Before we delve into the 4Cs, let’s take a moment to review some core values required to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. Specific core values and their significance will vary slightly from person to person, as no two people are exactly alike. But the core values I present in this chapter describe an essential set of values most people share in common.
Think of a house, where the 4Cs represent four sturdy walls with a roof built to hurricane specifications. The protection the house affords is only as good as the strength of the walls and roof, assuming the structure was built on a solid foundation. But what if the foundation were faulty from weak concrete or a massive sink hole waiting to collapse? No matter how strong the walls and roof, the weak foundation would jeopardize the entire structure. Perhaps not an immediate threat, but one destined to occur as the weight of our shelter, and the forces imposed upon it, continue to bear down.
Now step outside this metaphorical box for a moment and imagine how the same logic might apply to a romantic relationship built upon a flimsy foundation or perhaps no foundation at all. Often, the absence of core values, or a lack of commitment to them, prevents us from building a romantic relationship on solid ground.
This chapter defines ten core values and their significance to a meaningful and lasting romance. The following common sense values represent basic morals we should strive to achieve for ourselves and our romantic relationships:
- Self discipline
Without exception, trust signifies the most important core value. Without trust, we have nothing. Trust speaks to the essence of who we are and how we interact with one another on a daily basis. Trust determines how far we are willing to extend ourselves to others. Trust within ourselves also feeds our self-esteem.
Different levels of trust persist throughout our lives. Would you trust a stranger you just met at a bar? Or someone you bumped into at the library? How about a friend of a friend you met at the grocery store? Do you know many people you would trust with your life? Do you trust your boyfriend? Your girlfriend? Your spouse?
Any relationship, romantic or not, will eventually dissolve without trust. Trust exists not only as a sort of virtual adhesive to bind us together, but as a living umbilical cord of sorts, exchanging emotional nutrients between individuals in a meaningful and lasting romance. Trust can’t be bought or bartered. It must be earned.
Growing up, we are taught to trust adults in uniform (police officers, firefighters, doctors, etc.). We are also taught to never trust strangers. But as we grow older and wiser about the realities of life, we quickly develop our own notions of whom we feel we can trust and how far we are willing to extend our trust to those with honorable qualities. For the most part, we build trust through reliability and authenticity. Trust also implies we meet our commitments, uphold our promises, and hold ourselves accountable for our own actions. Robert E. Lee said, “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” Ronald Reagan’s philosophy involved, “Trust, but verify.” And Scottish author George MacDonald wrote, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.”
For many of us, trust remains a pervasive topic in our daily lives. Think about your own view on trust for a moment and the levels of trust you extend to various people in your life.
Do you trust yourself in challenging situations at work?
Do you trust the news?
Do you trust your government?
Do you trust your hairdresser?
Do you trust your mechanic?
Do you trust your bank?
Do you trust your child’s teacher?
Do you trust the stock market?
Do you trust your spouse?
Do you trust in God?
When we apply the concept of trust to romantic relationships, we impose a variable degree of trust in the opposite sex. I call this our trust continuum. At one extreme of this continuum we take the position of trusting no one. Ever. To the point where our lack of trust impacts our ability to communicate effectively. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we trust everyone we meet, doling out our name and number with a wink that says, “Call me anytime.” Neither extreme on our trust continuum is ideal. For most of us, the position along our own trust continuum lies somewhere in the middle, perhaps slightly skewed toward one end or the other.
The position along a given trust continuum can vary from person to person, as well as from one circumstance to another. A morning meet-and-greet for coffee with a new romantic interest requires a low degree of trust, where the worst thing that could happen is your date never shows. Contrast this scenario to a first date with a man who picks you up at your house and takes you to dinner in his car. Perhaps you met him online and enjoyed a few friendly conversations or text messages. You might even know his last name and have already run it through the registered sex offenders list or vetted it through an online background check—none of which tells you much about this person’s level of trustworthiness—just whether or not they’ve been caught. In the end, the onus falls on you to decide the level of trust you’re willing to extend or not.
Some people are more trusting than others. For many, trust takes longer to earn, especially for those who’ve been hurt too many times before. Once trust is broken, it can be very hard to get it back. An obvious statement, perhaps, but one often unappreciated. Fortunately, trust can be earned over time through open and honest communication, a topic addressed at length in Chapter IV. For now, let’s review some key points about the core value of trust:
- Trust your own instincts. They’re almost always right.
