“Sometimes the most basic elements are the most fascinating, the most absorbing, and also the most complicated.” ~ Virginia Graham
“Reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence. The obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed” 1
Trust is one of the primary foundations of a healthy relationship. There’s not much you can build in your relationship if there is an absence of trust. Trust, after all, is the cornerstone of marriage. We trust that our spouse has pledged complete and unending love and commitment to us. We trust that our spouse has our best interests at heart. We trust that our spouse fully intends to spend the rest of his or her life with us, regardless of the circumstances that may change. We trust that our spouse will love us unconditionally, and that if all we own is stripped away, our spouse will still be there loving and caring for us. Finally, we trust that there is nothing in the world more important to our spouse than us and our relationship.
So what is trust anyway? Blind faith? Not hardly. As Webster defines it, there are numerous meanings of the word trust, in both the noun and verb form. Some of the more applicable definitions in the noun form include “the trait of trusting; of believing in the honesty and reliability of others.” Trust is also defined as “complete confidence in a person or plan.” As a verb, trust is defined as “having confidence or faith in; allowing without fear.” 2
As we relate trust to relationships, it is easy to see that if there is not a complete trust in one’s spouse, the marriage relationship cannot thrive, much less survive. Trust is an integral part of our relationship as a married couple and it is the glue that holds us together. Having complete confidence in a person to love us, no matter our faults or circumstances, is truly a rare and unique experience.
Trust means having a complete assurance that circumstances will not influence the relationship we share with one another. The vow that many of us have taken that states “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health” simplifies this concept of trust. If we entered into a relationship that was based on circumstances, it would be so easy for the marriage to dissolve at the first sign of trouble. Trust, therefore, means complete confidence in one another, which is vital to the healthy growth of a marriage relationship. Without trust, a relationship is destined for failure and disappointment.
“Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” 3
Integrity, just like trust, is foundational and essential in the marriage relationship. Integrity encompasses trust, but is more clearly defined as moral soundness. I’ve heard it said that integrity means doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. I add that integrity is doing the right thing because it is the right thing, not because someone else expects you to do it. In the marriage relationship, integrity means remaining true to your spouse and avoiding situations that are potentially destructive to your relationship. Integrity can also mean avoiding situations that evade or avoid responsible actions.
The majority of us would like to think that we have integrity and we would also like to think that others see us as having high moral character. We all desire and expect this behavior in our spouse. It is one of the foundational truths of any successful marriage that both marriage partners posses and exercise personal responsibility and integrity.
When I exhibit integrity as a virtue and a character trait, it builds respect from Debby. When she sees me holding myself to a higher standard and following a sound moral compass, the level of respect she has for me increases. However, being as though I am not perfect and make poor choices from time to time, when I fail to uphold those expectations and do or say something unexpected and regrettable, she can look at the overall track record of my integrity and realize that whatever the offense was, it was an aberration and not consistent with my habits. There are times when we both say and do regrettable things or make poor choices, but they don’t shake our commitment to one another or destroy our marriage.
Integrity certainly does not mean perfection; rather, it is a character trait that one strives to achieve through a combination of decisions and actions. A person known to be of high integrity is not one who never makes mistakes or never has a lapse in judgment, but someone who generally makes wise decisions and who puts a high premium on making good choices. It is one who takes responsibility for his or her own actions and is consistent, regardless of circumstances.
Integrity can be defined as the strength of one’s will to stand for something or to hold something in high regard. In our marriage covenant, it is the covenant of marriage itself and the sanctity of marriage that is held in high regard and protected from dangers that can come from any and all directions. Integrity in marriage refers not only to complete honesty, but also to the moral obligation you have toward your spouse to remain faithful and true in all things, but especially in terms of your sexual relationship.
There are truly few things that can destroy a marriage quicker than a spouse who lacks integrity in the sexual realm. Infidelity immediately destroys the foundational trust in a marriage and could potentially take years to rebuild. Integrity can be restored provided both partners renew their commitment to one another and their commitment to make the marriage work, at all cost.
