Whether we choose to admit it or not, most of us routinely seek some form of reassurance from an important individual in our lives. Perhaps from our parents for trying to live up to their expectations; from our children for trying to be the best role models we can be; from our friends for acknowledging their significance in our lives; from our boss for acknowledging a job well done; and especially, from our romantic partners.
Reassurance, by definition, provides an action to remove our doubts and fears. The need to feel wanted and appreciated comes naturally. No one seeks to feel unwanted or abandoned. And certainly no one enjoys rejection or being taken for granted.
We all require different levels of reassurance. Some more than others. On one end of the spectrum we find those who require little more than a pat on the back or a simple “thanks.” On the other end, some people crave constant reassurance to the point where we label them “needy” or “clingy.”
Men tend to run from women who come across as emotionally needy; although, women are not immune from exhibiting the same behavior toward needy men whom they consider desperate. There are degrees of needy, and men out of touch with their own emotions can be quick to label a woman who requires regular open, honest communication as needy.
Somewhere a balance exists, for both men and women, between the requirement for too much or too little reassurance. How we define too much or too little depends on the individual person and their particular needs. Finding the perfect balance can be tricky at times, but siding with one extreme or the other never bodes well for couples trying to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. As with many aspects of our romantic relationships, and in particular with trying to understand our own core values, we should strive for reassurance within ourselves and not become completely dependent on our partners.
Why does reassurance hold such importance? Because it demonstrates caring, compassion, and commitment to one another. Reassurance affirms our belief in one another. It validates our feelings for one another in a positive way. Reassurance also plays an integral role in maintaining open, honest communication. Without it, the person who no longer receives reassurance starts to feel unwanted, unappreciated, or ignored. Reassurance also provides a powerful tool for building trust; for reminding our partner they feel loved; and for maintaining respect. Reassurance also boosts our self-esteem, defined by the integration of self-confidence and self-respect, and plays an important role in maintaining romance and intimacy in a relationship. Reassurance expands our ability to love and be loved.
Verbal reassurance doesn’t have to be profound or poetic. And it doesn’t have to be lengthy. It simply has to be honest and sincere. The level and specific content of verbal reassurance varies appropriately with the stage of our relationship. If someone craves our verbal reassurance after a first date, it might be a sign of insecurity and some unresolved issues. On the other hand, a woman seeking verbal reassurance after several dates, might be trying to ascertain her standing in the early stages of a new relationship (e.g., Am I his only girlfriend or one of many in his stable of female acquaintances?).
For men who fit the model of the strong and silent type, a warm smile, a gentle hug, a soft kiss, or a note on the nightstand exemplify ways to express reassurance. Men enjoy kissing, but for women, the kiss holds greater value; a form of nonverbal reassurance that requires a higher degree of trust and comfort than say a warm hug or a walk on the beach together. In some ways for women, the kiss represents a litmus test of a man’s affection. Men often interpret a kiss as a prelude to sex. Whereas men expect to see clothes shed post-haste, women crave the sense of closeness and belonging a kiss provides, without necessarily involving sex. Show me a man who believes he can fake sincerity in a halfhearted kiss with his girlfriend or wife, and I’ll show you a man with delusional tendencies. Sooner or later, and chances are much sooner than later, the woman will pick up on the signal like a bright orange flare. By which point the only thing more certain than the man’s delusional state of mind is his partner’s decision to move on.
Regardless of your position on reassurance, we all require some measure of reassurance to sustain a healthy romantic relationship. When in doubt about your partner’s need for reassurance, simply ask.
Some key points to remember about the core value of reassurance:
- Reassurance should be reciprocal.
- Reassurance can be verbal, nonverbal, or both.
- Everyone craves some form of reassurance on different levels; some of us more frequently than others.
- Open, honest communication plays an integral role in our efforts to provide reassurance.
“See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.” —Robin Williams
“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” —Woody Allen
“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.” —Steven Wright
“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” —George Carlin
“The next time you buy a new mattress, tell the salesperson you’re haggling with, ‘I don’t know…I’ll have to sleep on it.’” —Jason Melby
Humor represents one of our most important core values. How many people do you know who don’t enjoy laughing? If we can’t laugh at ourselves once in a while, we’re taking life too seriously. Often, we spend our time in a futile effort to make sense of things beyond our control. The weather, for instance, always is what it is. We can love the day’s forecast, or we can hate it. But there’s not much we can do to change it. The same goes for those wacky relatives who drive us crazy, though I’m fortunate not to have any of those in my family tree. Maybe it’s your ex who won’t let go or your boss who’s always on your case. A problem child with a mind of their own or just a bad hair day. Life is unpredictable. Change is inevitable. For some of us, a pint of Häagen-Dazs can heal fresh wounds. Others find comfort at their favorite martini bar or from a riveting novel. But sometimes, when you’re dangling from the last fiber at the end of a badly worn rope, all you can do is laugh.
