Promise Keepers - The Committed Partners Who Stay Faithful to Each Other

Many committed couples stay faithful to each other

Posted Dec 30, 2011

As a relationship therapist for four decades, I have been called upon to intervene in hundreds of cases involving infidelity. A large percentage of couples seeking counseling do so because one or the other partner has strayed.

The sequence of events is painfully similar. One partner has had an affair, the other finds out, and the relationship trust is shattered. The guilty partner is usually remorseful but painfully uncomfortable talking about what happened with an outsider. The other partner feels understandably betrayed, deceived, hurt, angry, and often vindictive. It is always a therapeutic challenge to observe the damage done.

Many skilled practitioners have written widely about possible solutions for these broken couples. After ninety-thousand hours with patients I treasure, I have gratefully tried many of them with varying degrees of success. It is agonizing to watch couples who don't want to break up try to come to grips with their distress and find their way back to a relationship that they want to repair. 

I define infidelity as a clandestine, intimate relationship outside of the committed relationship that may or may not include sex, but can potentially damage the existing relationship were it to be known. That definition is currently under attack by the media, Internet, movies, and other forms of influential communication, which show constant examples of a more range of deceptive relationships. The message is clear: maybe fidelity isn't the norm and society should be finding ways to tolerate it better.

That concept could become a game changer for some couples struggling to understand what might be in store for them were they to accept this concept. Though new lovers know intrinsically that breaking trust between them could be a deal breaker, they can simultaneously wonder if fidelity is possible, or even likely, in a long-term relationship. And, if it's not, how do they balance not wanting to leave their current relationship, but not wanting to betray their partners?

Whether I'm dealing with a couple newly in love, or one questioning how to rejuvenate their sexual connection, or another who may be attempting to reconcile when trust is broken, I am able to tell them that fidelity is still the choice for many committed partners, and my experience is that they operate differently with each other to keep that agreement.

Fifty percent of committed partners stay faithful to each other. Though they may be bombarded by the same influences that seduce others away, they intentionally resist them. I have found these partners, and the relationships they build together, important to represent, especially now. I am especially interested, in light of the new social mores that would be more likely to encourage, or even forgive them, if they did.  

The partners I've studied are not in obligatory, boring relationships, but understand what it takes to maintain honesty and openness with their partners. Committed partners aren't unfaithful because they don't want their relationship to end for any reason. They know that deceit, betrayal, and disrespect are negative risks that are likely to damage relationships, and they value their partners too much to take the chance of losing them.  They do not act out of obligation to their partners nor feel deprived of what they can't have. Their commitments and actions are based on preference, not entrapment.

I have observed and noted these partners and their relationships over many years. For those couples who want to stay faithful, I can tell my struggling couples what to reach for in their relationships that will make them less likely to make potentially regrettable decisions.

If you and your partner have chosen the path of faithful intimacy, the following twelve characteristics may help you hold that commitment to each other. The dialogues that follow are representative of actual interactions I've observed over the years. They may seem unusually ideal, but they do happen.

The Characteristics of Partners Who Stay Faithful

"We" versus "Me"

Imagine two people in animated conversation on an airplane. The man in question starts every sentence with "I" and is clearly stating the experiences of a single person. The woman he is speaking to is fascinated by these interesting escapades and inwardly wonders what it's like to live life without having to be concerned about a partner.

As the time to be together comes to an end, the listener asks a reasonable question: "You certainly have had a lot of interesting, independent experiences. Is it easier to do that when you're not concerned about a partner?"

The presumed single person seems suddenly uneasy and hesitates. "Oh, I'm actually in a committed relationship. I've been with the same woman for five years. We both travel a lot, but we're good when we're together."

If that's close to what you heard, you're probably looking at someone whose personal interests take precedence over the collective "we." People who are proud of the fact that they are taken will generally reveal their lack of availability early on.

"We" is a state of mind and heart. It means that wherever one partner is, the other is present in their thoughts. Partners who consider themselves a "we" act that way. When you talk to partners who live with and in the heart of their beloved, you experience that commitment in every way they present themselves.  They communicate a pride in belonging to their partner. It's a powerful feeling of "us" over anyone or anything else.

Non-defensive, Intimate Communication

The partners who don't cheat are able to talk to each other about subjects most couples would be afraid to approach. I've gained great admiration for the ease with which they approach touchy situations.

"Honey, what do you think about my breasts looking a little small since I lost that weight? Do you feel disappointed when you see me naked?"

"I've been having a little trouble staying up long enough the last couple of weeks. I'm not sure what it means and I'm a little worried."

They trust each other with these vulnerable fears and conflicts, especially if they feel they might threaten the relationship. Even if some of those internal battles are embarrassing, reveal too much, or could leave the sharing partner vulnerable to later questioning, these partners choose to be honest even when it may cause temporary stress on their relationship.

Partners who share at that level of trust are committed to truth above comfort. They will share whatever they know could affect their partners without overreacting or taking things personally. All committed partners have temptations and desires that could threaten the relationship if acted upon. Successful partners understand those conflicts, and still honor their relationship agreements.

They know that being able to share intimate feelings will help them to diffuse their importance and head off potential dangers. They use whatever discomfort those vulnerable discussions create to strengthen their trust. It may be very hard to hear that one partner enjoys porn, is fearful of loss, or is feeling less connected, but it could be worse if those experiences were not shared.

Faithful partners are willing to risk expressing their thoughts and welcome their partner's authentic responses. They care about each other enough to want the truth rather than to be indulged in any fantasies and truly want their mates to find fulfillment in their lives. They also use every skill they can acquire to keep their relationship current, mutually respectful, and real.

Committed partners love without possession. If one of them must leave the relationship to find a greater fulfillment elsewhere, the other would never use obligation, guilt, or coercion to hold onto the relationship. The irony of this kind of love is that people rarely want to give it up.

Example:

"Before Todd and I met, I know I never shared my most vulnerable and embarrassing feelings with anyone. I could certainly share my anger and disappointments, but never things I thought guys would think were too stupid, self-indulgent, or threatening.

Todd was different from the beginning. He'd suffered two alcoholic parents, brutal beatings by an older brother, and financial ruin from a best friend who took everything and disappeared. Yet, he'd always try to look at the lessons he'd learned and never complained on why he had to endure them.

At first, I didn't believe a word. I felt cynical, like I'd find the discrepancies eventually. They didn't happen. He just was the kind of guy who comes back stronger when times are the toughest. He seemed so different, but in an amazing way.

I remember our first real fight. We'd been to a party and an old girlfriend was all over him. I felt insecure and jealous, but I didn't want him to know. When we got to our apartment, I was withdrawn and silent. He took me by the shoulders and sat me down on the sofa.

"What's going on? You're jealous, right? You're embarrassed that you have human feelings and can't pretend you're holding up, right? Talk to me."

His willingness to care when he could have been disappointed opened my heart. I broke down and confessed that I felt terribly inadequate and didn't want to act possessive or controlling but that I did seriously want to scratch someone's eyes out. I cried more from my own embarrassment and lack of coolness. I was still worried that he would react negatively, and I was so vulnerable.

