Why Shared Values are Essential to Successful Relationships

What’s Your Value Proposition?

We’ve all heard the idea that it’s a good thing when couples share life goals, hobbies, interests, etc. And it is, for sure. But by far the most important, and one that’s often overlooked, is the sharing of values, and the way they’re prioritized.

For our purposes, we’ll define ‘values’ as the things that really matter to us in life; the core principles we base our goals and choices on. Some commonly-held values are faith, family, honesty, duty/responsibility, and fairness. All values can encompass an almost limitless set of goals and means of expression, but they’re not goals in and of themselves.

If Financial Security is the value,

here are some of the ways it can be expressed: frugality, high income work, saving and investing, living below means, delaying vacations, getting a second or third job, not borrowing money, borrowing money to advance a business, not using credit cards, using credit cards to earn points toward purchases…

If a couple shares the value of financial security then, it’s important for them to also understand and share the same definition of that, and agree on how they’re going to work toward it. Someone opposed to debt in any situation might have a very hard time understanding the benefit of a business loan.

Someone focused on generating income might not understand how their partner would rather live with less than work more to get more. The one who comes home with purchases saying, “I saved so much money,” sometimes lives with the one who thinks, “You can’t save money if you’re spending it.”

If Family is a value,

it’s good to know what that means to each of you. Does it mean never missing a birthday, holiday, or Sunday dinner, no matter what else is going on? Does it mean having children together? Does valuing family mean that you help your siblings out of financial jams, or teach them to help themselves out of those jams?

Do you show the importance of family by taking aging parents into your home, or helping them find a place they’ll be both happy and cared for? Do you kill yourselves getting to all the houses at the holidays, or do you have everyone over to yours?

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
― Roy Disney

If only that were always true! For your relationship to be its healthiest, it’s pretty important for you both to understand what your individual and shared values are, where you prioritize them, and what exactly that means. SO, let’s take family and financial security as an example.

Let’s say your partner has a sibling who’s getting married in Punta Cana, and they want them to be in the wedding. They’re thrilled! It’s their sib’s wedding! Let’s also say that you and your partner have different ideas about spending vs saving when it comes to big expenditures.

When they add up all the costs, it’s looking pretty pricey: wedding attire, flights, hotel rooms, vacation time from work, spending money, dog/house/kid sitters, wedding gift. When you raise this concern, their response is, “But it’s family! Family first! We both agree on how important family is to us.” Values in conflict can lead to couples in conflict. How you navigate that says a lot about the health of your relationship and of each of you as individuals.

There’s no one hard and fast rule for how to negotiate these kinds of values conflicts, but some solid suggestions are:

  • Focus on really hearing each other’s perspectives; not just what you each want, but why. Take time to drill down into the reasons, meaning, and impact behind each position.
  • See if there are alternative ways to get a good result. In the example above, is there a way to be a part of the wedding celebrations without traveling? Maybe throwing a party closer to home? Or maybe only one goes to the wedding, or both go for a shorter time.
  • Maybe take turns “getting your way”. One person’s value takes precedence now, another’s get the lead spot the next time.
  • Be sure you’re being respectful of what matters to each other, even if one of you doesn’t get all that you want. Try to find smaller wins along the way, rather than making it a zero-sum game. Give what you can to get what you want, so both feel good about what happened.

Ultimately, how you negotiate your decision is much more important than what the decision is. Respectful, non-violent communication is a key ingredient of any successful relationship, and especially so when it comes to the values we hold most dear.