Laughter builds an instant social bond between two people, and unlike the price of gas, laughter won’t set you back sixty bucks to fill your tank with high spirits and positive vibes that come with acknowledging the humorous side of life.
Humor has a tendency to sneak up on us in ways we least expect. Case in point: several years ago I went through a divorce. At that time, my wife and I knew it was the right thing to do. Although a difficult but necessary decision, my divorce impacted me less as a husband losing a wife and more as a father losing time with his sons. Though my wife and I agreed to share joint custody, the separation of households meant my boys would only be with me half time. As a father who loves his children more than life itself, the prospect of losing time with them brought an emotional pain the likes of which I’d never felt before. But more than my sadness of losing time with my six-year-old sons, came a sense of overwhelming concern about the potentially negative affects the divorce would have on them.
One night, when I was tucking my boys in bed, I noticed one son seemed restless and sort of melancholy. Not knowing what was wrong, I tried to ask him but heard no reply as he started to rock himself to sleep. At that moment, I felt terrible and proceeded to reassure him that despite the change in routine brought on by the divorce, I would always love him. And I would always be there for him.
Motivated by my assumption that his moment of sadness stemmed from the impact of divorce, I proceeded with my monologue of reassurance, hoping my words of love and encouragement were getting through to my son and his twin brother, who listened intently from the bunk above. After a minute or so, I stopped talking and said a final “good night.” Before I could stand up, my son rolled on his side to look at me, his face a portrait of concentration as he pondered what I’d said—or so I thought at that moment in time—and asked, “Can you show me how to fart with my armpit?”
A moment earlier, I wanted to cry. Now it was all I could do not to bust out laughing. I’m not making light of my divorce or the impact it had on my family. I’m simply illustrating one of many examples where a little humor can help put things in perspective.
Another quick aside…this one more relevant to the topic at hand as it involves a first date fiasco. After exchanging sideways glances with one another for the better part of six months during several school functions our children attended, I decided to ask a female acquaintance out for dinner. After all, we were casual friends who shared some common interests beyond our roles as single parents. I also found her attractive with a wonderful personality and a nice sense of humor.
I planned our date for dinner at a low key restaurant near the beach, which turned out to be the only thing that went right on this casual rendezvous.
After leaving work later than I’d planned, I got stuck at a railroad crossing waiting for the southbound CSX locomotive to plod its way through Melbourne. At home, I hustled through my shower, shave, and change of clothes. As luck would have it, I managed to cut myself shaving, an event I rarely encounter, slammed my elbow on the bathroom pocket door hard enough to ignite the not so funny bone, and discovered a once tiny pimple on my chin now loomed like Mount Vesuvius.
With little time to spare, I settled my nerves with a few deep breaths and calmly put everything in perspective. My pimple less threatening than it first appeared, I grabbed a fresh shirt off the hanger and reached for my antiperspirant on the bathroom counter. Unfortunately, this particular deodorant stick was one I’d had for some time. With barely a penny’s width of product still left in the twist applicator, I applied what I could from the only antiperspirant in my possession and experienced the coup de grâce. For instead of applying smoothly, the deodorant crumbled into pieces and scattered on my bathroom rug. Already ten minutes late, I got on my hands and knees to pluck what I could salvage from the carpet.
Fast forward to dinner at a favorite local hangout with a woman who seemed more interested in the casual decor than she did in me. After half an hour of good food and somewhat stilted conversation, I found myself in a quandary and decided to inject a little humor with a quick recount of events leading up to our first date encounter. As dinner came to a close, along with any expectation of a second date, I told her the story about my deodorant shenanigans. With my palms face out, I said, “At least my hands smell good.” I got a good laugh out of it—right up until the end of the evening when my over-priced, pre-owned luxury lemon broke down at a stop sign on the way to drop her home.