He started laughing.

"Don't laugh at me, please,' I said pleading."

"I'm not laughing at you, sweetheart. I just think you are so beautiful when you open up like that." He took me in his arms and told me he'd always rather have what was inside than what I felt he might approve of.

I moved effortlessly into arms wanting never to leave, and hoping for that moment to never end.

That night changed me forever. I'm slowly beginning to trust it will always be that way. There is nothing we can't talk about or share, even when it hurts. I've had to grow to listen without being defensive or turning away, but I'm more secure now than I've ever felt in my life."

Common Values

Long-term committed partners share mutually important values, ethics, and behavioral commitments that contribute to their relationship's thriving. They may not agree on everything, but they do on what's important to both of them. If they are in conflict, they talk openly about their value differences, and agree to respectfully negotiate if necessary. They also realize that those values and desires can change with time, and they continuously review their relationship to make certain they are current.

That bond that committed partners share takes precedent over any separate compartment that might threaten their relationship. They willingly choose those common values and behaviors and go first to each other if they need to change them. Both partners are willing to look at creative options for new behaviors, and to understand that freedom to choose is more important than obligation. The couples who have successfully created this way of relating rarely leave each other, because they do not feel entrapped by each other's requirements.

Example:

"People always ask me how I can still be in love with the same woman after four decades. I think it's hard for them to believe that love can continuously regenerate. Sure, we've had our hard times and our disagreements, but we always managed to patch things up in a better way. We make sure that the important things are continuously and intentionally processed because we want to stay in love forever.

So far, I've never met another woman I'd rather start and end my day with, and I've met a lot. I just ask myself those important questions. So far, the answer has always come out in the same place. I'm not sure what we'd do if either one of us chose an important different path that the other couldn't support. Even if that ever happened, I can't imagine creating what we have with another person. When you've been so successful with one, it gives you more courage to continue resolving anything that comes up.

She's the best thing that ever happened to me."

Threats to The Relationship

Anytime a committed couple faces a crisis, whether from inside or outside the relationship, they move automatically toward strengthening their bond. They expect that there will always be threats to their connection, and that love can always weaken under continued onslaughts. These are the times when they make their relationship their highest priority and find reasons to be grateful for what they have.

When outside influences undermine their faith in the relationship, they talk openly about those vulnerabilities. Their honest and intimate capability to communicate allows them to talk about virtual outcomes without their having to live through them, and to revitalize their relationship if the threats take hold.

Any threat to the relationship is a threat to each of them individually as well. Their commitments to each other are of heart, mind, and soul; to the "oneness" that both partners covet and protect. Though they realize that, in times of anger, they may temporarily lose sight, they return to soothing each other's sorrows as soon as they are able. Seeking to forgive and be forgiven, they work harder to remain deeply connected.  

Example:

"Last year, I went to my high school reunion. Frank couldn't come because he had the flu. I probably shouldn't have gone alone, because I still had unresolved feelings about my first high school love and I thought he might be there. I never quite recovered from being dumped the week before graduation and I had thought that my heart would break. I grieved so hard that summer that I wondered if I'd make it to college. It was a long time ago, but some things are hard to forget.

Yes, Chad was there, alone and single.

As soon as he caught site of me, he came directly to my table and asked me if he could talk to me privately. He told me that he only came to the reunion to find me again. Then he confessed that he'd made a horrible mistake letting me go. He reached for my hand, and told me that I was more beautiful than he even remembered. I thought for just a moment what it would have been like if we'd stayed together, just wondering how my life would have been different.  

Then, in the next moment, I felt Frank's loving hand touching me, even though he wasn't there. I felt his devotion to me and his absolute trust. I remembered what a great guy I was married to. Frank would never be doing what this man was doing. Feeling Frank's love surrounding me again, I remembered that Chad was the same person he always was and how lucky I was that he left me.

After leaving Chad, I went out to my car and called Frank. I told him exactly what had happened and that I needed to hear his voice. He was so incredibly supportive. When I got home, there were a dozen roses on the kitchen table. I don't even know how he got them. Next to them was a short note: "I love you and want you to be happy wherever you are. If that's still with me, I'm luckiest guy on earth. Love, Frank."'

I went to give him a hug. He was asleep and still feverish. I think I'm the luckiest woman on earth."

Staying Current

Partners who keep their relationships up to date can tell very soon if something isn't going well. They realize that either of their needs can change and that situations that were once easily resolvable may need new solutions. Partners who seek those answers early and together are not as likely to drift apart, or fall prey to outside temptations.

Even in committed relationships, at any given time, partners will not always feel love and commitment in the same way. Promise keepers do not use those temporarily separate needs to justify intimacy outside their relationship. Rather, they use those times to intentionally remember to reinforce what they love about each other. They trust that impasses happen to the best of relationships, and are not discouraged by them. Because they know that commitments are most easily broken during times of stress, they stay especially focused on the things they treasure in each other.

Example:

"I think I'm just naturally lazy when it comes to relationship problems. Before I met Bea, I'd just let things pile up and kept my resentments inside. Eventually, I'd start picking at little things until I drove my girlfriends away. That way, I could always blame the end of the relationship on her inability to handle my dark side. Boy, what a self-delusion that was.

My style was to just enjoy the good times and swallow anything I didn't like. When our relationship started, everything was great, the way it usually is. We'd bring left-overs and wine to my place or hers and enjoy great love-making. Afterwards, I'd just want to go to sleep in her arms but she always wanted to talk. I'd just pretend to be listening and give short, probably boring answers. She didn't complain, but the difference was obvious, and I was building up some of my old resentments. Yeah, I did it. I really hurt her one night by telling her I just wasn't into after-sex talking.

I fully expected her to dump me after that, but she sat up and turned on the light, obviously upset. "That's a really dumb thing to say. What's the matter with you?"

Well, I felt guilty, and probably should have, so I let her talk. Damned if we didn't really get down to some important stuff about what was bothering both of us. She was so unbelievably sincere and real, I felt tears I'd never known before. We ended up making love again, but this time I was really there.

Later, she told me she never wanted me to pretend to be someone I wasn't. Thank God, she didn't leave me for being such a jerk.

Now we talk about what we both need before we take the chance of disappointing each other by not being real. I'm slowly getting used to keeping things moving and alive. It's still scary, but I know that this is what real love is about. I'll never live in that cave again."

Perspective

Promise keepers know that short-term gratifications often end up in long-term loss. Even when they are tempted by seductions, they weigh the potential consequences carefully before they act and reveal those temptations to each other.   

Couples who share personal histories, common dreams, accomplishments, and losses build a powerful connection. New relationships will always have that lust edge. Committed partners often recall together the intensity of their first months together, and re-create them. They know how important it is to keep those sweet spots active and intimate, especially if they are stressed.

Perspective is the ability to keep everything that is important to both partners in mind when considering staying or leaving a relationship. It also gives long-term partners more patience and stability when times are hard. It's good to remember that it is not necessarily easier on the outside.

