What are values anyway, and how do they affect a relationship? Values can be reflected in our thoughts as “beliefs,” or they can be reflected in our behavior as actions. Both of these aspects of “values” affect our relationships, but probably our actions are more relevant. “Actions speak louder than words,” goes the old cliché, and for good reason. We’re not talking about what’s true or false here, or what is right or wrong. Values are about what is important to us. Sounds simple but actually, it’s more complicated than that in practice because most of the time we have values that are in conflict with one another. For example:
Thomas knew that his wife, Danielle, was looking forward to a day at the beach with Thomas, the kids, and her sister’s family. Thomas knew that he would enjoy the outing, and what’s more, he valued “family time” and making Danielle happy. Unfortunately, he also was expected to finish a work project by Monday, which he would never get done if he did not invest the whole weekend. Here the values of achievement, and family time were in conflict with one another.
They make us scratch our heads and force us to decide which of our choices represents our more salient value. Often, the values of relationship partners come into conflict with one another, as well. These “inter-personal” value conflicts also require sorting out and require some kind of resolution which can take a variety of forms from discussion to all-out ongoing war. Values which can be at odds in instances of relationship discord may be things like: Orderliness vs. Spontaneity; Strict Authoritative Discipline vs. Dialog and Negotiation; Conservative choices vs. Exciting choices; Spending vs. Saving. There are many more.
“This, however, is the sublime melancholy of our lot that every You must become an It in our world.” Martin Buber, 1970
Relationship Artists see a creative challenge in the task of working out value and attitude conflicts. However they also understand the need to start with a shared sense of the fundamental values that shape the processes of their marriage, among these being trust, respect, and counting each other all the time. The most fundamental is the recognition of our partner as a unique and valuable person who counts all the time. A “You” and not an “It”. This is a value; an ideal, which in practice is not so easy. Our inner children don’t give a hoot about our stinkin’ values (or our partner’s needs and wants either, for that matter). It’s a challenge to be an adult under pressure, to remember that you are arguing with someone that you love, and who’s interests you cherish as much as your own. Practice.