If you think about it, there are times when we all experience less than stellar moments in our romantic relationships. One minute we’re happy, and the next we’re sad. One minute we’re embroiled in a heated argument of apocalyptic proportion and the next we’re laughing about our own hypocrisy. Sometimes a little perspective helps remind us of the most important things in life. And the importance of humor should never be overlooked in our romantic relationships. The ability to laugh maintains our sanity in our increasingly fast-paced, over-stressed world. Much like words of reassurance, a little levity goes a long way. Not to say an addiction to laughing would necessarily be a bad thing; although, it might give the wrong impression by implying we’re inebriated, high, or emotionally imbalanced. Oddly, I’ve dated women who exhibit all three traits. Sometimes on the same night.
Humor is often what we make of it. It’s also no secret women love a man who can make them laugh. And vice versa. If John Candy were alive today, I’d date him. Okay, that’s a stretch, but my point is men enjoy women with a great sense of humor as much as women seek men who can make them laugh.
Think of humor as the universal call of the wild. People love to laugh. And for good reason. Studies show laughter can reduce pain, strengthen our immune system, and lessen our everyday stress levels. Studies also indicate laughter plays a positive role in our romantic relationships, where couples appreciate each other’s humor. Or as someone once said, “People with a good sense of humor have a better sense of life.”
Some key points to remember about the core value of humor:
- When all else fails, sometimes all you can do is laugh.
- Laugh with your partner not at him.
- A sense of humor will help sustain you through the rough times and make the good times even better.
- You don’t have to be a comedian to appreciate the funny side of life.
- People who laugh more, live more.
Healthy romantic relationships involve commitment from both partners who presumably enjoy each other’s company. Obviously, spending time with one another, learning, growing, and experiencing life as a couple, supports a fulfilling relationship. Yet despite the common interests we share and the desire to spend time together, we must also acknowledge our need for independence. Independence creates a sense of security. It helps us balance our desire to be in a relationship versus our need to be in one, concepts I discuss at length in Chapter II.
What does independence mean to each of us in our romantic relationships? For some, it means time alone to read, listen to music, or reflect upon our thoughts in solitude. For others, it involves a shopping spree with girlfriends or enjoying a guys’ fishing weekend. Independence does not necessarily imply solitude, so much as time away from our relationship, which begs the question: how can we maintain our independence and still be in a serious relationship when these choices appear contradictory? We can have one without the other, but we can’t remain independent and attached to a meaningful romance at the same time. Or can we?
To answer this question for yourself, reflect on your own need for independence. Some of us are fiercely independent; others not so much. I cook, clean, and do my own laundry. I pay my bills on time. I care for my children when they’re in my custody. So by all accounts, I consider myself independent. That said, I enjoy a woman’s company. I also appreciate, respect, and enjoy the value of a meaningful and lasting romance. Like most things in life, I strive for a balance between my need for independence—which involves a lot of time to write, exercise, and enjoy a variety of hobbies—and my desire for a healthy relationship, which involves chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment. For me, the need for independence and togetherness fit less of a mutually exclusive model and more of a Yin/Yang paradigm where the two halves intertwine. I prefer regular, consistent time alone in modest doses rather than long bouts of solitude away from my partner. I also try to communicate this up front. My need to spend time alone doesn’t mean I don’t value my romantic relationship. On the contrary, my time alone helps me recharge my senses, clear my head, and maintain a positive perspective on life—all of which helps make me a better person, a better friend, and a better partner overall.
I encourage you to look inward and ask yourself how you define your independence. What are some things you need time to do for yourself? And when? And how often? There are no right or wrong answers here, only truth. Strive for a balance in your romantic relationship. Whether you’re inclined to need more or less independence, make sure you communicate this need to your partner.
For those of us who require lots of independence, be careful about spending too little time with your partner. People who make themselves unavailable physically and/or emotionally, risk serious, and sometimes irreparable harm to their relationship. A meaningful and lasting romance implies physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual togetherness—not two people leading completely separate lives. Then again, some people in healthy romantic relationships prefer lots of time apart because for them it simply works.
The polar opposites of those who require lots of independence, are those who require almost none. Those without a sense of independence crave constant reassurance. In my experience, individuals who lack a sense of independence have not learned how to enjoy spending time alone. They also tend to expend energy doing things to please other people instead of trying to please themselves.