Example:

"I've had a lot of opportunities to leave my guy. It's not that I haven't been tempted, especially when my guy and I are going through tough time, but then I think about the long-term picture and I realize how lucky I am to be where I am. I've not found one guy who would be better for me overall. Besides, when I think about never seeing Ed again, my heart hurts and I feel a little crazy inside.

Neither of us is perfect, but our good parts are so good, we stand together and solve what's wrong. I wasn't always this way. I used to go from one relationship to another, thinking that each one would be the real thing, the answer to forever happiness. Was I ever misinformed! Sure, the initial physical stuff is heady, but problems come up in every relationship, and I never stuck around long enough to give them a chance. I'd just figure out what I though was the inevitable ending and get out before it happened.

He taught me how to stay put and write a different ending, to keep perspective instead of running. He never preached to me or tried to hold me back if I wanted to go. He'd just remind me of what we'd created and what we'd lose if we gave it up. I've learned not only to hang in there, but I know now that running away is not excuse for not fighting for what you can make right."

Mutual Respect

All couples fight. Whether just to state differences, reestablish new needs, or create the passion of separation and reconnection, the partners in committed relationships need to clear the air sometimes. Some conflicts are predictable, but others may not be, and temporary emotional separations are unavoidable.

Couples who stay faithful speak to each other with obvious respect. You can observe their compassion for each other's point of view, even when they are at odds. It is there throughout all facets of their relationship, but especially when they are in disagreement. They listen to each other carefully and do not discount what is being said or felt, even when they may disagree. They deeply believe that each has the right to feel the way they do, and invalidation is not an option.

Mutual respect does not require agreement. Rather, it obligates both partners to find ways to expand any different worldviews by wanting to know what their lover sees, and finding ways to embrace those different realities.

Partners who respect each other have another crucial agreement; they do not embarrass each other publicly. They know that outside predators look for vulnerabilities in relationships, and that exposing differences can give them unfair leverage.

Example:

"I dated a lot of women before I met Lil. My dad treated my mother like an extension of his own needs. He treated my two sisters like they were born to serve him as well. I never saw him respect them or care about what they needed. Because my mother was a wimp and took that crap, I became more like my father, and couldn't understand why I attracted women with low self-esteem who let me walk all over them.

With Lil, it was a different story. She let me know on our first date that I was disrespectful to the waitress. I was taken aback, but she was so damn interesting and sure of herself that I was impressed. It made me think about what I'd done and wonder why I did it. I couldn't find any good reason for my usual behavior except that's how I'd always been. I liked Lil's spunk and the way she talked to me. I didn't know a woman could be that direct and still incredibly desirable. One thing for sure; I wanted more of her.

For the next few months, I felt like I'd entered emotional boot camp. I knew I'd lose her if I didn't do something drastic. I ended up in therapy and re-examined my whole attitude towards women. I learned that respect is always a two-sided deal. I always thought I could get women to respect me without needing to care about them. Damn, that's not respect; that's kowtowing to a despot. It's hard to see yourself that way, but it's about time."

Inclusion

Many people struggle with defining infidelity in these sexually blurry times. Because of the ready availability of Internet access to new possibilities, even committed partners ask me to help them understand and deal with the more blatant temptations that now exist and how other couples see them. They want to maintain the sacred boundaries that will preserve their relationship, realize the affect the media is having on those around them, and seek new definitions of what they should be consider threatening. They are asking me different questions than I've heard in the past.

If you want to stay faithful to your partner,

Is it okay to have a "harmless" Internet relationship with someone you never see or touch if it does not contain explicit sexual invitations?

Only if you include your partner in what you are doing and why. Deceit and evasion are the problems, and they both tend to increase.

Can you watch porn as long as your partner doesn't know about it?

If you have talked that over together and both of you agree it's not a problem, he or she doesn't have to tell you every time. It can still be a slippery slope if it negatively affects the frequency or quality of your sexual connection.

Is it all right to have lunch with someone you are attracted to as long as you don't act upon your desires?

The deeper question is how you would feel if your partner did the same. Some intimate friendships can actually deepen a committed relationship, but not if they begin to offer or replace interactions that should be worked out at home.

Though most couples do not start out easily able to decipher how inclusion and exclusion works for them, they explore those compartments early in their relationship. As their commitment to faithfulness grows, they know what the answers are to these questions. They never create separate compartments that could ever threaten their partners, were they to know about them.

Think inclusion rather than exclusion. Faithful partners know the differences between privacy and secrecy. Private thoughts or actions do not necessarily threaten a relationship, but may. Anyone can be more susceptible to slipping from something innocent to a potentially dangerous situation. Faithful partners put their relationship above those possibilities.

Intimacy is about trust, trust is about honesty, and honesty is about not hiding anything. When partners have nothing to hide, they don't end up fugitives from each other. They don't want to harbor concerns that what they are doing could potentially threaten the sanctity of their bond.

Example:

"I used to think that anything I did or thought was my own business if I didn't feel like sharing. I never gave a second thought to what made guys cheat on me, or whether I felt like dating two guys at once. You know, what they don't know can't hurt them.

After so many relationships didn't work out, I started wondering what was wrong with me. My family never confided in each other; they actually took pride that they didn't need to. I never considered that was just an excuse to try to get away with as much as you could without risking someone else's judgment. We were never close and I guess I just took that teaching with me.

When I met Jed, I felt so different about my way of thinking. He never kept anything from me. I'd never met a guy like that. He just didn't need to do anything that he couldn't tell me about, even private things like watching porn, or who he'd dated before. He even told me about his past gambling problem and how he was in recovery.

I couldn't believe his openness and how easy it was for him. It made me start to question my hiding and keeping separate compartments in all my past relationships. I started telling him what I'd done. I couldn't believe anyone could be that kind.

"I love you, babe. I'll trust you completely until you give me reason not to, but then, I'm gone. It's your choice."

We've been together twelve years. I can't think of anything I'd ever do that could threaten him without telling him, thoughts included. If I had to hide something from this man, I'd know that I'm with the wrong guy. I never want to fear that either of us would be found doing something we didn't expect or feel okay about. If you care that much for someone, why would you be doing anything you'd need to hide anyway?"

Satisfaction

Love waxes and wanes in every relationship. During good times, partners trust their love will grow and last, but when their relationship is challenged, committed couples focus on what brought them together in the first place and remember what they still treasure about each other. They trust that love will return as long as they nurture it .

Each partner may need different things at different times. Hungers, desires, ideals, and goals are never constant. Committed couples continually check in with each other to make certain both are feeling hopeful and okay with how their relationship is going. There is no automatic assurance that a relationship will stay intact forever, but they understand that a lack of satisfaction is never an excuse for the broken trust that infidelity creates.

Example:

"I was watching way too much porn. Even though my girlfriend knew about it and didn't mind, I knew I was comparing those virtual experiences to us and feeling more dissatisfied with our sex. I hadn't told her how I was feeling because I didn't understand it myself and I thought it would pass. I know how much she loves our sexual time together and I didn't want her to worry or feel insecure.