- If you trust your partner, don’t waffle from one extreme to the other along your trust continuum. If you trust your partner more one minute and less the next, you’ll send mixed signals.
- Recognize that some people incur more emotional scars than others from past relationships, and thus, their willingness to trust may not be on par with yours. Be patient with trust issues. For some folks, it takes longer than others to build trust in a new relationship.
- Be careful with people who trust too willingly. Tread lightly with their emotions and don’t mistake their generous demeanor for someone who hasn’t been hurt before. Sometimes still waters run deep.
- If you feel like you can’t trust someone because your intuition keeps telling you there’s something off about him or her, then move on. It’s a big world out there and just a matter of time before you cross paths with someone more compatible.
- Don’t let one bad experience destroy your trust in the opposite sex. Confrontations with untrustworthy people might slide us toward the ultra-conservative end of our trust continuum, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to trust again—or falsely assume all members of the opposite sex are untrustworthy.
- Remember, trust goes both ways. If you want people to trust you, you have to trust yourself and exhibit the essential qualities of a trustworthy person—honesty, integrity, compassion, and decisiveness, to name a few.
Albert Einstein said, “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”
Although I lack Einstein’s intellectual capacity by a huge margin, I share his philosophy on respect. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the importance of respect, which goes hand in hand with trust. You wouldn’t trust someone you don’t respect. And you wouldn’t respect someone you don’t trust. This applies to ourselves as well as our relationships, where the concept of mutual respect plays an integral part in a healthy romantic relationship.
In many ways, respect, like trust, is earned. How you verbally communicate, how you dress, and how you conduct yourself in public as well as private situations, and especially how you treat others, will conspire to help you gain or lose respect. If you view yourself in an optimistic light and treat others in a manner you wish others to treat you, respect will follow.
In a healthy romantic relationship, we give and receive respect. We give respect as a result of truthful actions conducted by others. We receive respect as a result of our own trustworthy actions applied toward others. Each of us has a need to feel valued and encouraged. While this level of need will vary from person to person, we all share a need for respect. Often, we fill this need through words of encouragement, setting boundaries of acceptable behavior, and keeping our promises. Anyone who’s ever been stood up on a date, particularly a first date, can relate to how easy it is to lose respect for someone. The same goes for a promised phone call that never happens.
If you find you can’t respect someone, then they aren’t the right person for you. If someone doesn’t respect you for who you are as an individual with your own needs, desires, hopes, and dreams, then move on. Respect holds tremendous value in intimate relations, where many of us feel emotionally vulnerable. We don’t have to agree with every one of our partner’s opinions or beliefs, but we should be willing to respect them. People seldom see eye to eye on every issue in their relationship, and that’s okay as long as both partners share a mutual respect for one another and their relationship. Respect not only helps establish a more personal connection, it also helps build a longer-term relationship. As author William Ury wrote, “Respect is the key that opens the door to the other’s mind and heart.”
Some key points to remember about the core value of respect:
- In the words of Confucius, “Respect yourself and others will respect you.”
- Respect is earned.
- If we lose respect in our partner’s eyes, we might not get it back.
- We should share our opinions but not impose them.
- Respect for our partner’s differences and personal boundaries goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy romantic relationship.
- Those who give respect tend to get respect in return.
- Respect builds trust.
When I think of trust, respect, and honesty, I think about the charismatic Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior and his unwavering commitment to black civil rights. A leader revered by millions, Dr. King once proclaimed, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Growing up, we’re taught the difference between right and wrong. For the most part, our parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, and other authority figures promoted the basic concept of right and wrong. To steal is bad. To love is good. To lie is bad. To tell the truth is good. To misbehave is bad. To be polite and respect your elders is good.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way as we get older, things start to get a little fuzzy. We still maintain the distinction between right and wrong, but we start to exercise “white lies” or “half truths” more often. Unlike blatant lies, the white lies don’t hold the same stigma. We hear a few. We tell a few. Sooner than later, we convince ourselves a little white lie is not such a big deal. After all, everyone does it. You tell your friends you don’t want to go out because you’re too tired when in reality you simply aren’t in the mood. Rather than tell the truth, you sell a story. Your boyfriend asks if you like his new shirt, and you tell him it’s nice. In reality, it’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen and you’re embarrassed to step out with him in public.