According to a February 2011 USA Today article, which cited a national survey of more than five thousand single men and women across age groups from twenty-one to over sixty-five, women want more independence than men in their relationships. According to the national survey, touted as the largest and most comprehensive study of single adults to date, seventy-seven percent of women stated having their personal space was “very important” compared to fifty-eight percent for men. I don’t pretend to understand all the reasons behind these figures, but it’s interesting to note how the women in this survey appear to crave their independence more than men. Perhaps women tend to socialize more than men with visits to their favorite spa, shopping destinations, nail salons, or just hanging out on the beach with friends. Apparently, modern men require less independence. Or perhaps guys simply need to find more things to do.
Independence doesn’t exclusively apply to a physical separation of partners. In other words, you can still spend time together and maintain some independence at the same time. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and express your thoughts or concerns. You are who you are, a unique individual capable of making your own decisions and enjoying your own interests, whether or not they coincide with your partner’s. If you don’t like red meat, don’t let your partner convince you to eat it. If you don’t like horror movies, speak up and suggest an alternative. Perhaps your definition of independence includes pumping your own gas, carrying your own groceries to the car, making your own decisions about when and where to eat out. Regardless of how you define your need for independence, make it clear, but don’t go overboard. Sometimes there’s a fine line between independent and stubborn—or independent and confrontational. Having everything your way all the time won’t work well either.
Some key points to remember about the core value of independence include:
- Look inward and define your own need for independence. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not, you may jeopardize the success of your existing or future romantic relationships.
- Strive for a balance between together time and time alone. Recognize that your need for independence might vary.
- There will always be activities you enjoy sharing with your partner and those you prefer to enjoy alone. Embrace your differences; don’t reject them.
- In a budding romantic relationship, communicate your expectations early on. If your expectations are grossly out of line with your partner’s—e.g., one of you requires significantly more alone time than the other—then you might have an issue to address.
- Don’t give up your independence. Be yourself. Hold onto the things you believe in and the ideals you value in your life.
With everything we do in life, we are accountable to someone; to the bank that holds our car note; to our boss at work; to our children who look to us for guidance and support; to our friends, our family, and our significant others; to ourselves; and for some of us, to God. But what does accountability really mean? For starters, it begins with honesty. Accountability is closely coupled with the trust people place in us. Accountability also means learning to say we’re sorry and taking responsibility for our actions; learning to accept the blame when our deeds cause harm to others.
The law holds us accountable if we defy the formal statutes governing acceptable behavior in our society. Employers hold us accountable for our productivity and our behavior in the work place. Our romantic partners hold us accountable for our words and actions in our relationships. But what about ourselves? Shouldn’t we hold ourselves accountable for our own actions? Absolutely!
Then why is it so easy to be accountable in various facets of our lives and then jettison this notion the instant we’re in a romantic relationship that doesn’t work? I’m talking about guys who say they’ll call and then never do. I’m also talking about women who argue they are tired of the dating games while they continue to perpetuate the same dating games themselves.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” In other words, it’s always easy to blame others for mistakes—and hard to look inward, to self-reflect on our own bad habits and occasionally inappropriate behaviors. I’m not proposing everyone should overanalyze every relationship they’ve ever been in, but I feel it’s important to understand where we’ve been before we forge ahead and try to figure out where we’re going. Only after we’ve spent time reflecting on our virtues and our flaws, can we begin to apply these lessons learned to our romantic relationships.
Accountability makes us vulnerable by exposing our flaws and forcing us to see things for what they really are. In the words of the late Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, “He who gains a victory over other men is strong; but he who gains a victory over himself is all-powerful.” We gain victory over ourselves by being accountable for our actions.
If you’re serious about wanting to engage in a meaningful and lasting romance, or if you’re already involved in one, be open and honest. Don’t step out on your responsibilities. Step up and do the right thing. Look inward and identify the things that bother you or cause discomfort in your relationship. If you’re lucky enough to be perfectly happy twenty-four-seven and content with every aspect of your life, I applaud you. For those of us who live in the real world, it’s never a bad idea to examine ourselves and make small course corrections, especially if we’re not content with certain aspects of our lives. Or as Joyce Meyer lectures, “You can suffer the pain of change or suffer remaining the way you are.” Change isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Ditto for accountability, which can, at times, force us to modify our behavior patterns and come to terms with our shortcomings.
Some key points to remember about the core value of accountability:
- Be cognizant of the way you treat people.
- If you don’t like what you see inside yourself, work to make a change for the better.
- Accountability should be something we strive for, not something we hide from.
- It’s better to become accountable than pass the blame.
- Accountability allows for positive change in ourselves and in our romantic relationships.