When she came home one day from a business trip, and I couldn't get it up for the first time, she knew that something was different. She asked me if I were seeing someone else and I reassured her that wasn't the problem. We talked openly about what was happening. Instead of being upset, she was incredibly loving. She told me she had read a lot about that happening to some people and that we just needed to re-examine what we needed from each other. I was totally taken off balance. She said she knew, and was just glad I wasn't seeing someone else. We talked about my loneliness for her and my need to feel more wanted. She understood how guilty I felt and didn't feel threatened. By the time the evening was over, we made love in a way we hadn't for a long time.

She was really amazing. We talked through that situation in a way that most of my friends could never approach with their partners. I really love her. I never imagined a relationship like this, where you can share your most intimate worries and still regenerate your love, no matter how hard the situation is."

Sacred Time

Faithful couples stay committed to the same core values, or change them together if they need to. They understand the pressures that relationships are under today, and how hard it is to find time to stay deeply connected. No matter what they are facing, they carefully allocate whatever time they need to regenerate their reverence for each other and the relationship.

Each couple has its own way of making those sacred commitments. Some take the time to dance a while before making love. Others take a road trip every once in a while just to spend some uninterrupted time together, listening to music and exploring new scenery. Or, they might take a weekend at a new place and spend all night talking and making love as they once did.

No matter how much partners love each other, they can still forget to speak that love when life's demands get in the way. Faithful couples are watchful for other involvements that can cause them to drift away from their special time alone. Privacy goes beyond love-making. It requires timeless time to revere and honor what a couple can only do together.

Example:

"We'd been fighting over small things, but I knew that something didn't feel right. The conflicts were happening more often and the time it took us to reconnect longer. Sheryl and I had never held grudges before like this and I was worried and confused.

One night after fighting for an hour over something really stupid, we looked at each other and simultaneously felt the anguishing rift growing between us. We knew that things had been rough for me at my job, and hard for her with her mom so sick, but we just didn't realize that we'd forgotten how important we were to each other in the mix. We'd told each other when we got together that we always got better when we took the time to be alone, but somehow we'd let that commitment slide.

We talked the whole night and made arrangements the next day to spend the next weekend together somewhere beautiful, just the two of us.

We could hardly wait for the weekend to come. Our fights stopped, as if some magic process had already begun. Both of us were up before dawn, laughing easily as we packed the car. As soon as we left the house, we started holding hands. I could feel myself begin to breathe again and looked over at my girl. We both smiled at the same time, and the connection was back."

Covering Each Other's Backs

A relationship between committed partners is like The Three Musketeers. The symbolic triangle of long-lasting love is made up of each individual partner and the synergistic creation you think of as the relationship between them. That means that each part of the triad supports the other two.

This devotion is neither blind nor automatic. The partners in an honest, up-to-date relationship know that either voice is a representative of the other and each partner strives to speak accurately and authentically for what the other wants and needs. When either partner or the relationship, itself, is threatened in any way, the unit becomes stronger.

These couples grow closer when their relationship is challenged by outside influences. They trust each other's truths first and are not led astray by other's negative stories. Their intention is to become more as one, to create a union grown stronger by loyalty and support. That means that any outside influences that pull one partner away from the other are challenged by both.  

Example:

"I'd been with Sean for almost a year when his roommate, Trevor, stayed with us that weekend. I watched him do everything he could to be the top gun in their relationship. Sean is so laid back, he didn't seem to care. But I did.

Then Trevor started calling me on the weekends when Sean was out of town and I was alone. He'd start off our conversations with telling me that a beautiful girl like me shouldn't be left by herself, as if it were a joke. I blew him off and told him to find someone else to talk to, but then he told me he was just being nice because Sean liked me so much and he wanted to protect me from predators.

I told Sean he was calling and that it was bothering me. He told me not to worry, that Trevor was just a friendly guy and liked me.

No way, I thought, and began to avoid his calls.

Then the conversations began to change. Trevor started telling me all the reasons why I shouldn't be with Sean because he wasn't enough man for me. I told him that Sean was the most wonderful person I'd ever known, and I wouldn't talk to him anymore without Sean there. He told me that Sean didn't care if we flirted because he knew Trevor was just that way and the competition would never bother him. That did it. I told him to leave me alone. He wasn't happy and I didn't care. No one hurts my guy without a fight from me."

Fusion

Fusion is a poetic form of living in each other's hearts and minds. It is the most important quality of a committed relationship, and not about obligatory connection without freedom to choose. Whether together or not, both partners have their beloved's voice inside and every decision includes that voice.

That does not mean that a couple cannot disagree or that every internal message dictates what either partner thinks or does. It means that there is always a mutual vote before any decision is made that could affect either of them. Both partners have mastered the skills to resolve differences with concern and admiration for each other.

Example:

"I thought I was having a drink with a potential partner. Instead, in walks this hunk of a guy seemingly with something else on his mind. He tells me that his boss couldn't make it because she was called unexpectedly out of town, and could he fill me in on the details. I was totally unprepared for the switch and didn't expect it to be a guy out of a male model catalogue.

Stretching to regain my composure, I took out my notebook and wrote down his answers. Clearly aware of my response, he confidently began selling me on more than he was representing.

Within a minute or two, I caught myself and mentally put my sweet guy next to me as if he were with us. There must have been an obvious shift in my response because the guy changed his presentation immediately. Smart move, I thought. Then I silently blew a kiss to my absent husband and smiled inwardly, listening to the difference.  

I wasn't sure I was going to tell my husband what happened, but I couldn't help the passionate kiss I gave him when he opened the door. I was probably embarrassed that guy could affect me that way. He started laughing and said simply, "Wow, what happened to you tonight, sweetheart?"

I told him what had happened at the meeting and we talked it over. He was so there for me, so interested in what had happened.  Sure, he asked me the obvious questions and I gave him honest answers.

"Would you have been available if he'd been more direct?"

That was a hard one, because I had been tempted for that one moment.

"Not for longer than thirty seconds."

We both started laughing. That led into a wonderful love-making session. I know that there will always be temptations but why would I ever risk losing this man for some unknown future?"

Partners who are unfaithful often cause anguishing pain to partners who innocently continue to love them. When the deceit and betrayal is discovered, it is often irreparable. It is not the sexual infidelity that causes the most damage. The most important trust in the relationship is usually permanently broken and the time and energy required to heal it is more likely to be in short reserve. Not many relationships can survive the rift and thrive again.

It is human to fall in lust or even in love with someone other than one's committed partner. Many people cannot sustain a long-term relationship for understandable reasons. Some do better with sequential relationships, and others do better in committed relationships that deepen over time. No one should be judged harshly for those choices. But, whether sequential or long-term partners, promise keepers don't cheat, betray, or deceive. They know that those choices never make a relationship better and most often result in painful endings that never needed to happen.

No one knows if a new relationship will become permanent, or will need to end someday. Promise keepers do know one thing that is always true. If they do their best to create great relationships, they will do everything in their capability to keep them that way while they are in them, and leave them with integrity if they cannot sustain.

