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
- 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.
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.