3. Unconditional Love
“Affection or commitment with no limits or conditions; not subject to a condition or conditions; absolute and complete love” 4
As you will see, the majority of the topics in this chapter are closely intertwined and related to one another. Unconditional love is one of those fundamental truths that must be present for any relationship to grow and prosper. If your love for one another is conditional, it cannot and will not be eternal. Conditional love is dependent upon a specific set of circumstances or criteria. It changes and adjusts when the circumstances change. Unconditional love means that regardless of the circumstances and storms you may face in life, your love will stay the course and remain faithful and true.
We believe that love is a conscious decision to care for your spouse in such a way as to meet their needs and exceed their expectations every day. It is a selfless love that puts the other first, in all things, and that demonstrates your commitment.
It is important to establish unconditional love early in your relationship, even when the challenges seem small and insignificant. Time doesn’t necessarily work the same in all relationships and most of us aren’t on a textbook-style time frame. By that, I mean that your love won’t necessarily be tested with a progression of challenges, starting with something small and insignificant in the beginning and growing with intensity over time. Some relationships are thrust into challenging waters at the very onset of the relationship, as ours was, while others may have the luxury of developing a long-term relationship before facing adversity.
As you love your spouse unconditionally and prove your love time and time again, their self-esteem and confidence in the relationship grows. Their value rises and they in turn are drawn into a deeper love for you. One popular marriage author describes the relationship between a man and a woman as a bank account. The more positive things you say and do, the more deposits you make in your account. On the other hand, every time you make a thoughtless comment or commit a foolish and selfish act, your account is debited. The idea then is to have a positive balance, just like in your checkbook, and to make more deposits than debits to maintain peace and harmony in your relationship.
There is nothing more beautiful than two people who truly love one another with an unconditional love. There are no motives, no schemes, no enticements, and no manipulations. Unconditional love doesn’t require deposits, it doesn’t require favors, and it doesn’t require bribes. Unconditional love is one person loving another, regardless of circumstances, and regardless of any reciprocal act or behavior. They love because that is what they do, that is the choice they make, and nothing can change that fact. Unconditional love is a choice; one that chooses to stand the test of time and the test of circumstances.
“Firmness of purpose or intent; determination.” 5
Resolve may not be one of the words you would have chosen if you were putting together a list of absolute requirements, but as it relates to marriage and unconditional love, we believe it is one of the essential elements of a successful and amazing marriage. Resolve, or tenacity, and determination will get you through when the storms of life are pounding away at your anchor. They will allow you to stand firm, without wavering in your convictions. Without having a predetermined resolve that you will stick by your spouse when life gets tough, thoughts of doubt and despair may creep in and begin to take hold in your heart.
It is no secret or surprise that bad things happen in life. Sickness, job loss, disappointment, financial setbacks, and countless other challenges appear in our path on a continual basis. Challenges and problems cannot be avoided and oftentimes cannot be controlled, much less result in a chosen outcome. What you can control, however, when you face these trials and tribulations is your response to them. How will you handle these setbacks? Who will you turn to for comfort, and who will you turn to for solutions? Will you play the blame game and try to find fault in others, or will you accept the fact that bad things do happen to good people and work together to find a way out of the mess you are in? The answer lies in your resolve and commitment to one another.
People respond to crisis in different ways, and some people immediately look to find fault in others. Their financial troubles certainly can’t be a result of their own choices. It must have been caused by someone else. Someone else gave a poor investment recommendation; otherwise your 401k would not be reflecting the loss that it is. The termination notice your boss handed you is obviously part of a bigger financial crisis your company is facing and cannot at all be associated with your work ethic and the choices you’ve made.
Can you see how easy it is to fall prey and victim to your circumstances and how easy it is to find fault in your spouse for your current or ongoing problems? Resolve and total commitment to one another is paramount in determining the success in your relationship. It is a mindset that no matter what happens in your relationship you must maintain the tenacity to stay the course. Even if your spouse gives up and doesn’t seem to care anymore, you must determine in your heart to stay the course, no matter how long it takes, and trust that he or she will respond. Resolve to love your spouse, regardless of the circumstances that come your way and learn from every setback and failure.