When someone loses a partner they still love, they can heal more easily if they have not been replaced while they still believed the relationship was intact.  

As a relationship therapist for four decades, I have been called upon to intervene in hundreds of cases involving infidelity. A large percentage of couples seeking counseling do so because one or the other partner has strayed.

The sequence of events is painfully similar. One partner has had an affair, the other finds out, and the relationship trust is shattered. The guilty partner is usually remorseful but painfully uncomfortable talking about what happened with an outsider. The other partner feels understandably betrayed, deceived, hurt, angry, and often vindictive. It is always a therapeutic challenge to observe the damage done.

Many skilled practitioners have written widely about possible solutions for these broken couples. After ninety-thousand hours with patients I treasure, I have gratefully tried many of them with varying degrees of success. It is agonizing to watch couples who don't want to break up try to come to grips with their distress and find their way back to a relationship that they want to repair. 

I define infidelity as a clandestine, intimate relationship outside of the committed relationship that may or may not include sex, but can potentially damage the existing relationship were it to be known. That definition is currently under attack by the media, Internet, movies, and other forms of influential communication, which show constant examples of a more range of deceptive relationships. The message is clear: maybe fidelity isn't the norm and society should be finding ways to tolerate it better.

That concept could become a game changer for some couples struggling to understand what might be in store for them were they to accept this concept. Though new lovers know intrinsically that breaking trust between them could be a deal breaker, they can simultaneously wonder if fidelity is possible, or even likely, in a long-term relationship. And, if it's not, how do they balance not wanting to leave their current relationship, but not wanting to betray their partners?

Whether I'm dealing with a couple newly in love, or one questioning how to rejuvenate their sexual connection, or another who may be attempting to reconcile when trust is broken, I am able to tell them that fidelity is still the choice for many committed partners, and my experience is that they operate differently with each other to keep that agreement.

Fifty percent of committed partners stay faithful to each other. Though they may be bombarded by the same influences that seduce others away, they intentionally resist them. I have found these partners, and the relationships they build together, important to represent, especially now. I am especially interested, in light of the new social mores that would be more likely to encourage, or even forgive them, if they did.  

The partners I've studied are not in obligatory, boring relationships, but understand what it takes to maintain honesty and openness with their partners. Committed partners aren't unfaithful because they don't want their relationship to end for any reason. They know that deceit, betrayal, and disrespect are negative risks that are likely to damage relationships, and they value their partners too much to take the chance of losing them.  They do not act out of obligation to their partners nor feel deprived of what they can't have. Their commitments and actions are based on preference, not entrapment.

I have observed and noted these partners and their relationships over many years. For those couples who want to stay faithful, I can tell my struggling couples what to reach for in their relationships that will make them less likely to make potentially regrettable decisions.

If you and your partner have chosen the path of faithful intimacy, the following twelve characteristics may help you hold that commitment to each other. The dialogues that follow are representative of actual interactions I've observed over the years. They may seem unusually ideal, but they do happen.

The Characteristics of Partners Who Stay Faithful

"We" versus "Me"

Imagine two people in animated conversation on an airplane. The man in question starts every sentence with "I" and is clearly stating the experiences of a single person. The woman he is speaking to is fascinated by these interesting escapades and inwardly wonders what it's like to live life without having to be concerned about a partner.

As the time to be together comes to an end, the listener asks a reasonable question: "You certainly have had a lot of interesting, independent experiences. Is it easier to do that when you're not concerned about a partner?"

The presumed single person seems suddenly uneasy and hesitates. "Oh, I'm actually in a committed relationship. I've been with the same woman for five years. We both travel a lot, but we're good when we're together."

If that's close to what you heard, you're probably looking at someone whose personal interests take precedence over the collective "we." People who are proud of the fact that they are taken will generally reveal their lack of availability early on.

"We" is a state of mind and heart. It means that wherever one partner is, the other is present in their thoughts. Partners who consider themselves a "we" act that way. When you talk to partners who live with and in the heart of their beloved, you experience that commitment in every way they present themselves.  They communicate a pride in belonging to their partner. It's a powerful feeling of "us" over anyone or anything else.

Non-defensive, Intimate Communication

The partners who don't cheat are able to talk to each other about subjects most couples would be afraid to approach. I've gained great admiration for the ease with which they approach touchy situations.

"Honey, what do you think about my breasts looking a little small since I lost that weight? Do you feel disappointed when you see me naked?"

"I've been having a little trouble staying up long enough the last couple of weeks. I'm not sure what it means and I'm a little worried."

They trust each other with these vulnerable fears and conflicts, especially if they feel they might threaten the relationship. Even if some of those internal battles are embarrassing, reveal too much, or could leave the sharing partner vulnerable to later questioning, these partners choose to be honest even when it may cause temporary stress on their relationship.

Partners who share at that level of trust are committed to truth above comfort. They will share whatever they know could affect their partners without overreacting or taking things personally. All committed partners have temptations and desires that could threaten the relationship if acted upon. Successful partners understand those conflicts, and still honor their relationship agreements.

They know that being able to share intimate feelings will help them to diffuse their importance and head off potential dangers. They use whatever discomfort those vulnerable discussions create to strengthen their trust. It may be very hard to hear that one partner enjoys porn, is fearful of loss, or is feeling less connected, but it could be worse if those experiences were not shared.

Faithful partners are willing to risk expressing their thoughts and welcome their partner's authentic responses. They care about each other enough to want the truth rather than to be indulged in any fantasies and truly want their mates to find fulfillment in their lives. They also use every skill they can acquire to keep their relationship current, mutually respectful, and real.

Committed partners love without possession. If one of them must leave the relationship to find a greater fulfillment elsewhere, the other would never use obligation, guilt, or coercion to hold onto the relationship. The irony of this kind of love is that people rarely want to give it up.

Example:

"Before Todd and I met, I know I never shared my most vulnerable and embarrassing feelings with anyone. I could certainly share my anger and disappointments, but never things I thought guys would think were too stupid, self-indulgent, or threatening.

Todd was different from the beginning. He'd suffered two alcoholic parents, brutal beatings by an older brother, and financial ruin from a best friend who took everything and disappeared. Yet, he'd always try to look at the lessons he'd learned and never complained on why he had to endure them.

At first, I didn't believe a word. I felt cynical, like I'd find the discrepancies eventually. They didn't happen. He just was the kind of guy who comes back stronger when times are the toughest. He seemed so different, but in an amazing way.

I remember our first real fight. We'd been to a party and an old girlfriend was all over him. I felt insecure and jealous, but I didn't want him to know. When we got to our apartment, I was withdrawn and silent. He took me by the shoulders and sat me down on the sofa.

"What's going on? You're jealous, right? You're embarrassed that you have human feelings and can't pretend you're holding up, right? Talk to me."

His willingness to care when he could have been disappointed opened my heart. I broke down and confessed that I felt terribly inadequate and didn't want to act possessive or controlling but that I did seriously want to scratch someone's eyes out. I cried more from my own embarrassment and lack of coolness. I was still worried that he would react negatively, and I was so vulnerable.

