. Because she has come to rely more and more upon herself, she is no longer as afraid of being abandoned as before. As her own faithful friend, she can give herself confidence in the world, which increases the space in which she can now act.
Our most innermost character can come to the surface in our sexual behavior, but only if we can let ourselves go without fearing to lose or expose ourselves. Thus, our integrity and our ability to form relationships depend on each other. Only a very stable sense of self-worth can make a relationship and thus a sexual encounter what it´s meant to be: the free and open movement toward each other, the ability to become involved. Freedom Inside Relationships Many people are afraid of committed relationships because they believe (or they have learned) that partnership means a loss of personal freedom. But it´s not the relationship that´s restrictive; it´s becoming unfaithful to ourselves that will make us lose our freedom. Who really wants us to become someone else in a relationship? Do we really have to submit ourselves to norms, ideals, illusions, and expectations and give up our integrity? How long will we be able to keep it up? And doesn´t exactly this kind of behavior invite dishonesty and secrecy? The more honest we are with ourselves and others, the greater our chance to develop a lasting love relationship and have it survive all adversity. Only if we can realize our own potential can we give the same freedom to others: both partners are comfortable in the relationship because they can both live according to their individual values and interests and enjoy the possibilities they develop together and the synergy that results from their togetherness. Start by asking yourself what your values are. Once you know yourself and your personal value system, you have a better chance to find a suitable partner. We would like to encourage you to ask the things of a relationship that you have discovered to be valuable to yourself. Too quickly, we accept the life plans of parents or partners, and too quickly love dies or the relationship ends. You don´t have to isolate yourself to get to know yourself. You can learn about yourself in a relationship, but take your time and question your motives before you commit your life to a relationship that is difficult to dissolve.


Preventive Couple Coaching

„We can no longer communicate with each other!“ Many couples use this sentence to describe their situation, claiming that „the problem will disappear if we can again learn to talk to each other.“ Notwithstanding some couples who would profit from a reduction of fruitless conversations, the problem is rarely superficial because communication is only a function of basic attitudes. How can we have an open and friendly talk with a partner we no longer love? These are the limits of couple therapy: no therapist can influence an emotional natural event such as love . In addition, only ten percent of couples that split up seek the help of therapy; of those, only one third completes the course successfully. The fall-out rate is enormously high. Knowing the humble success rate, we advise couples to practice prevention, because the work they do while the relationship is still going well spells good long-term success. In preventive coaching, which we perform with individuals, couples, and groups, we focus on improving our clients´ relationship skills, which will improve their communication and conflict-solving skills. Misunderstandings arise in the earliest stages of a couple´s relationship, but they can easily be corrected at this point. There is no competent counseling when it comes to choosing a partner as there is in other areas of life; on the contrary, we encounter a host of useless advice, images, and myths, which only make things worse. Similarly, there are no preventive programs that offer help with big changes, which children, moves, or professional commitments can inflict on our lives.
We consider preventive measures useful because
° many marriages come about against the partners´ better judgement (quite a few couples are dissatisfied with their relationship before the wedding, but they ignore their feelings and get married regardless)
° many people do not learn anything from their unresolved break-ups
° many people are increasingly disillusioned because of their unhappy choices in partners
° break-ups have dire economic, social, and psychic consequences
° break-ups lead to family tragedies.

Preventive couple coaching helps partners find what they consider important and valuable for themselves and helps them stand by these values. All of this takes time, which means that preventive couple counseling will slow down decisions so the partners can get to know themselves and each other without being rushed, check their skills for communication, partnership, and problem-solving, and gauge the consequences of planned life changes.

The three most important crossroads for couple coaching are:
1. The search for and the choice of a partner
2. The transition from being in love to love
3. Planned life changes

