Self discipline serves a great purpose in our lives and especially in our romantic relationships. Self discipline acts like a forcing function to keep our other core values in check. Think of self discipline as the skeleton in our bodies. Without it, we would be nothing more than a blob of tissue and muscle mass. From a psychological perspective, self discipline drives us to set higher standards for ourselves, to achieve our goals, to overcome addictions or other negative influences, to persevere in times of need, and to thrive in times of comfort. Without self discipline, we shed our inner strength, our confidence, and esteem; we see problems and not solutions. Instead of rising toward success, we fall upon failure.
Self discipline represents one of the most powerful tools we have in our cache of core values and plays an integral role in maintaining a meaningful and lasting romance. Self discipline helps us get out of bed; eat healthy—or as close to healthy as we can; stay fit; do our chores; maintain a budget; control our temper; avoid temptations; become better parents; provide for our spiritual growth and self-improvement; and in general, overcome the momentary failures and inevitable setbacks life throws our way. Self discipline helped me pay my way through college, earn a master’s degree, pursue a thriving career, author numerous books, maintain a physically and emotionally healthy lifestyle, and become a better father.
Self discipline equates to persistence and perseverance. The persistence to finish a task we start—no matter how trivial or significant—and the perseverance to endure the trials and tribulations along the way. It takes self discipline to train for a race or to write a book, and it takes self discipline to remain attentive to our partners’ needs and desires. Self discipline also helps foster better communication and stronger commitment, topics covered in detail in Chapters IV and VI respectively.
Growing up, I recall my father telling me, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” This was usually meant in jest when he proudly displayed his uncanny ability to find a front row parking space at a popular restaurant or some other impossible-to-get-to destination that required the Hubble telescope to find an open spot. I also remember him rebuilding various components from several cars we’d owned over the years, performing never-been-done before repairs with perfection.
On many occasions, I’d find him on a plywood creeper with his hands above his head, blindly fidgeting in the chassis as he calmly explained the nature of his task while his fingers worked their magic like a surgeon. Sometimes bolts wouldn’t turn, parts wouldn’t fit, a component was too long, his reach was too short, or nothing seemed to go together as expected. But in the end, and I mean always in the end, through some act of genius or the will of God, he’d find a way to make it work. Every time. Without fail. No matter how bleak the initial prognosis, I’d hear him say with a smile, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Looking back on those days, his success at fixing cars, home appliances, computers, vacuum cleaners, guns, or anything else manmade, had less to do with luck and more to do with his tremendous self discipline. My father’s willingness to exercise patience, sound judgment, keen intellect, and a positive attitude derived largely from his aptitude for self discipline—the same self discipline that has helped my parents enjoy a meaningful and lasting romance for more than thirty years, raising five beautiful children and me along the way.
Self discipline doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time. It takes practice. Some people are seemingly born with it; others work hard to obtain it. If you’ve got it, hold onto it. If you lack self discipline, take baby steps to learn it. Get up on time. Make proper diet and exercise a priority in your life. Compliment your partner. Write a love note to him or her and hide it somewhere you know they’ll find it. Save what money you can for a rainy day. Even if it’s nothing more than spare change, the act of making a conscious decision to save money, no matter how minimal at first, will have a positive affect on you. The same holds for saving time. A little self discipline in the time management department goes a long way toward reducing stress in your life and in your romantic relationship.
To turn my dad’s phrase around, I’d rather be good than lucky. Unless we’re talking about the lottery, where being good has nothing to do with winning, it’s important to practice self discipline. If we strive to achieve self discipline for ourselves, we’ll achieve it in our romantic relationships. The late Jim Rohn, an American entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, once said, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” Let self discipline help guide you to your next achievement. You don’t have to be the smartest or the fastest or the most well-off. You simply have to be the most determined.
Some key points to remember about the core value of self discipline:
- Self discipline can’t be learned in a classroom. Much like learning to speak a new language, you have to exercise your mental muscles until your newfound skill becomes second nature.
- Strive to be virtuous and stoic in your core values, as these represent the glue in your romantic relationship. Think of self discipline as the clamp that allows this glue to cure and tightly bond your relationship together.
- A strong romantic relationship can survive a momentary lapse in trust, respect, honesty, or accountability—but only if you have the self discipline to overcome it.
- Self discipline is what makes the impossible, possible.
People often fall in love and bask in the glory of happily ever after. But at times, even with the best intentions at heart, we fall victim to complacency and begin to lose sight of what we have, and in the process, neglect the critical core value of appreciation. It’s always easy to admire someone we just met and with whom we feel a strong chemistry. For some of us, this initial intensity of a new romance persists for an extended period of time. But for others, we start to take our partner for granted. We don’t talk as often. We don’t listen like we used to. We don’t compliment as often. We sacrifice quality time together to pursue less important activities. This doesn’t mean we necessarily lose respect or admiration for our partners. We simply refrain from making the conscious effort to appreciate what we have and to frequently convey our appreciation. Not surprisingly, authors Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks cite lack of appreciation as one of five issues tied to the erosion of long-term romantic relationships. In their book, Lasting Love, the authors stress the importance of maintaining the flow of appreciation between partners as their relationship evolves. They also cite commitment among their five issues of concern—a topic I address at length in Chapter VI.