“A settlement of differences by mutual concessions” 6
In an amazing marriage, compromise is a concept that we feel is crucial to success. Compromise, as we define it, simply means that individually you must give up so together you can go up. There will be times when you need to sacrifice what you want as an individual in order to get what you need as a couple, or to get what your spouse needs. Oftentimes we have wants, perceived needs, and desires that we try to pursue, but perhaps at the expense of our relationship. There are times when we need to set aside our individual desires for the sake of the relationship and make compromises.
A large part of compromise begins with acceptance. Accept your spouse for what and who he or she is. This is an aspect of the unconditional love we discussed earlier. Your spouse is a unique individual with different skills and abilities, as well as a unique personality and unique character traits. Accept them for who and what they are. You really can’t change a person to a large degree, and it is important to value your spouse and accept them as they are. There are some obvious reasons your spouse was attractive to you initially, but undoubtedly there are some things that you wish you could change about your spouse. However, you may not be in a position to change them as much as you’d like to.
We hear a lot about acceptance in our society. We are told that we are to blindly accept differences in one another and work toward the goal of unity. That sounds good, but what if he is a habitual drug user? What if she has anger management issues and continually threatens your children? I think we could all agree that those are qualities that we would not want to accept. Too often a concept or a principle that sounds good cannot be applied across all situations, all circumstances, and all people.
Rather than blindly accept who your mate is, we suggest that you understand where the point of acceptance is. There are obviously some habits you would not and should not change. These need to be recognized and understood. There could be many things that your spouse does that may seem trivial or even a slight annoyance to you, but they are a part of who he or she is. There may be something that they value that you don’t see as having any worth whatsoever, but you need to allow them the freedom of individualism. There are also some things that you just don’t consider important enough to influence for a change.
However, some traits or behaviors may prove to be damaging to your relationship, and you must face and address those. Oftentimes these are not identified or realized prior to marriage and they may come as a surprise to you. What are you to do if you find yourself in a marriage commitment and then discover less-than-desirable behaviors from your spouse? You are not expected to be a doormat, yet there’s not much that you can really change in someone else if they don’t want to change. So, how do you cope with potentially harmful habits or behaviors?
The first step is to identify the behavior. Identify and clarify what it is that you feel is either harmful or potentially harmful, and identify it in as clear a manner as possible. Avoid generalities, and be as specific as possible.
The next step is to discuss the behavior with your spouse. As you do this, be conscientious of how your spouse may feel upon hearing this from you. Explain your feelings clearly and specifically, but not in an offensive and condemning tone. Don’t criticize or condemn your spouse, but make it clear that you disapprove of or are fearful of the particular behavior. Include your potential fears and why it is that you feel the way you do. It is important to note that if you feel danger in any way, either have this discussion in a public setting or take a close friend with you who can be both supportive and protective at the same time.
Let your spouse know that you love him or her, unconditionally, yet be very specific in what your concerns are. In many cases, when you approach someone with a spirit of love and concern, he or she will be more open to consider your feelings than if you attack in a manner that undermines and belittles them. Above all else, be loving and respectful, while being honest with your feelings.
If you address a concern with your spouse in a loving and nonconfrontational manner, the chances of him or her listening to you and understanding your concern is much greater. However, if you come across as accusatory and demeaning, it will often lead to a battle of the wills and neither of you win. Keep in mind that your main objective here is to influence and change a potentially harmful behavior or attitude, and the best way to do that is with genuine and honest dialogue.
Compromise doesn’t always mean that you are accepting, or rejecting, personality traits and habits. Oftentimes compromise simply means giving up something you want as an individual for something that benefits you as a couple. An example of this may be money or time that you want to devote to a particular hobby or activity that you enjoy, but that also prohibits you as a married couple from doing something that is necessary for your well-being or livelihood. Perhaps you want to invest in a hobby that takes up a higher percentage of the household income that could be otherwise used to pay bills, reduce debt, or purchase some much-needed household improvements.
