Doing the Right Thing: Maintaining Integrity in Your Relationship

Mature couple relaxing together on sofa hold coffee and smile at each other in living room What does the word “integrity” mean to you?

To me, it means to be a good person and citizen, one who doesn’t lie, cheat, or steal. Having integrity means having a system of morals and ethics that I believe in and do my best to adhere to in all my dealings.

This may not always come easily, for any of us. Even the most kind and loving among us can struggle to do the right thing at times. There sometimes seems to be a small tug of war happening in the event of a moral challenge or difficult situation, and the cartoon vision of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other might come to mind.

I think it’s important to remember that no one is perfect, that our baser nature sometimes rears its ugly head. As humans we are fallible, we make mistakes, and—no matter the issue—we seem to be able to justify any action we take.

When we truly have integrity, though, good will win out the majority of the time. The truth will prevail. The “angel on our shoulder” is who we listen to most often, in a manner of speaking.

Let’s consider now what integrity means in terms of a marriage or romantic partnership. In my opinion, it means all the above and more. It means putting a partner’s happiness right up there with our own. We make choices that are good for us, yes, but we also make choices that are good for the relationship, that will serve our lives and happiness as a couple. Doing so might sometimes involve hard and selfless choices, when those choices might lead to the betterment of the relationship.

What integrity with a partner means to me is the act of prioritizing a life together and working together to meet my needs, but also those of my partner, in a collaborative way. Some of these things might go unrecognized. I simply do them because I am acting with integrity, not out of the desire for praise or recognition. And that’s just what integrity is—doing the right thing, even though no one is watching.

1. Maintaining integrity when together

Integrity is crucial to relationship success and a key ingredient in the happiness of both partners.

Integrity brings with it authenticity, vulnerability and an honesty that is kind and never harsh. We don’t have to always agree, or even approve of a partner’s decisions, but when we have integrity, we treat them with compassion, openness, and kindness. This might mean talking over all important decisions together. Make sure the relationship remains a priority and show respect and appreciation always. When we get triggered (because we will. It happens), we take the time to sort it out, rather than blaming, keeping score, making things personal, or bringing up past events when there is no point in doing so. Integrity might mean remaining committed to dealing with the issue at hand. When we can diffuse some of the stress with humor or kindness, so much the better.

2. Maintaining integrity when apart

Maintaining integrity when separated from a partner by time or distance may simply mean remaining mindful of the attachment we have to them. We might speak often, whenever possible, or simply be there when they seek us out. We choose not to put ourselves into situations that could create conflict, and we avoid inconsistencies with our words and/or actions. In order to feel secure and connected to our partners when distance is an issue, transparency is crucial.

3. Maintaining integrity in public

Public integrity means never intentionally embarrassing, humiliating, or belittling a partner, and perhaps even avoiding having any kind of a negative discussion in front of other people. Whether we are among friends, family or strangers, it may help us to remember (or remind each other!): We are a team, a pair, and it doesn’t serve us to be divided by any kind of petty insults or bickering in public.

If partners have a disagreement that requires immediate discussion, an alternative to hashing it out in public might be to step aside and discuss the issue and come to a reasonable conclusion together, or at least resolve it to a point that can wait until private discussion.

4. Maintaining integrity in private

When we are alone together, we show integrity by listening to what our partners have to say. We take note of the hopes and dreams they express; talk about the “hard stuff” or any challenges that arise; and build and share a deep and emotional connection. We trust each other never to betray our confidences. We read between the lines when we need to, and ask further questions and expand on that communication. In short, we do our best to be patient and supportive and let our partner know how much we care about their needs and desires. We show and share our deepest selves without fear of rejection.

We may not talk so much about integrity these days, but integrity is crucial to relationship success and a key ingredient in the happiness of both partners. Doing the right thing for ourselves often means we are doing the right thing for our partners and families, as well. By acting with integrity, we model it for our children. By setting an example of doing the right thing, even when it’s an unpopular or difficult action, we allow our children to witness an important life lesson. Our consistent choice to act with integrity is likely to have a lasting impact, one that may even color their choices in the future.

© Copyright 2018 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Stuart B. Fensterheim, LCSW, Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Ladonna L

    January 10th, 2018 at 5:05 AM

    I found a lot of hope in this article thank u

  • Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW

    January 16th, 2018 at 7:49 PM

    Thank you so much for your comment Ladonna! That really means a lot to me!

  • Sergio

    September 12th, 2019 at 10:41 AM

    Its common sense, but we are human. We are part of the world, that’s all I have to say. great article!

  • Jeanne

    January 26th, 2021 at 3:50 PM

    Great advice. Concise and informative. Would appreciate your insights – maybe another article – on maintaining integrity when one knows that ending a relationship is inevitable despite the short term convenience of staying in it. Thanks.

  • Cindy

    December 27th, 2022 at 1:27 AM

    I love your articles. I’m learning.

  • Cindy

    December 27th, 2022 at 1:29 AM

    Love the articles.

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