What had kept Ray and Helen together for 12 years? It definitely was not a similarity in temperaments, they both agreed with a laugh. They were as different as different could be. The good sex was a positive. So was the shared sense of humor. But the key relationship quality they credited for their successful marriage was a sense of loyalty. Both of them had been attracted to others. It would have been strange if they hadn’t. But neither had ever crossed the line beyond harmless flirting and banter.
And, it was the ingrained feeling of loyalty they felt towards each other and their relationship, which was the reason for this. In a world where open or non-monogamous relationships are becoming common, loyalty in a relationship may seem like an old-fashioned phrase. Not many of us may like the word ‘loyalty. There is a morality attached to it. It sounds judgmental. Yet, loyalty, along with its cousins – commitment and trust – forms the very bedrock of a secure, long-term relationship even today. If you cannot be sure of the loyalty of your partner, how can you build a healthy relationship?
Moreover, loyalty in a relationship is inextricably tied with love. Author and relationship dynamics expert Charles Orlando puts it this way: “Anyone can give you attention and compliments…but someone who loves you will give you that plus respect, honesty, trust, and loyalty.”
Let’s explore the concept of loyalty in a relationship in greater detail with insights from psychotherapist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (Ph.D., PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
What Does It Mean To Be Loyal To Someone?
Loyalty in a relationship means several things. It has been defined as “a strong feeling of support or allegiance”. Dr. Bhonsle says, “In a romantic relationship, loyalty is essentially a pact that ensures you are not disrespectful to your partner. And, that you do not dishonor the relationship by straying. Infidelity is a breach of trust and action of disloyalty that brings in its wake dishonor, regret, shame, humiliation, and a lot of finger-pointing.
“Being loyal to someone means extending yourself – going that extra mile to be there for the other person. Of course, you would expect the same trust and loyalty in a relationship from your partner. In that sense, loyalty is meeting each other’s expectations as best as you can.” How do you show loyalty in a relationship? Described below are some of the ways.
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1. Being faithful
This is probably the single most important way a person shows loyalty in a romantic relationship. Being faithful essentially means not cheating on your partner. In a healthy, monogamous relationship, there is an expectation of exclusivity. Sexual or emotional adultery is disloyalty. In fact, emotional loyalty in a relationship is no less important than sexual fidelity.
An interesting 2016 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin explains one-way partners stay loyal to each other despite temptation. According to the study, “People in monogamous relationships can experience a conflict when they interact with an attractive individual. They may have a desire to romantically pursue the new person while wanting to be faithful to their partner.”
The researchers suggest that one way people defend their relationships against attractive individuals is by perceiving the individual as less attractive. They call this the “perceptual downgrading effect”.
2. Ensuring honesty
Honesty and loyalty in a relationship go together. To do what you say and say what you truly mean is very much a part of being loyal. In Ray and Helen’s relationship, there had always been an openness and transparency that had created an unshakeable trust between them.
Ray traveled frequently for work with both male and female colleagues, but Helen had never felt suspicious or insecure because he was absolutely transparent about what went on on these work trips. Even if it meant admitting to a fleeting crush while being married or confiding in her about a pass made by a coworker.
3. Remaining steadfast
Being the shoulder your partner can lean on in times of need is what loyalty in a relationship is all about. Wedding vows speak of being there for each other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…”. This is the very core of loyalty – to be there for a person through the best of times as well as the worst. To stand by them like a rock, lending support through the rough times is loyalty.
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4. Extending support
Supporting your partner in their endeavors is another way of showing loyalty. This may sometimes require letting go. For instance, your partner may have to move to another city after a promotion and you can’t immediately follow. Yet you support the move knowing your relationship will be tested by distance. That is loyalty.
5. Giving respect
Respect is a key ingredient of loyalty in a relationship. Why is respect so important in a relationship? Well, because respect will ensure you will not hurt your partner by cheating on them or belittling them, whether when you are both alone or in public. Likewise, as parents, a couple may have different parenting styles. But mutual respect will ensure they do not fly into a rage every time they don’t agree with each other.
Why Is It Important To Have Loyalty In A Relationship?