He started laughing.

"Don't laugh at me, please,' I said pleading."

"I'm not laughing at you, sweetheart. I just think you are so beautiful when you open up like that." He took me in his arms and told me he'd always rather have what was inside than what I felt he might approve of.

I moved effortlessly into arms wanting never to leave, and hoping for that moment to never end.

That night changed me forever. I'm slowly beginning to trust it will always be that way. There is nothing we can't talk about or share, even when it hurts. I've had to grow to listen without being defensive or turning away, but I'm more secure now than I've ever felt in my life."

Common Values

Long-term committed partners share mutually important values, ethics, and behavioral commitments that contribute to their relationship's thriving. They may not agree on everything, but they do on what's important to both of them. If they are in conflict, they talk openly about their value differences, and agree to respectfully negotiate if necessary. They also realize that those values and desires can change with time, and they continuously review their relationship to make certain they are current.

That bond that committed partners share takes precedent over any separate compartment that might threaten their relationship. They willingly choose those common values and behaviors and go first to each other if they need to change them. Both partners are willing to look at creative options for new behaviors, and to understand that freedom to choose is more important than obligation. The couples who have successfully created this way of relating rarely leave each other, because they do not feel entrapped by each other's requirements.

Example:

"People always ask me how I can still be in love with the same woman after four decades. I think it's hard for them to believe that love can continuously regenerate. Sure, we've had our hard times and our disagreements, but we always managed to patch things up in a better way. We make sure that the important things are continuously and intentionally processed because we want to stay in love forever.

So far, I've never met another woman I'd rather start and end my day with, and I've met a lot. I just ask myself those important questions. So far, the answer has always come out in the same place. I'm not sure what we'd do if either one of us chose an important different path that the other couldn't support. Even if that ever happened, I can't imagine creating what we have with another person. When you've been so successful with one, it gives you more courage to continue resolving anything that comes up.

She's the best thing that ever happened to me."

Threats to The Relationship

Anytime a committed couple faces a crisis, whether from inside or outside the relationship, they move automatically toward strengthening their bond. They expect that there will always be threats to their connection, and that love can always weaken under continued onslaughts. These are the times when they make their relationship their highest priority and find reasons to be grateful for what they have.

When outside influences undermine their faith in the relationship, they talk openly about those vulnerabilities. Their honest and intimate capability to communicate allows them to talk about virtual outcomes without their having to live through them, and to revitalize their relationship if the threats take hold.

Any threat to the relationship is a threat to each of them individually as well. Their commitments to each other are of heart, mind, and soul; to the "oneness" that both partners covet and protect. Though they realize that, in times of anger, they may temporarily lose sight, they return to soothing each other's sorrows as soon as they are able. Seeking to forgive and be forgiven, they work harder to remain deeply connected.  

Example:

"Last year, I went to my high school reunion. Frank couldn't come because he had the flu. I probably shouldn't have gone alone, because I still had unresolved feelings about my first high school love and I thought he might be there. I never quite recovered from being dumped the week before graduation and I had thought that my heart would break. I grieved so hard that summer that I wondered if I'd make it to college. It was a long time ago, but some things are hard to forget.

Yes, Chad was there, alone and single.

As soon as he caught site of me, he came directly to my table and asked me if he could talk to me privately. He told me that he only came to the reunion to find me again. Then he confessed that he'd made a horrible mistake letting me go. He reached for my hand, and told me that I was more beautiful than he even remembered. I thought for just a moment what it would have been like if we'd stayed together, just wondering how my life would have been different.  

Then, in the next moment, I felt Frank's loving hand touching me, even though he wasn't there. I felt his devotion to me and his absolute trust. I remembered what a great guy I was married to. Frank would never be doing what this man was doing. Feeling Frank's love surrounding me again, I remembered that Chad was the same person he always was and how lucky I was that he left me.

After leaving Chad, I went out to my car and called Frank. I told him exactly what had happened and that I needed to hear his voice. He was so incredibly supportive. When I got home, there were a dozen roses on the kitchen table. I don't even know how he got them. Next to them was a short note: "I love you and want you to be happy wherever you are. If that's still with me, I'm luckiest guy on earth. Love, Frank."'

I went to give him a hug. He was asleep and still feverish. I think I'm the luckiest woman on earth."

Staying Current

Partners who keep their relationships up to date can tell very soon if something isn't going well. They realize that either of their needs can change and that situations that were once easily resolvable may need new solutions. Partners who seek those answers early and together are not as likely to drift apart, or fall prey to outside temptations.

Even in committed relationships, at any given time, partners will not always feel love and commitment in the same way. Promise keepers do not use those temporarily separate needs to justify intimacy outside their relationship. Rather, they use those times to intentionally remember to reinforce what they love about each other. They trust that impasses happen to the best of relationships, and are not discouraged by them. Because they know that commitments are most easily broken during times of stress, they stay especially focused on the things they treasure in each other.

Example:

"I think I'm just naturally lazy when it comes to relationship problems. Before I met Bea, I'd just let things pile up and kept my resentments inside. Eventually, I'd start picking at little things until I drove my girlfriends away. That way, I could always blame the end of the relationship on her inability to handle my dark side. Boy, what a self-delusion that was.

My style was to just enjoy the good times and swallow anything I didn't like. When our relationship started, everything was great, the way it usually is. We'd bring left-overs and wine to my place or hers and enjoy great love-making. Afterwards, I'd just want to go to sleep in her arms but she always wanted to talk. I'd just pretend to be listening and give short, probably boring answers. She didn't complain, but the difference was obvious, and I was building up some of my old resentments. Yeah, I did it. I really hurt her one night by telling her I just wasn't into after-sex talking.

I fully expected her to dump me after that, but she sat up and turned on the light, obviously upset. "That's a really dumb thing to say. What's the matter with you?"

Well, I felt guilty, and probably should have, so I let her talk. Damned if we didn't really get down to some important stuff about what was bothering both of us. She was so unbelievably sincere and real, I felt tears I'd never known before. We ended up making love again, but this time I was really there.

Later, she told me she never wanted me to pretend to be someone I wasn't. Thank God, she didn't leave me for being such a jerk.

Now we talk about what we both need before we take the chance of disappointing each other by not being real. I'm slowly getting used to keeping things moving and alive. It's still scary, but I know that this is what real love is about. I'll never live in that cave again."

Perspective

Promise keepers know that short-term gratifications often end up in long-term loss. Even when they are tempted by seductions, they weigh the potential consequences carefully before they act and reveal those temptations to each other.   

Couples who share personal histories, common dreams, accomplishments, and losses build a powerful connection. New relationships will always have that lust edge. Committed partners often recall together the intensity of their first months together, and re-create them. They know how important it is to keep those sweet spots active and intimate, especially if they are stressed.

Perspective is the ability to keep everything that is important to both partners in mind when considering staying or leaving a relationship. It also gives long-term partners more patience and stability when times are hard. It's good to remember that it is not necessarily easier on the outside.