When you choose to delay a personal purchase—or perhaps you choose not to invest time in a sport or hobby so you can spend time together as a couple building your relationship—you are investing in your marriage and practicing the art of compromise. Compromise is putting the needs of your relationship before your individual needs. When you both do this, your marriage enjoys the very best that you can offer and the quality of your time grows exponentially. When your relationship is put before individual needs, you both win.
Compromise doesn’t mean sacrificing your wants, needs, and desires of your relationship either. Compromise is a two-way street; and when both of you honor and respect one another, you will find that more often than not the end result is a closer and more satisfying relationship. You may even see that as you compromise more and more for your spouse, they, in turn, will do the same for you and the wants and needs that you both have will begin to be met time and time again.
“Freedom from deceit or fraud; honorable in principles, intentions, and actions.” 7
Honesty is a very important piece to the puzzle in achieving the successful and excellent marriage you are seeking. When there is a firm foundation of honesty between one other, there are incredible freedoms that are experienced in the marriage, on both sides. Both spouses should feel confident in the marriage and come to expect honesty with regards to anything that may challenge the marriage. When you develop a pattern of trust, the level of honesty that you can expect from one another gives you the freedom to express your fears, your dreams, and the desires of your heart, without being fearful of what your spouse may say or think.
At times, you may feel that something that transpired during the course of your day isn’t really that important, and you may choose not to share it with your spouse, but we encourage you to share everything with one another, and to hold no secrets. What may seem insignificant to you may mean a great deal to your spouse.
Recently Debby was at one of her coffee meetings with a friend of hers and as she was ordering her coffee, the barista was a bit overly friendly as he appeared to be trying to flirt with her. As she was telling me the account of what had happened, I thought to myself how easy it would be for me to feel thoughts of jealousy or even anger. In a relationship that is less stable, the husband may even think that his wife was encouraging this type of behavior and was reciprocating the flirting. It is important to remember that we cannot be responsible for the actions of others. If someone flirts with Debby, I have absolute confidence in her and in our relationship so I don’t need to worry about it—that goes for the coffee barista and anyone else.
Debby has the freedom to relate that incident to me, not being fearful of how I may respond. I didn’t jump in my car to go down to the local coffee shop to exact my revenge on the barista or report him to corporate for inappropriate behavior. No, I actually had a moment of pride that my bride is beautiful enough to elicit the attention of others. By sharing that experience with me, it also reinforces my trust in Debby that she will be honest with me in all things.
“To hold in esteem or honor, to show regard or consideration for” 8
Earlier in chapter 1 we talked about choosing to love your spouse, every morning and in a manner that far exceeds their expectations. We believe that the word “respect” and the verb definition of it go hand in hand when related to marriage. If you choose to honor your spouse and hold them in high esteem, and you do it in a very practical way every day, then your spouse will flourish and thrive knowing they are greatly valued, honored, and respected. You will build their esteem and self-confidence. When your spouse is elevated to a place of honor and respect, he or she will be more likely to invest in your relationship as well. As with most things in your relationship, it is reciprocal.
When you meet the needs of your spouse above your own, your spouse will begin to mirror your attitude and actions and begin to do the same for you. When there is mutual respect and each spouse holds the other in high esteem, in tangible and visible ways, you will begin to see your marriage move from mediocre to amazing. It will not happen overnight, nor will it happen over a short period of time. However, if both of you are consistent and invest in each other everyday, after a period of time your marriage will be elevated to the next level. You and your spouse may notice it at different times and the changes may be subtle at first, but your marriage will continue to reach new heights.
Before you know it, people will begin to ask you and your spouse what it is that you have in your marriage that is different, and how can they get it, too. They will ask you how it is possible that you can be so in love and treat one another as newlyweds when you have been married for years. Others will be attracted to the joy and the love that you share, and they will recognize that your relationship is unique. We believe respect for each other is crucially important.
This article is an excerpt from Jason & Debby Coleman’s book: Discovering Your Amazing Marriage and has been published with the permission of the authors and publisher- Seraphina Press.
About the authors
Jason and Debby Coleman are marriage mentors and the authors of Discovering Your Amazing Marriage (Seraphina Press).
They have survived infidelity during the first year of their marriage and have been married now for over 22 years. They have four children and reside in Federal Way, WA.