"Some people should not be allowed to date," my friend , Libby, says to me, tears running down her face. Libby, the latest victim of a relationship gone sour, feels deceived and betrayed. She thought she had a good thing going and then her boyfriend turned on a dime and was gone, without much of a genuine explanation.
I hear this story frequently in my practice as a counselor. A relationship begins, blooms, and then one partner turns, and without much compassion or sensitivity, is gone. Surely, nobody expects someone to stay in a relationship that is no longer working, but there is such a thing as integrity, a quality which often seems to be in very short supply.
Integrity in personal relationships? Do we need to spell out what that looks like? Probably a definition of integrity is in order. Integrity indicates moral soundness, trustworthiness, absence of deceit and fraud, a wholeness of character.
The major dimension of a relationship that includes integrity, in my estimation, would be sensitivity to the partner's feelings. This sensitivity manifests as an acknowledgement of how our actions affect someone else.
A promise to call. No call. Any idea how the other feels? An agreement to meet. A late cancellation. Any idea how the other feels? An agreement to be exclusive with the other. Flirting or even seeing someone else. Any idea how the other feels?
These sensitivities don't seem important to those whose character is not developed towards genuine caring for others. Unfortunately, as a culture we haven't emphasized sensitivity to others as a major value. We are too busy looking at what will serve us at the moment. And this attitude is easily reflected in the dating scene.
Another aspect of dating integrity is honesty. If something is going on behind the scenes that will undermine the relationship, the partner needs to be told. I think of Sophie, my client whose boyfriend was toying with the idea of reconnecting with an old love, who was pressing him to "try again". Whenever Sophie suspected as much, her flame denied and became defensive until one unhappy day when he sheepishly, after months of declaring his love for Sophie, admitted that he had to give his old love one more try. And how can we imagine that Sophie felt? Betrayed, lied to, used? These normal resultant feelings certainly indicate that the relationship lacked integrity.
I think of Marian, who captured the heart of a young swain in order to make her ex husband jealous and get him to come back. "Oh, he'll get over it," she told me, jubilant that her manipulations worked, and showing very little concern for her recent partner." He'll be snapped up in a minute." Hmmm.
We have only to read the news to see how we humans treat each other. My clinical stories don't make headlines. But they break hearts and cause untold grief. Everything starts on the cellular level. Personal relationships are the cellular level. If we don't have integrity and character with those close to us, how can we expect things to go well on a larger scale?
I maintain that people don't usually come to integrity without training.
Perhaps we don't inculcate our young minds with the need for these qualities in order to make even our little part of the world a better place. Maybe if parents and, of course, schools, emphasized the importance of caring for others in small, as well as larger ways, our society would become less narcissistic and acquisition oriented. We are lacking in this area, but we don't yet get it.
I contrast the above stories with the story of Mack, one of my favorite clients, who knew he did not love his girlfriend enough to continue the relationship. Mack showed great concern and sadness for what he had to do. In counseling they both cried and reviewed their situation. There was no disappearing act, no "I know you'll be snapped up" number or any other insensitive statements. Mack and his former love struggled together to end humanely what wasn't going to work and, as a result, his former girlfriend has only respect for him now. As do I.
About the Author:
Deanna Kasten, M.A.,LPC, LMFT, LCDC has been in private practice as a counselor in Dallas for over twenty years and has taught seminars at Dallas Fort Worth area junior colleges in self esteem building, assertiveness training, and coping with difficult people in the workplace. She has written articles for counseling journals as well as local newspapers relating to counseling. To learn more about Ms. Kasten and her practice please visit her profile here.