Example:

"I've had a lot of opportunities to leave my guy. It's not that I haven't been tempted, especially when my guy and I are going through tough time, but then I think about the long-term picture and I realize how lucky I am to be where I am. I've not found one guy who would be better for me overall. Besides, when I think about never seeing Ed again, my heart hurts and I feel a little crazy inside.

Neither of us is perfect, but our good parts are so good, we stand together and solve what's wrong. I wasn't always this way. I used to go from one relationship to another, thinking that each one would be the real thing, the answer to forever happiness. Was I ever misinformed! Sure, the initial physical stuff is heady, but problems come up in every relationship, and I never stuck around long enough to give them a chance. I'd just figure out what I though was the inevitable ending and get out before it happened.

He taught me how to stay put and write a different ending, to keep perspective instead of running. He never preached to me or tried to hold me back if I wanted to go. He'd just remind me of what we'd created and what we'd lose if we gave it up. I've learned not only to hang in there, but I know now that running away is not excuse for not fighting for what you can make right."

Mutual Respect

All couples fight. Whether just to state differences, reestablish new needs, or create the passion of separation and reconnection, the partners in committed relationships need to clear the air sometimes. Some conflicts are predictable, but others may not be, and temporary emotional separations are unavoidable.

Couples who stay faithful speak to each other with obvious respect. You can observe their compassion for each other's point of view, even when they are at odds. It is there throughout all facets of their relationship, but especially when they are in disagreement. They listen to each other carefully and do not discount what is being said or felt, even when they may disagree. They deeply believe that each has the right to feel the way they do, and invalidation is not an option.

Mutual respect does not require agreement. Rather, it obligates both partners to find ways to expand any different worldviews by wanting to know what their lover sees, and finding ways to embrace those different realities.

Partners who respect each other have another crucial agreement; they do not embarrass each other publicly. They know that outside predators look for vulnerabilities in relationships, and that exposing differences can give them unfair leverage.

Example:

"I dated a lot of women before I met Lil. My dad treated my mother like an extension of his own needs. He treated my two sisters like they were born to serve him as well. I never saw him respect them or care about what they needed. Because my mother was a wimp and took that crap, I became more like my father, and couldn't understand why I attracted women with low self-esteem who let me walk all over them.

With Lil, it was a different story. She let me know on our first date that I was disrespectful to the waitress. I was taken aback, but she was so damn interesting and sure of herself that I was impressed. It made me think about what I'd done and wonder why I did it. I couldn't find any good reason for my usual behavior except that's how I'd always been. I liked Lil's spunk and the way she talked to me. I didn't know a woman could be that direct and still incredibly desirable. One thing for sure; I wanted more of her.

For the next few months, I felt like I'd entered emotional boot camp. I knew I'd lose her if I didn't do something drastic. I ended up in therapy and re-examined my whole attitude towards women. I learned that respect is always a two-sided deal. I always thought I could get women to respect me without needing to care about them. Damn, that's not respect; that's kowtowing to a despot. It's hard to see yourself that way, but it's about time."

Inclusion

Many people struggle with defining infidelity in these sexually blurry times. Because of the ready availability of Internet access to new possibilities, even committed partners ask me to help them understand and deal with the more blatant temptations that now exist and how other couples see them. They want to maintain the sacred boundaries that will preserve their relationship, realize the affect the media is having on those around them, and seek new definitions of what they should be consider threatening. They are asking me different questions than I've heard in the past.

If you want to stay faithful to your partner,

Is it okay to have a "harmless" Internet relationship with someone you never see or touch if it does not contain explicit sexual invitations?

Only if you include your partner in what you are doing and why. Deceit and evasion are the problems, and they both tend to increase.

Can you watch porn as long as your partner doesn't know about it?

If you have talked that over together and both of you agree it's not a problem, he or she doesn't have to tell you every time. It can still be a slippery slope if it negatively affects the frequency or quality of your sexual connection.

Is it all right to have lunch with someone you are attracted to as long as you don't act upon your desires?

The deeper question is how you would feel if your partner did the same. Some intimate friendships can actually deepen a committed relationship, but not if they begin to offer or replace interactions that should be worked out at home.

Though most couples do not start out easily able to decipher how inclusion and exclusion works for them, they explore those compartments early in their relationship. As their commitment to faithfulness grows, they know what the answers are to these questions. They never create separate compartments that could ever threaten their partners, were they to know about them.

Think inclusion rather than exclusion. Faithful partners know the differences between privacy and secrecy. Private thoughts or actions do not necessarily threaten a relationship, but may. Anyone can be more susceptible to slipping from something innocent to a potentially dangerous situation. Faithful partners put their relationship above those possibilities.

Intimacy is about trust, trust is about honesty, and honesty is about not hiding anything. When partners have nothing to hide, they don't end up fugitives from each other. They don't want to harbor concerns that what they are doing could potentially threaten the sanctity of their bond.

Example:

"I used to think that anything I did or thought was my own business if I didn't feel like sharing. I never gave a second thought to what made guys cheat on me, or whether I felt like dating two guys at once. You know, what they don't know can't hurt them.

After so many relationships didn't work out, I started wondering what was wrong with me. My family never confided in each other; they actually took pride that they didn't need to. I never considered that was just an excuse to try to get away with as much as you could without risking someone else's judgment. We were never close and I guess I just took that teaching with me.

When I met Jed, I felt so different about my way of thinking. He never kept anything from me. I'd never met a guy like that. He just didn't need to do anything that he couldn't tell me about, even private things like watching porn, or who he'd dated before. He even told me about his past gambling problem and how he was in recovery.

I couldn't believe his openness and how easy it was for him. It made me start to question my hiding and keeping separate compartments in all my past relationships. I started telling him what I'd done. I couldn't believe anyone could be that kind.

"I love you, babe. I'll trust you completely until you give me reason not to, but then, I'm gone. It's your choice."

We've been together twelve years. I can't think of anything I'd ever do that could threaten him without telling him, thoughts included. If I had to hide something from this man, I'd know that I'm with the wrong guy. I never want to fear that either of us would be found doing something we didn't expect or feel okay about. If you care that much for someone, why would you be doing anything you'd need to hide anyway?"

Satisfaction

Love waxes and wanes in every relationship. During good times, partners trust their love will grow and last, but when their relationship is challenged, committed couples focus on what brought them together in the first place and remember what they still treasure about each other. They trust that love will return as long as they nurture it .

Each partner may need different things at different times. Hungers, desires, ideals, and goals are never constant. Committed couples continually check in with each other to make certain both are feeling hopeful and okay with how their relationship is going. There is no automatic assurance that a relationship will stay intact forever, but they understand that a lack of satisfaction is never an excuse for the broken trust that infidelity creates.

Example:

"I was watching way too much porn. Even though my girlfriend knew about it and didn't mind, I knew I was comparing those virtual experiences to us and feeling more dissatisfied with our sex. I hadn't told her how I was feeling because I didn't understand it myself and I thought it would pass. I know how much she loves our sexual time together and I didn't want her to worry or feel insecure.