1. The Search for and the Choice of a Partner
At this stage, prospective partners need to focus on the plans they have made for their own lives and to realize which partner would be best suited to share these plans. A young man, who describes himself a very sensible and unemotional, has been picking the wrong women. When we asked him, how he would know Ms. Right, he says: „I trust my feelings.“ The few experiences he has had with relationships have confirmed his prejudices that there are only two kinds of women: those who want to mother him and those who want to look up to their man. He does not want either, and because he has never thought about what kind of partner would be best for him, he has given up and thinks of life as meaningless. Because he does not know what he wants, he leaves it up to the women to define the relationship, and invariably feels dominated and manipulated, robbed of his freedom and his masculinity, and ends the relationship. During his therapy sessions, he was made to focus less on his fantasies about women but on his own needs and the courage to reveal them to a woman.
2. The Transition from Being in Love to Love
The transition from being in love to love is fraught with crises. The more ecstatically a couple is in love, the more sobering the awakening tends to be. Being in love is basically a good start and a great chance for a relationship, but it does not guarantee a successful partnership.
Couple coaching helps couples
a) not to lose touch with reality despite their being in love
b) to make the transition from being in love to love
a) We advise against making grave decisions in the uncritical frame of mind that characterizes being in love, as the following example illustrates: In the exuberance of her emotions, Ms. A. married a man she had only know for three weeks. It didn´t take her long to find out that he was irresponsible, dominating, and manipulative. By the time she had her first doubts, she was already pregnant. The situation worsened after the birth of the child because of his jealousy and his callousness. Finally, she took herself and the child to a safe place and filed for divorce. Her ex-husband persecuted her sadistically in his desire for revenge. She lived in constant fear of him for almost ten years. With this drastic case, we would like to demonstrate that conflict is unavoidable sooner or later: if couples don´t learn to solve conflicts timely and voluntarily, they will later be forced to do it. Countless clients tell us, that they were forced to deal with their ex-partners about children or finances after they thought to have gotten rid of them in the divorce.
b) „The End“ would be an appropriate label for the phase at the end of being in love, when projections (our images of each other) meet reality. Seeing one´s partner realistically often leads to a decrease in one´s euphoric feelings and thus to a crisis. Many couples are frightened or disappointed at this stage: they cling to each other or push each other away. Couple coaching helps couples to understand this phase a natural crisis in the development of their relationship, which will help them re-organize themselves as individuals. Assuming that the couple had a positive reality check and desires a future together, couple coaching encourages the partners to use their dialogue skills to build a bridge between them after the paradise of their initial one-ness has been lost. They have to solve the conflict together and get to know each other in the process, establish lasting bonds with each other, build a common set of values, and decide to make a commitment to each other.
The partners have to develop mutual trust
° to serve as a solid foundation for when they are no longer in love
° to enable love to grow, which will create new phases of being in-love time and time again
3. Planned Life Changes
Another important task of preventive counseling is helping couples with planned changes in their lives: geographical, professional, or familial. Even couples who have a good relationship and discuss many things with each other often do not discuss the consequences of their decisions enough; sometimes they end up in a temporary crisis if one of the two partners cannot live with the decision or if the decision was premature.
Mr. and Mrs. B., happily married for 12 years, like to live in the city, but when their two children are born, they decide to seek a different living situation in the country, which would give them and their children a meaningful life in the social structures of a small community. They find a community project they are both happy with, and spend the next few months planning their house and getting to know the other families that are part of the project. But soon there are squabbles and unwelcome intrusions into their affairs, the solution of which fall mainly to Mrs. B. Some couples involved in the project are seriously at odds with each other after a while, and communications is no longer possible without third parties. Mrs. B. has increasingly serious doubts about the project and starts to see other shortcomings she had failed to see before. Finally, she realizes that she will not be able to live in this community and tells her husband so. Mr. B., who is still enthusiastically planning the house, has invested a lot of money, and is looking forward to life in the country, cannot understand his wife´s concerns and refuses to turn back. All of a sudden, Mrs. B. finds herself alone because both her husband and children insist on moving into the new house. Even though she knows that her husband would not force her to move with them, it depresses her to know that she would be responsible for the potential unhappiness of three other people. Since the couple could not find a solution that was acceptable to all, it took a few hours of couple coaching to lead them to the mutual decision to sell the new house. Mr. B., too, confessed that he really did not want to live with the other couples, that the planned community was based on very different expectations, that many things were not compatible with his life style, and that he would have to forgo some important things if he wanted to live there. Mr. and Mrs. B. agreed that they had been so much influenced by the cliche that it´s better for children to be raised in the country that they had forgotten to ask themselves if the country lifestyle would also be better for them. After they both had accepted their decision as the right one, the children did not complain any more either. Mr. B. was able to sell the house without a problem and say farewell to his „dream“ without resentment.