Common Cold #4: Your Own Disloyalty

8:16 PM


Honestly, most people are not as loyal as they think they are. We have major loyalty issues in our society so it’s no wonder we struggle with loyalty in marriage. The most obvious loyalty issue, infidelity, is consistently reported as one of the main reasons for divorce (for example, see here and here). But loyalty issues go far beyond sexual fidelity. It is related to how we spend our time and money, the priorities we have (or don’t have), and what we choose to do and talk about with people other than our spouse. This is a really big issue in marriage that is way more common than you think. I believe that every marriage will encounter loyalty issues at some point.

Lack of Loyalty = Lame Marriage
If your marriage lacks loyalty, you are on the fast track to an empty relationship. Instead of being full of love and laughter, it will be filled with anger and apathy. Your marriage will become boring because it can’t stay lively without loyalty. Let me explain.
Closeness and connection in marriage are predicated upon spouses who are loyal to each other. Fiercely loyal. Without loyalty, people naturally begin to withdraw and stop sharing meaningful things. Conversations become surfacy and focused primarily on conflict or logistics, not friendship. When there is a lack of loyalty, people shut down emotionally because they don’t feel safe to share their deepest desires, aspirations, or fears. In a relationship where couples don't share these types of things, marriages grow boring and stale. Not only that, a lack of loyalty usually leads to more conflict. When loyalty is lacking, so is a sense of relationship security and acceptance. When these deep needs go unmet, it will increase feelings of anger and anxiety, which will likely increase bad relationship behavior and conflict in marriage.

4 Common Mistakes That Lead To Disloyalty
Of all the common cold issues we’ve discussed, disloyalty is the one I’ve seen end the most marriages and I have consistently seen 4 common mistakes precede the end of a marriage:
1) Not Establishing Healthy Relationship Boundaries
Boundaries help determine what is acceptable, appropriate, and expected in relationships. We all have boundaries that we expect others to conform to, even if we never tell them about it. Unfortunately, most couples don't talk about boundaries. Instead, they just bicker about boundary breaches. This is because most people assume that their partner understands what is appropriate and what isn’t. However, those are dangerous assumptions. It can be critical to the loyalty in your marriage to be overt about your boundary expectations, because it is hard to conform to something you don’t know is there. If you are not sure what your boundary expectations are, here are a few questions to consider and then discuss with your spouse:
-What types of things are okay to discuss with people other than your spouse, such as parents, children, friends, or other family?
-What are some things that your parents, siblings, or friends just don't need to know about?
-Is it okay to discuss your financial situation with others? If so, who?
-Is it okay to share the details of your marital conflicts with others?
-Is it okay to discuss your sexual relationship with other people?
-How much money is okay to spend without first consulting with your spouse?
-Is it okay to check your email or social media accounts whenever you want? Or are there times when your devices should be put away? If so, when?
-Are there times when it is expected that you and your partner will be home? Or can you just come and go as you please?
-Are there any limits to how much or when we engage in our hobbies or recreational pursuits?
-Are there certain people that you don't feel comfortable having your spouse spend time alone with? Or spend time with period?

I am not suggesting that every couple have a rigid set of answers to these questions, but if you haven’t discussed these things you are asking for trouble. For most couples, I recommend setting well-defined boundaries for the issues that cause the most conflict. Clear expectations can help reduce conflict. It's a lot easier to live up to expectations that we know are there.
One last thing on boundaries: If something bothers you or your spouse, you need to talk about it and work to get on the same page. As a general rule (with some notable exceptions), if it bothers your partner, try to readjust your boundaries to match their comfort zone. This will increase the loyalty in your marriage.