When she came home one day from a business trip, and I couldn't get it up for the first time, she knew that something was different. She asked me if I were seeing someone else and I reassured her that wasn't the problem. We talked openly about what was happening. Instead of being upset, she was incredibly loving. She told me she had read a lot about that happening to some people and that we just needed to re-examine what we needed from each other. I was totally taken off balance. She said she knew, and was just glad I wasn't seeing someone else. We talked about my loneliness for her and my need to feel more wanted. She understood how guilty I felt and didn't feel threatened. By the time the evening was over, we made love in a way we hadn't for a long time.

She was really amazing. We talked through that situation in a way that most of my friends could never approach with their partners. I really love her. I never imagined a relationship like this, where you can share your most intimate worries and still regenerate your love, no matter how hard the situation is."

Sacred Time

Faithful couples stay committed to the same core values, or change them together if they need to. They understand the pressures that relationships are under today, and how hard it is to find time to stay deeply connected. No matter what they are facing, they carefully allocate whatever time they need to regenerate their reverence for each other and the relationship.

Each couple has its own way of making those sacred commitments. Some take the time to dance a while before making love. Others take a road trip every once in a while just to spend some uninterrupted time together, listening to music and exploring new scenery. Or, they might take a weekend at a new place and spend all night talking and making love as they once did.

No matter how much partners love each other, they can still forget to speak that love when life's demands get in the way. Faithful couples are watchful for other involvements that can cause them to drift away from their special time alone. Privacy goes beyond love-making. It requires timeless time to revere and honor what a couple can only do together.

Example:

"We'd been fighting over small things, but I knew that something didn't feel right. The conflicts were happening more often and the time it took us to reconnect longer. Sheryl and I had never held grudges before like this and I was worried and confused.

One night after fighting for an hour over something really stupid, we looked at each other and simultaneously felt the anguishing rift growing between us. We knew that things had been rough for me at my job, and hard for her with her mom so sick, but we just didn't realize that we'd forgotten how important we were to each other in the mix. We'd told each other when we got together that we always got better when we took the time to be alone, but somehow we'd let that commitment slide.

We talked the whole night and made arrangements the next day to spend the next weekend together somewhere beautiful, just the two of us.

We could hardly wait for the weekend to come. Our fights stopped, as if some magic process had already begun. Both of us were up before dawn, laughing easily as we packed the car. As soon as we left the house, we started holding hands. I could feel myself begin to breathe again and looked over at my girl. We both smiled at the same time, and the connection was back."

Covering Each Other's Backs

A relationship between committed partners is like The Three Musketeers. The symbolic triangle of long-lasting love is made up of each individual partner and the synergistic creation you think of as the relationship between them. That means that each part of the triad supports the other two.

This devotion is neither blind nor automatic. The partners in an honest, up-to-date relationship know that either voice is a representative of the other and each partner strives to speak accurately and authentically for what the other wants and needs. When either partner or the relationship, itself, is threatened in any way, the unit becomes stronger.

These couples grow closer when their relationship is challenged by outside influences. They trust each other's truths first and are not led astray by other's negative stories. Their intention is to become more as one, to create a union grown stronger by loyalty and support. That means that any outside influences that pull one partner away from the other are challenged by both.  

Example:

"I'd been with Sean for almost a year when his roommate, Trevor, stayed with us that weekend. I watched him do everything he could to be the top gun in their relationship. Sean is so laid back, he didn't seem to care. But I did.

Then Trevor started calling me on the weekends when Sean was out of town and I was alone. He'd start off our conversations with telling me that a beautiful girl like me shouldn't be left by herself, as if it were a joke. I blew him off and told him to find someone else to talk to, but then he told me he was just being nice because Sean liked me so much and he wanted to protect me from predators.

I told Sean he was calling and that it was bothering me. He told me not to worry, that Trevor was just a friendly guy and liked me.

No way, I thought, and began to avoid his calls.

Then the conversations began to change. Trevor started telling me all the reasons why I shouldn't be with Sean because he wasn't enough man for me. I told him that Sean was the most wonderful person I'd ever known, and I wouldn't talk to him anymore without Sean there. He told me that Sean didn't care if we flirted because he knew Trevor was just that way and the competition would never bother him. That did it. I told him to leave me alone. He wasn't happy and I didn't care. No one hurts my guy without a fight from me."

Fusion

Fusion is a poetic form of living in each other's hearts and minds. It is the most important quality of a committed relationship, and not about obligatory connection without freedom to choose. Whether together or not, both partners have their beloved's voice inside and every decision includes that voice.

That does not mean that a couple cannot disagree or that every internal message dictates what either partner thinks or does. It means that there is always a mutual vote before any decision is made that could affect either of them. Both partners have mastered the skills to resolve differences with concern and admiration for each other.

Example:

"I thought I was having a drink with a potential partner. Instead, in walks this hunk of a guy seemingly with something else on his mind. He tells me that his boss couldn't make it because she was called unexpectedly out of town, and could he fill me in on the details. I was totally unprepared for the switch and didn't expect it to be a guy out of a male model catalogue.

Stretching to regain my composure, I took out my notebook and wrote down his answers. Clearly aware of my response, he confidently began selling me on more than he was representing.

Within a minute or two, I caught myself and mentally put my sweet guy next to me as if he were with us. There must have been an obvious shift in my response because the guy changed his presentation immediately. Smart move, I thought. Then I silently blew a kiss to my absent husband and smiled inwardly, listening to the difference.  

I wasn't sure I was going to tell my husband what happened, but I couldn't help the passionate kiss I gave him when he opened the door. I was probably embarrassed that guy could affect me that way. He started laughing and said simply, "Wow, what happened to you tonight, sweetheart?"

I told him what had happened at the meeting and we talked it over. He was so there for me, so interested in what had happened.  Sure, he asked me the obvious questions and I gave him honest answers.

"Would you have been available if he'd been more direct?"

That was a hard one, because I had been tempted for that one moment.

"Not for longer than thirty seconds."

We both started laughing. That led into a wonderful love-making session. I know that there will always be temptations but why would I ever risk losing this man for some unknown future?"

Partners who are unfaithful often cause anguishing pain to partners who innocently continue to love them. When the deceit and betrayal is discovered, it is often irreparable. It is not the sexual infidelity that causes the most damage. The most important trust in the relationship is usually permanently broken and the time and energy required to heal it is more likely to be in short reserve. Not many relationships can survive the rift and thrive again.

It is human to fall in lust or even in love with someone other than one's committed partner. Many people cannot sustain a long-term relationship for understandable reasons. Some do better with sequential relationships, and others do better in committed relationships that deepen over time. No one should be judged harshly for those choices. But, whether sequential or long-term partners, promise keepers don't cheat, betray, or deceive. They know that those choices never make a relationship better and most often result in painful endings that never needed to happen.

No one knows if a new relationship will become permanent, or will need to end someday. Promise keepers do know one thing that is always true. If they do their best to create great relationships, they will do everything in their capability to keep them that way while they are in them, and leave them with integrity if they cannot sustain.

When someone loses a partner they still love, they can heal more easily if they have not been replaced while they still believed the relationship was intact.