Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. That’s a proverb that I heard a lot growing up. If a friend was quick to leave me out, well then it was their loss! If a boy made fun of me on AIM after a couple months of instant messaging, they got blocked so fast they couldn’t even type, “LMAO”. I was quickly taught how to respond to disloyalty by everyone from my mother to my third grade teacher, but was never truly shown how to build loyalty in my relationships in the first place.
I’ve never been particularly trusting in nature: a few sour friendships early on in life left me with a slightly bitter aftertaste. When I was 16, and my band-camp boyfriend cheated on me, I just shrugged my shoulders and told myself I should have known better. In college, if a guy used the line, “it’s not you, it’s me,” I was quick to snort in his face and tell him off. I expected people to betray or abandon me; it was my standard setting.
So when I started dating my partner, I spent the first few months on my toes, searching for any signs of fight or flight. I was so sure that the tiniest hint of incompatibility would send them running for the hills, but that day never came. And over time, they taught me how to truly build a foundation of loyalty in a relationship: it starts with the ability to trust, not only your partner, but yourself.
When your partner is experiencing something difficult, don’t respond with pity. Instead of simply reacting sympathetically and feeling bad for them, try to understand the source of their pain.
“The active practice of being able to emotionally walk in someone else’s shoes, but also to perform acts of service for them, are two key components to the practice of empathy,” relationship expert Dr. Gary Brown tells Bustle. “This is one of the most important keys to building love and loyalty.” By sharing in shouldering that burden alongside of them, you will not only prove to your partner that their problems are now yours as well, but it will also help to establish trust.
Become An Active Listener
There is a distinct difference between hearing what someone is saying, and actively listening to them speak. When conversing with your partner, process each sentence and mull over every point, before responding. “When our partner knows that we are actually listening and understanding what they are saying — verbally and non-verbally — they will likely feel more loved,” Dr. Brown says. “There’s nothing quite like feeling that we are understood.”
You will better understand their point of view, and subsequently, be able to engage in a fruitful and meaningful dialogue. Then, the next time you need to talk something out, they’ll be there to do the same.
Factor Them In
It’s easy to abruptly make choices when they solely affect you, but when your in a relationship, there’s another person’s feelings to consider. Before jumping the gun on a big career move or life decision, discuss it with your partner first.
Even if it’s ultimately a resolution that you need to reach on your own, they will appreciate being clued into the conversation, and it will demonstrate that you respect their time, space, and loyalty. “It’s vital that when contemplating making decisions, that you factor in what your partner might want or need,” Dr. Brown says.
“Considering your partner’s needs is just another way of saying that you care about them enough to consider their needs.” Even if they’re not the main reason behind your decision-making, there’s no harm in factoring them in.
Learning a new skill, trying something for the very first time, or experiencing a place, trip, or art form with your partner is a great way to bond you two together. “One of the more fun aspects of a relationships is in building a history of shared experiences,” Dr. Brown tells Bustle. Whenever your partner looks back on the shared adventure, they will partly associate that moment of happiness and security with you. It’s a level of understanding that loyalty is derived from.
There is very much a difference between lying to your partner and withholding the truth, but both are layers of dishonesty that imply some form of secret-keeping. To avoid distrust and little-white-lies that stack up to form a mountain, communicate your thoughts, feelings, and fears when they initially arise, with your partner. “One of the dynamics I see in so many couples, is the challenge it appears to be for them to communicate their hopes,” Dr. Brown says. “If clarity isn’t there at first, that’s OK. Be patient with each other. It’s important to realize that effective communications require a certain amount of courage and vulnerability.” Even if they don’t understand in the moment, your transparency will always pay off in the end.
Make Them A Priority
Even if your partner is not the most important person in your life, when you open yourself up to someone completely, they inadvertently become a priority: you want to protect and nurture that connection. So if someone matters to you that much, show them! “One of the simplest and most effective things you can do to make your partner feel like they are a priority is to ask them the following question: What can I do to help make your day go a bit better?’” Dr. Brown says. “That’s because love requires that we make our partner’s needs and well-being a priority.” Remind them how much they mean to you, choose to spend time with them when you have the chance, and support them in their own endeavors. If you feel safe enough to remain vulnerable around someone, they will return your sentiments with their own loyalty.
Plan Mindful Surprises
Surprises are not always a good thing per say: you need to remember to be respectful of your partner’s time and space. But once those boundaries are defined, performing random acts of kindness for those you love, and seeing the joy that they bring about, can be incredibly gratifying! Next time you go over to your partner’s house, pack their favorite snack food. If you pass something that makes you think of them in a store window, grab them a gift for no reason.
“I was at the grocery store the other day,” Dr. Brown says. “Just before I checked out, I saw some daffodils in the flower section and bought a couple dozen for my wife. I know she likes them this time of the year, so this is one of the little things that I do to let her know that I’m thinking of her and love her. It’s an accumulation of these small little surprises that often add up to earning her loyalty over time.”
Small special moments, planned with no expectation of reciprocation, are not only fun and memorable, but can establish mutual respect and loyalty.
Loyalty does not necessarily mean sweeping dramatic gestures or caveats, like choosing your partner above all else, or even the absence of infidelity. Loyalty is marked by the little things one chooses to do, simply because they know it would mean the world to their partner.