2) Acting out of Anxiety or Anger
Thanks to the Trolls in Frozen, we now understand that “people make bad choices if they’re mad, or scared, or stressed.” More specifically, when people feel anxious or angry, they make decisions based on what they think will make them feel better in the moment. For example, workaholics often choose to work longer hours when they feel anxious. Some people seek validation when they are anxious or angry by complaining about their spouse to others. And others withdraw, a common coping mechanism of both anger and anxiety, into hobbies, electronic devices, the Internet, or even porn.
Too often we allow a lack of loyalty in our spouse to inspire a lack of loyalty in us. This typically happens because we act out of anger or anxiety, which is motivated by deep and unmet needs. Just think about it: how do you feel when your partner comes home later than she says she would? When your spouse won't get off his phone? When your spouse spends more time with friends, gaming, or recreation than they do with you? When you learn that he shared something with his mother that was personal between the two of you? When your wife spends an excessive amount of money while shopping online? When you discover your spouse has been looking at porn? It’s normal to feel upset at any of these circumstances, but we have to be careful with how we respond.  Their lack of loyalty is never justification for our lack of loyalty. We can choose for ourselves.

3) Making the Wrong Choice in a Split Loyalty
What do you do when you find yourself in between two people (or things) to whom you feel loyal? For example, between your best friend and your spouse, your mother and your wife, your child and your husband, your job and your partner, or your Lularoe party and a surprise date night planned by your significant other? Who do you side with? These can be hard decisions because they are what we call split loyalties: a decision where your loyalties come into conflict. We could easily justify taking either side. But it is important that there is an overarching priority in our decision-making: our spouse should come first. That is the promise we made when we decided to marry. Now this doesn’t mean that we never go out with friends, work extra hours, or go to a Lularoe party (although you’ll probably never see me at one of those). But if we do need to choose something over our spouse, we should go out of our way to let our spouse know that they really are our top priority. We should also never consistently choose someone or something ahead of our spouse. Let your spouse be the judge of how well you are doing with this. In fact, you might ask your significant other if there is anything or anyone that they feel you are more loyal to than them. You might be surprised by the answer. And if you are, try not to get defensive.

4) Choosing Pleasure Over Partner
This last mistake is quite simple. For some reason, we often feel entitled to choose in-the-moment pleasure over loyalty to our partner. Whether it was a hard day at work, a rough day with the kids, or a series of unfortunate events, pleasure over partner is never a good choice. This is different from having your own hobbies you participate in on occasion or taking care of yourself physically or spiritually (i.e., meditation, exercise). This is also different from basking in your favorite pleasure-seeking activity when it is a set expectation or your spouse couldn’t care less what you did for the evening. Choosing pleasure over partner is choosing to feed the pleasure center in your brain rather than delaying gratification. It is choosing to be there for yourself rather than for your spouse. It is to choose personal entertainment over family obligations. The more you choose pleasure over partner, the harder it is to stop. Neglecting marriage and family in the name of “me-time” (i.e., pleasure over partner) demonstrates a serious lack of loyalty and will only lead to misery in the long run.

The Decision
When marriages end because of disloyalty, it's terribly tragic because one simple decision made early on and reiterated throughout your marriage can make all of the difference. When you choose to get married, you are deciding to become a loyal spouse. Embracing this identity is more important than your identity as a friend, a sibling, a gamer, a professional, or even as a child to your parents. Your spouse wants to feel like a priority in your life. They want to feel that they are more important than your job, your favorite sports team, your shopping passions, your hobbies, or even your mom. When you choose to marry, you choose to make your spouse the most important person in your life. When you made this commitment, you gave up the choice to make them second fiddle (even to yourself). A commitment is making a choice to give up other choices. Living up to this reality is absolutely crucial to the success of your marriage.

One relationship expert suggests that we should practice the presence of our partner. This is something we can choose to do every day, regardless of where we are or what we are doing. We can act as if they are with us, even if they are not there. Speak as if they can hear us, even if they can't. Think as though all of our thoughts are being broadcast to them, even though they are not. This is what it means to be fiercely loyal to your spouse. Making the decision to be fiercely loyal is the only way you will ever have the marriage you hope to enjoy.

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