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How to See Your Relationship in Terms of Important Core Values

Tree ringsPHIL: Last week we wrote about recognizing that each person is an individual with their own way of doing things, but of course, that brings up the question of what to do when differences arise in a relationship. It seems that there must be times when they are inevitably at odds. The tension in a relationship comes from some things being desirable and some not.

  • The sex is great but I can’t stand the step-kids.
  • I am passionate about my field and want to do a Ph.D. in it. The best work is being done at a university 2,000 miles away and they offered me a scholarship, but my partner has just been promoted and doesn’t want to move.
  • I can’t stand it when my partner spends without regard to the budget we’ve agreed on.

It is in the nature of language to be categorical, to say that a label either applies or not, and to expect yes or no answers. All black crows are birds. Not all crows are albino. (Or in the inelegant American construction: all crows are not albino.) Is this white bird a crow?

It’s too simplistic to file relationship differences into important or not. The answer could range from “I could let that go” to “that offends everything I believe in” and the latter end of the spectrum is what we call core values.

Maude and I have found that we share values at a very deep level about how we see the world and behave in it, and knowing that we have this in common allows us to avoid getting hung up on things of lesser importance – or to put it differently, to practice non-attachment.

So what is this shared belief and behavior of ours? It is a recognition of the equality of people. It is empathy – the ability to understand another person’s position. Perhaps it’s just the degree of empathy that we share, and if I were MLK or she was Mother Theresa, we’d be mismatched. I can also imagine that people can hold a view of other people in terms of differences, and they see roles and hierarchy at the core of how to behave in the world.

(I want to point out here that these two views of people being the same and people being different can be true at the same time. It is the trap of language, of black crows, that causes us to struggle with holding two contradictory ideas at once. It is like that drawing where we can see an old crone or a young girl, but never the two at once.)

All of this has been a very analytical view of the values that Maude and I share, but discovering what our core values are came about in exactly the opposite way. We observed a growing comfort and ease between us. We saw how each of us behaved in a variety of situations. We grew to trust in the other person. All of this led to the sense that we have the same core values, although it took some thinking before we were able to describe what they were.

The core values I have talked about could be called ethical ones, but there is another type of value, and that is the way you like to lead your life and the things that are important to you. They might be academic, physical or artistic. It might be whether to have children, whether to be nomadic, whether to follow a dream.

When you and your partner disagree on these, it can be difficult to make them match. Perhaps you can dive deeper and deeper into your desires and look for underlying agreement with your partner, because somewhere in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs there must some commonality, but this may well be at the cost of letting go of some part of you, your identity, your reason for being on this earth. Maude and I are lucky in not having such incompatible desires, or perhaps it’s that we have each lived long enough to have scratched those itches.

So all of this is to invite you to dive deep into exploring what you want and what you need. It is a difficult exercise for me, and I think for many people, because so much of how we behave is with others in mind. We act for approval and to fit in, and we do this so instinctively that we don’t see it. This is not necessarily a bad thing because shared norms are the basis for a stable society, but this is not where you find yourself. I’m not suggesting that you have a license to run riot; to be your own person and be at peace requires scrupulous behavior. As Dylan said, “To live outside the law, you must be honest.”

MAUDE: We have shared how vital it is to a peaceful loving relationship to respect and value the unique individuality of each other, and to appreciate the enrichment these differences bring to each of you. In order to truly understand and practice this kind of appreciation, you must look at another vital area, core values.

In all intimate relationships it is necessary to have matching basic core values, the ones that are the foundation of how you live your life. This is less important in more casual relationships, but is paramount when sharing the deepest parts of your being with someone. For that kind of sharing, deep trust is necessary.

How can you ascertain whether or not a potential or even long term partner/friend has the same foundational core values that you do? The first part of this process is that you need to know what yours are. Remember, here we are looking at the values that underlie all your choices and decisions in life.

In a recent workshop Phil and I presented, one of the participants asked if all your core values have to match. She added that what if they don’t, but the person is very loving and kind. Remember, here we are looking at those core values that underlie all your choices and decisions in life. The two she mentioned are probably on her list.

There are other important values that are not basic ones but are nevertheless important to your fulfillment, and this is a gray area that you must work on together to find comfort, balance and trust.

There are many places on the web where you can look at basic lists of core values to get you going, if you have not yet reflected on yours. Look for those things which travel with you through your life. Those values that remain unchanging, even if they express themselves in different avenues.

When Phil and I came together, we had already spent time and effort getting to know ourselves and we both knew our values. In our very first conversation, peace came up as we were getting to know each other. They say you change memories every time you recall them, but this memory has stayed unchanged in my mind for almost 16 years. We were in a crowded room at an event where people came to meet each other. Although I cannot remember the conversation before or after, I distinctly see and remember hearing the word peace floating up out of both of us, and in that moment, time seemed to stand still and all the noise around us seemed to disappear. Here we are many years later dedicated to promoting peace one relationship at a time. Our relationship started out based on that value and others.

Recognizing your foundational meanings does not have to be that dramatic. Take the time to really see how they match. It is important to make sure that you see these core values in actions and not just in words, and that goes for both partners. These cannot be compromised on and they will keep rearing their head if they are out of sync or too far apart. If they do match, then no matter how varied your style of expressing them is, you will always be able to find mutual decisions and solutions that work.

Out of this place of safety, it is possible to learn how to honor the differences and individuality of the other. This is the place where we can apply that wonderful phrase from Andy Warhol, “So what!” toward any variance of expression we encounter in the other. When we honor another in this way, we do not try to change them, coerce them to our way, or try in any way to alter who or how they are. We celebrate together that the same foundational values can be manifested with such variance!

The result of this kind of relating leads to something we call total acceptance and that is what we will be looking at next week.

Photo credit: Phil Mayes

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Books on shelfThis week, we wrote about core values from our personal experience. These articles talk about core values, sometimes discussing desirable values as well.

How Core Values Help Relationships Grow "You don’t need to agree on everything; the idea is to agree on areas that are truly necessary for your lasting happiness. Actually, as shown in the example below, sometimes a difference in a core value may enrich a relationship."

10 Core Values of a Lasting Relationship "Building a successful relationship takes dedication. There are untold life situations that can spring up, and test the strength and unity of your partnership. Having compatible core values will provide you with the necessary strength and camaraderie to be able to navigate through those stumbling blocks together."

Why Are Shared Values Important In Relationships? Experts Weigh In On This Common Thought "As I’ve gotten older and my relationships have matured, a lot of things have changed about they way I view potential partners. In the past, chemistry and having fun with someone was enough to ground a relationship, because whether or not I wanted to admit it to myself, I knew deep down those relationships were not built to last. But probably the starkest difference between then and now is how much the answer to the question of “Are shared values important in relationships?” has changed for me. Now it's probably one of my biggest concerns. After all, now I look at relationships as more than just someone to have fun with, but instead, someone I want to spend my life with — and having shared values is a big part of that."

Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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