Asking how important is loyalty in a relationship is like asking how important is love in a relationship! “There will be strong differing opinions and turbulence in every relationship. There has to be an understanding that you work together as a team and not against each other. That understanding, or glue, is loyalty, and it keeps a couple together through the difficult choices and problems of life,” explains Dr. Bhonsle. Described below are some of the ways that loyalty works wonders in a relationship.
1. Leads to security and stability
Trust and loyalty in a relationship lead to a feeling of security and stability. Don’t we all want to feel secure in our romantic relationships? For Janice, an advertising executive, loyalty is “an implicit agreement that partners will not betray each other or the relationship. As equals, they will accord respect and dignity to each other. The foundation of their relationship will be built on solid ground.”
2. Ensures intimacy
Loyalty in a relationship enables a couple to bond closely and fall deeper in love leading to greater intimacy. Along with sexual fidelity, emotional loyalty in a relationship deepens intimacy. In contrast, if you can’t trust your partner, you will keep some distance from them. There will be a lack of intimacy – both emotional and physical.
3. Loyalty begets loyalty
If you are loyal to your partner, chances are you will get loyalty in return. As they say, “Respect is earned. Honesty is appreciated. Love is gained and loyalty is returned.” If you have your partner’s back when they’re in trouble, it is more than likely that they will be equally supportive in your time of need.
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4. Vital in the long term
If you are just having a fling without investing your emotions, loyalty does not matter much. But if you are looking for a deeper and long-term relationship, loyalty on both sides is vital.
Another aspect of loyalty is how important it becomes in the long-term context as a relationship ages. As an example, senior citizens who are professionally retired and empty nesters feel a void and need a reason to wake up in the morning. A loyal partner can be that reason.
5. Key to a guilt-free relationship
A loyal partner does not have to feel guilt or self-hatred for lying or cheating. This enhances his or her ability to love their partner and be loved in turn. Being loyal makes people feel proud of themselves. This self-esteem brings forth and reinforces other positive qualities as well.
7 Ways To Build Loyalty In A Relationship
Loyalty in a relationship undoubtedly enriches the quality of a couple’s bond and helps them foster a strong, enduring connection. There are no two ways about it. Yet, incidents of infidelity, dishonesty and lying in relationships are not uncommon. It’s not always a lack of love that’s to blame for these transgressions.
Partners stray despite being in love, they cheat despite having no intention of ever leaving their partners, they lie on the pretext of keeping the peace or not wanting to hurt their significant others. How can then one protect one’s relationship from these likely pitfalls and foster unwavering loyalty in a relationship? Described below are ways to keep loyalty alive and kicking in your relationship:
1. Stay faithful
Staying sexually and emotionally faithful is the key to a healthy monogamous relationship. Avoid the temptation to cheat at any cost. Once you cheat on your partner, it is very difficult for your relationship to survive. Even if it does, suspicion and disharmony will cloud the relationship.
While loyalty and faithfulness in a relationship are a given in the case of monogamy, what happens in an open relationship? In open relationships, there is no sexual exclusivity. In addition, you may develop feelings for the person who is not your partner. Such relationships may work as both partners know the rules. But nobody should get hurt – that’s very important.
2. Be authentic
It is important to truly be yourself in a relationship. Being your authentic self with your significant other is the best way of building loyalty. Nathan describes how his marriage ended in divorce after 11 years.
“My ex-wife Samantha tried very hard to please me when we were courting and in the early years. But it became very hard for her to continue being someone she wasn’t. I too felt betrayed as the woman I married was very different from her real self.” Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerable side to your partner. This will encourage him or her to also open up to you.
3. Stand by your partner
Support your partner when adversity strikes. This is a crucial test of loyalty in a relationship. Whether it is a health crisis, financial distress, professional problem, or family conflict, your partner needs you most when the going gets tough. Ray recollects how he had an episode of depression and withdrew socially four years ago.
It was Helen who never gave up on him and helped him through the loneliness and isolation. Defending your partner to others is a telling sign of loyalty. When your partner comes into conflict with someone at their workplace, in your close circle or with a stranger, be ready to take up cudgels on their behalf.