It’s not enough to assume love will conquer all simply because we feel love in our heart for someone. We have to show we appreciate one another through our words and our actions. This can be a tough lesson to learn and partially explains why good partners slip away despite everything we feel we’ve done right in our relationship. The concept is simple, yet so easy to get wrong.
We all have a need to feel appreciated and wanted. Over several years I’ve dated women who lack the core value of appreciation. Despite all their positive qualities, they reciprocated my kindness and generosity with all the honesty and respect of a rock—a paradox worthy of further consideration but beyond the scope of this book. More importantly, those negative experiences reinforced for me, the tremendous value of appreciation. When we lose appreciation for the kindhearted, genuine, attractive individuals in our lives, we fail ourselves and our romantic relationships by not acknowledging the value of the person in our lives. As the French philosopher, Voltaire, proclaimed, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
We owe it to our partners to not only appreciate their presence in our lives, but to demonstrate our appreciation at recurring intervals. Sometimes it’s not enough to say, “I love you.” Show your partner how much you love him or her through good deeds and selfless acts. Become an active listener. Learn to empathize. Identify the priorities in your life and make sure your romantic relationship stays near the top of the list where it belongs.
Some key points to remember about the core value of appreciation:
- Appreciation is a cornerstone of romance.
- If you can’t appreciate what you have in your romantic relationship, it might be time to reevaluate your needs and desires.
- Appreciation doesn’t come with a price tag, so give generously.
- Doubt and insecurity lurk in the absence of appreciation. When you fail to appreciate your partner, you erode the foundation of trust, respect, and honesty you’ve built over time.
- It doesn’t take a genius intellect or a wild imagination to show appreciation; sometimes the smallest gestures echo loudest in the valley of true love.
Forgiveness, the last core value I will mention in this book, defines a value many people struggle to incorporate in their day-to-day lives. Tolstoy said, “Let us forgive each other—only then will we live in peace.” Mark Twain quipped, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” And in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
Forgiveness can’t be something we choose from time to time. Selective forgiveness, in my opinion, doesn’t work. Furthermore, in forgiveness lies hope. For without forgiveness, we are doomed to languish in our own despair.
Let’s face it, most of us at one time or another have endured bad relationships, whether they involved a short term fling we later regretted, a planned engagement that fell through, or like many couples, a marriage that ended badly. Forgiveness helps us leave the past behind and get on with our lives. A lot of personal factors determine our willingness to forgive, including our faith, our personality, lessons learned from our previous relationships, and our upbringing.
When a romantic relationship fails, the choice to forgive a wrongdoing inflicted by one partner on another may or may not save the relationship once the music stops for good. But small acts of forgiveness while a relationship remains healthy, or even when it’s in need of repair, can be tremendously beneficial.
Does your boyfriend or husband leave the toilet seat up? If yes, then tell him not to. If he persists, then explain your concerns with a more compelling approach. Assuming you get through to him and the toilet seat stays down, then give him some slack if he forgets on occasion. In other words, forgive the behavior. Resist the temptation to hold a grudge about it or to incite a hurtful argument. The same attitude applies to men. If your girlfriend or wife does something to irritate you—hypothetically speaking, of course, since women never do things to drive men crazy—calmly explain your position and help her understand why the behavior has a negative affect on you. When an occasional lapse in judgment ensues, forgive the behavior and move on. Often, the little stuff evolves into bigger problems if ignored. But don’t confuse forgiveness with complacency or appeasement. If something bothers you, speak up! And if you find yourself in the position of having to forgive someone’s constant indiscretions, then perhaps your partner’s core values don’t align with yours. In addition, there’s a good chance certain high priority relationship needs are not being met.
If your girlfriend forgot to set the DVR to Sports Channel, forgive her. If your boyfriend forgot to call you at work, forgive him. If your wife forgot to grab your favorite beer at the store, forgive her. If your husband forgot your anniversary, again—well…it was nice knowing him.
Some key points to remember about the core value of forgiveness:
- Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily imply reconciliation.
- Forgive the little things to help your romantic relationship grow.
- Better to forgive and carry on with a conscience in good faith than carry the crushing weight of a grudge.
Core Values in Summary
The core values of trust, respect, honesty, reassurance, humor, independence, accountability, self discipline, appreciation, and forgiveness provide the foundation upon which we build a meaningful and lasting romance. These core values as I’ve defined them are not meant to be all-encompassing, but rather, a comprehensive list of essential principles from which to better ourselves and our romantic relationships. These universal standards are important and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Think about the values you champion and those you could improve upon. No one is perfect. People excel more in some areas than in others. Strive for balance as you grow and learn—not perfection.
With a better understanding of our core values and the role they play in helping us foster a meaningful and lasting romance, we can shift our focus to understanding the distinction between our needs and our desires. Why are these important, and how do they ultimately relate to the 4Cs? The answer is simple, and in many ways, applies to every one of us.