Linda: There is a direct correlation between the degree to which we live in integrity and the degree to which we find ourselves in reactivity to those around us when they fail to keep their agreements. There are some concise definitions of “integrity” that you won’t find in the dictionary that capture the essence of what the word really means, the simplest of which is “walking the talk.” A couple of others are “practicing what you preach” and “putting your money where your mouth is.”
A more elaborate definition of integrity is “the alignment of your thoughts, feelings, words and actions.” However, you define it, integrity is about wholeness. The root of the word is “integer” which refers to a whole number. Integrity is living life in a way that promotes the experience within yourself and in those around you of being complete. It’s a great concept, but it’s easier said than done.
When we acknowledge our broken agreements without being defensive or making excuses, we are on a wholesome path. To acknowledge that “I’m not always successful, but I’m committed, and I’m getting better,” is truthful and a step in the right direction. Becoming a person of integrity is a process where we will be honest and respectful in expressing our feelings of disappointment, worry, irritation or whatever else we’re experiencing in response to a broken agreement on someone else’s part.
When there is a commitment to integrity there is no circumstance that can derail us if we’re willing to keep speaking our truth while listening non-judgmentally to the other person. On those occasions in which the outcome is less agreeable than we desire, it’s a step in a direction that ultimately serves the relationship even though the process may be difficult. Consider the case of Eva and Andy.
Eva: “I am hurt and upset that you would look me right in the eye and tell me that you hadn’t been smoking cigarettes. I’ve known for weeks that you relapsed. I can smell it in the car and on your breath. You know how sensitive I am around the issue of honesty because of all the lies in my family when I was a kid. I had enough lies told to me back then to last a lifetime and I don’t want any more. Catching you makes me wonder if there are other things, you’re keeping from me.”
Andy: “There isn’t anything else that I’m keeping from you. I’m not unfaithful and I don’t have any other secrets. I’m so sorry that I hurt you. I feel so weak that I started smoking again, and ashamed of myself for covering it up. I’m willing to promise you that I won’t sneak smoking. I realize that I took advantage of you when I spoke to your face, denying my wrongdoing, and I won’t look you in the eye and lie to you anymore. That was a crummy thing to do.”
Eva: “How do I know that you’re not lying to me right now?”
Andy: “I really am sincerely sorry that I lied, and time will show you that I have learned my lesson.”
Eva: “Part of me feels superior and self-righteous when I catch you being out of integrity. Catching you allows me to feel superior to you for failing to live up to my standards. I’m no saint, and there are more times than I care to admit that I’m guilty of not doing things that I said I would do or doing things that I had said I wouldn’t.”
Andy: “When you acknowledge that you aren’t perfect either, and you’re not full of judgment of me, I can feel how much I’ve let you down. I don’t want you to be disappointed in me or to worry about what I am concealing. It’s hard for me to hear your pain, but I’m glad it’s all out in the open now, because I don’t want to hurt you. There were lots of lies in my childhood too, but I’m serious about breaking those old dishonest patterns. Please give me a chance to show you that I am serious about being a person of integrity.”
Eva: “We’ll see.”
Andy has damaged the trust in the relationship with Eva by breaking an agreement, keeping the violation a secret, and lying to her face. Eva’s trust is badly shaken, but these two can repair the damaged trust by implementing the gold standard of full disclosure, no secrets or lies, and to raise the bar to live in integrity in the relationship.
When You Mess Up ‘Fess Up
Just like Andy, all of us can be in the process of getting better at becoming more trustworthy people, without seeing ourselves as a bad person. If our partner tells the truth about their disappointment in a responsible, respectful, and non-blaming way that doesn’t make us wrong, a remarkable thing often happens. We can take responsibility for our unskillful choice and put in a correction. Our partner’s judgments can dissolve, their resentment melts, and they will feel closer to us and more apt to be forgiving.
Sometimes our partner isn’t particularly happy to hear our feelings and may feel put down regardless of how careful we express ourselves non-judgmentally. But if we stay true to our own experience and are simultaneously accepting of the feelings that the other person is expressing, then we can, and usually do, come to a place of deeper understanding which leaves us both feeling more connected. Of course, it is better to keep agreements from the beginning and not have to go through the process of repair. But broken agreements do happen and putting in the corrections as soon as possible is an important part of becoming more respectful of ourselves and each other. This is how we develop as individuals and as a couple, and we notice that our life is working so much more smoothly.