At times, there’s a fine line between lying and withholding information, the former implying a blatant falsehood with the latter omitting certain details without overt dishonesty. Maybe you’re too tired to go out, but instead of voicing your opinion on the matter, you dodge the subject altogether and pretend to ignore the discussion by delving into another text message. In the new shirt example, an alternative response might include, “I’m glad you found something you liked.” Your answer remains sincere and honest, while the underlying truth you feel about the shirt remains hidden. Many times, we find these half truth examples benign. After all, we aren’t hurting anyone’s feelings, and we tell ourselves we’re simply making the decision not to share more information than required. We aren’t lying, we just aren’t revealing the big picture.
In our relationships, small white lies, and at times even the perception of a trite falsehood, can generate negative feelings over time. Any lie, small or not, tends to snowball. Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” There’s a lot of truth to that statement, no pun intended. The truth can be awkward and uncomfortable at times, but it forms the bedrock of any lasting romantic relationship. Obviously, blatant lies have no place in a relationship, but white lies can be detrimental as well. There will always be circumstances when we would rather withhold our sincere opinion than risk hurting someone’s feelings. In these situations, a little tact goes a long way.
Guys, your girlfriend doesn’t have a weight problem. She has a healthy figure. Her dress doesn’t make her look plump. It accentuates her curves. Note the fine line between lying and sharing an alternative viewpoint.
Honesty should always be something we strive for in our relationships, not something we shy away from. As with trust and respect, honesty should start with ourselves. Be honest about your feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions. Is he really the right one for me, or am I just feeling lonely? Am I with her because I like her for the wonderful woman she is and all the genuine qualities she owns, or because I’m hoping to get lucky tonight?
Are you in your relationship because you want to share your time with someone special or because you’re simply trying to fill a void in your life with the first person who comes along?
Young children tend to be the most honest people of all. Their innocence untainted by faulty gestures from adults with poor judgment and ulterior motives, children see people for who they are—good, bad, or indifferent, which brings a funny story to mind.
Several years back when my twin boys were about three years old, their mother and I liked to take them to the beach and collect sea shells. One particularly gorgeous Florida morning, we strolled past a crusty old fisherman with his Styrofoam drink cooler and a pair of Cabela’s fishing rods cast to the Atlantic—a typical scene we’d observed many times before, except this time, the tattooed fisherman had one good leg and one joined above the ankle to an antiquated prosthesis shaped like a pogo stick. Our twin boys, barely taller than the man’s knee, took notice immediately and walked up to the gruff-looking stranger. Dressed in identical clothes and shoes, our boys stood side-by-side, almost hand-in-hand as they were prone to do at that age. Their mother looked at me with a glint of apprehension in her eyes, her anxiety mirrored in my expression while both of us anticipated the candid comment our sons would utter to the salty fisherman with a stick for a leg.
When the man turned around, our boys stared at him unflinching and bent their heads sideways in unison like a pair of Muppets controlled by a puppeteer, captivated by the prosthetic device. Neither boy mumbled a word, opting instead to smile at the man’s irregularity before staring up at the stranger who looked down at them and said, “Pretty neat, huh?”
Our boys nodded simultaneously and kept walking. Their honest reaction from a natural curiosity spoke volumes to the kind-hearted man who acknowledged their bewilderment with an honest reply of his own. My point is, honesty should be the default setting. Unfortunately, for many of us, deceitful acts propagated by former partners with low self-esteem or a specious moral compass can tempt us to avoid honest communication. But if you want to achieve a meaningful and lasting romance, you have to fight the temptation to skew the truth and be honest with yourself and your partner. And while honesty can be uncomfortable at times, it creates a healthy environment necessary for a romantic relationship to grow. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Make honesty your California redwood—a deeply-rooted, unshakeable evergreen others look up to in awe.
Some key points to remember about the core value of honesty:
- Not only is honesty the best policy, it should be the only policy.
- Pretending to be truthful while dispensing white lies is like saying you’re a little pregnant.
- Better to face the truth and live with the consequences than perpetuate dishonesty in your romantic relationship.
- Honesty represents the yardstick from which we measure our integrity.
- If you can’t be honest with yourself, you won’t be honest in your romantic relationship.