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4. Resolve conflicts internally
Healthy conflict resolution helps foster loyalty and trust between partners. Stay positive and meet your partner halfway. Remember that it is more important to resolve the issue than to win an argument. Avoid complaining to a third person about your partner. It may be necessary to vent to a close family member or friend at times when you are distressed about your relationship.
But even if you do so, avoid badmouthing your partner and complaining about his faults. That is an act of disloyalty. Nobody is perfect, so building loyalty in a relationship involves making allowances for your partner’s negative traits.
Describing love, American advice columnist Ann Landers, wrote, “Love is…loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.” Acknowledging weaknesses also enables you to forgive your partner when you’ve been hurt. Forgiveness is one of the pillars while building loyalty.
5. Keep your word
Sticking to your word in things big and small is a key tenet of loyalty in a relationship. It could mean not keeping your partner waiting at a restaurant. It could mean something bigger like not abandoning them when they are dealing with a serious health issue. Never break a promise, especially when you know it matters a great deal to your partner.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology explores why people make promises in romantic relationships and why they break them. The study reveals that people who have more positive relationship feelings make bigger promises. However, they may not be any better at keeping the promises than others. To keep a promise what you need are well-developed self-regulation skills.
Loyalty in a relationship also shows up in the little things done every day like lending an empathetic listening ear when your partner is troubled. Or, providing companionship when they are feeling lonely and down in the dumps. By doing these little things, you can ensure that neither partner feels neglected in the relationship.
6. Don’t hide things
Don’t keep secrets from your partner. Making a habit of hiding something from your partner will build only mistrust, never loyalty. Honesty and loyalty in a relationship are like two sides of the same coin. If you are loyal to someone, you will not lie or be hypocritical.
It is dangerous to keep some secrets. For instance, if you have got into abusing drugs or gambling, you may try to keep it from your partner. But the effort of keeping the secret will make you feel guilty, which will affect your relationship adversely. The longer it takes for your partner to find out, the graver the consequences on your relationship are likely to be.
Related Reading: 15 Signs Of Relationship Compatibility Between You And Your Partner
7. Be each other’s friends
Make your partner your closest friend. Always keep the lines open and be invested in improving communication in the relationship. Your relationship must be one of your top priorities, along with your work, family and children. Always consult your partner when it comes to major decisions. Cheer for your partner when there is something to celebrate.
Dr. Bhonsle strongly believes that loyalty is a value that you grow up with. “It is pre-installed in a person as a value based on childhood upbringing and early social encounters. If you have grown up with people lying and cheating around you, loyalty will not come easily to you. You would not have had the right role models. You have to decide to be loyal. It has to come from an inner conviction,” he says.
When a couple comes to him for counseling after one of the partners has strayed, he first investigates why the partner was disloyal in the first place. Why did he find someone else to meet his emotional and physical needs? Did she find it difficult to reconcile her differences with her partner and hence turn elsewhere for comfort?
Only then does he suggest remedial measures such as communicating better, being more patient with each other, reinforcing each other positively, and offering warmth, affection, care and support. Loyalty should always be top of the heap in the relationship qualities you expect. You should never settle for anything less.
Both are equally important in a relationship. Love is a feeling that uplifts while loyalty is a decision to be committed. Loving someone involves feeling many things but to show loyalty in a relationship demonstrates that love best. While you can love more than one person romantically, it is loyalty to your long-term partner that prevents you from straying. Loyalty reminds you about the boundaries in the relationship you must respect and adhere to.
No. Loyalty is not sufficient to keep a relationship going. You also need shared interests and sexual chemistry, to name two things that are unrelated to loyalty. If these are not there, and a couple is just staying together because of loyalty and faithfulness in a relationship, the relationship becomes a sacrifice. If there is a deep feeling of loyalty and respect for each other, you can work on the other aspects to make the relationship more meaningful and complete.
Yes. It would be very cynical to say it doesn’t. Any couple thinking of the long-term must focus on loyalty. Its importance in a solid, meaningful relationship can hardly be overemphasized. But, there has been a shift in social conditioning. All romantic partnerships are not necessarily made in heaven. And, when the fabric of loyalty frays, a couple may decide it is better to part ways.
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