Why Are Core Values Important in All Your Relationships?

Why Are Core Values Important in All Your Relationships?

This is the first of a 5-part series.

What do you do when differences arise in relationships? Aren’t there always times when you are inevitably at odds? Here are some examples of the kinds of things people get hung up on:

  • My roommate is a slob; they leave dishes in the sink and clothes all over the place.
  • My friend never calls me; it’s always me reaching out to make contact.
  • I can’t stand it when my partner spends money without regard to the budget we’ve agreed on.

Some of these issues are material: where you live, what your physical needs are, how important possessions are to you. Others are emotional, to use the term broadly. What’s your balance of privacy and connection? What are your expectations of support? What do your religious beliefs call for?

These can be thought of as wants, needs, and values, though they blend into each other somewhat. By looking at what yours are, and how they match with other people, you get a clearer view of your compatibility.

• • •

Wants change rapidly in a short period of time, and as a result, are the easiest to work with when looking for mutual solutions. One day you want ice cream, and the next, a good book. Wants come and go.

When you examine what lies behind that want, and what is driving that in turn, you can get to what it is that you actually want from any given situation or decision. Through this process, you can find ways to satisfy your true wants and more easily match them up with another person’s.

Many of the decisions that you make and the solutions that you seek in your partnerships and friendships fall within this area and can be resolved with goodwill and a desire to find paths that work for both parties.

• • •

Your needs are more important, though recognizing them can be unclear. Is owning a dog something you want or something you need? Is having art in your life a need or a value? But you can say for sure that a need is something without which your life feels incomplete.

Needs, beyond the very basic ones we all share like food, water, and air, are also potentially malleable. They may be about the material world, but may also be emotional in nature, and they might be so deeply entrenched from childhood or society that they feel almost like they are wired in. Does this make them permanent, or something you can work around?

Some examples of what people might feel they need:

  • you feel a need to be taken care of
  • you have a strong need to feel safe
  • you feel the need for deeper conversations
  • you feel the need for a physically active lifestyle

• • •

Lastly, we come to values. The very word “value” can be used in different ways. It can be an ethical value like the golden rule. Or it can mean what you value, not just in a material sense, but characteristics like loyalty, praise, or freedom. Values change slowly, if at all. Wants and needs have underlying values, and those values are at the very center of your choices and actions. They’re ethical, moral, and spiritual.

Some of these values are so intrinsic to who you are and how you want to be that they underlie everything that you do and decide. They are your core values; how things should be in life. They affect how you feel and respond to other people.

Core values are not beliefs; they underlie beliefs. They affect how you behave, the way you respond to others, and how you make decisions. They’re the areas that most represent who you are and what has true meaning for you in life.

Core values, just like emotions, are felt, not thought. It’s a deep sense that you have, and then you find words to describe the feeling. It’s often hard to see core values because they’re difficult to distinguish from so many other values that we inherit from family, acquire through friends, adopt through society or buy into through advertising.

Because they’re felt, not thought, you don’t know what they are until you name them. They become clear through feeling what is right for you and then describing that. Once you can articulate your core values, you can make decisions that better take them into account. Popular lists of core values are usually one-word items, but you might find phrases or sentences that better capture what yours are.

• • •

Having matching or complementary core values with another person is necessary for a peaceful relationship, otherwise you will continually clash on issues where no compromise is possible.

People often think they go well together because their wants seem to match – “We’re great together, we want the same things,” but if these similar wants don’t reflect matching values, they won’t turn out to be fulfilling, as the values underlying them are actually different.

Sometimes, wants can be satisfied by recognizing a deeper want, but values aren’t so malleable. By looking at what yours are, and how they match with other people, you get a clearer view of your compatibility.

• • •

Before you can evaluate whether your core values fit with someone else, you have to know what they are for you. It’s important that you spend time getting to know yourself and what your core values are. Many people have never thought about them. They don’t arise fully formed as words, but as comforts or discomforts about the world, so they are not easy to recognize. Naming them will help you bring them into focus and by becoming aware of them, it helps you identify what is most important to you.

This takes searching within yourself and distinguishing your values from the expectations of people you know and society at large. You will need to find what your deal-breakers are and what things must match in order for you to be with someone with whom you can reach a place of true peace together.

There are clues in the important decisions you’ve made, the ones that created your path through the world. Look for why you made those decisions. You’ll find your values there; the ones that you feel are essential to who you are and how you express yourself. These are your core values and are at the very heart of your presence in the world.

• • •

Values are important in all relationships. Family relationships are trickier than friendships and partnerships, but you can still apply much of what we share about partnerships to strengthen those relationships as well.

Look at both the actions and words of your partner to see what their values are. Whether you’re in an existing relationship or looking to start a new one, your values need to match.

• • •

This is hard to do in the early days of meeting someone. In the beginning, the joy of that initial connection dominates, and it takes time to see how your partner responds under various circumstances. How do they handle a fender bender or a job loss?

Take enough time to see if what a person says in words is carried through in their actions. There is often a huge divide between what people say and what they actually do. For instance, he says he cares about the environment, but leaves trash everywhere; she describes herself as loving nature, but only watches it on TV. Pay attention to their actions, as this is where you can see their values.

• • •

Another way for you to compare your values with a partner is for each of you to make a list, then look at your lists together. If they don’t match, ask yourselves if they are complementary or truly at odds. The answer to this question will give you critical information about the possibilities for your relationship, and then you can make informed decisions. If they hold the same values as you but express them differently, why is this a problem for you? If it bugs you when it doesn’t clash with your basic values, then look inside yourself and work out why.

When values are truly opposed or mismatched it can be felt strongly. It does not just refer to a difference in words, or even of spiritual or religious beliefs. It is about the underlying foundation for these things, the very core of your being and doing.

For those of you in longer-term relationships, chances are that your core values really do match. If there’s been a disconnect between you, look at your values together and reaffirm them to each other. This will make it easier to see each other’s actions in terms of the values they represent. You may be surprised at how much connection you experience from doing this!

• • •

When you share core values with another person, there are no grounds for conflict. The process of finding mutual solutions and accepting differences that don’t challenge your basic values can be a rich area of growth for a relationship. Communicating as two people who are on the same side can produce wonderful experiences of closeness and union.

Photo credit: Maude Mayes
Photo note: Roof of gazebo in Toro Canyon Park

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3 Comments on “Why Are Core Values Important in All Your Relationships?

  1. Thank you for these insights on Core Values. I think it’s all too easy to overlook how important they are to be known and how little they are talked about in many relationships. It really helps to talk about them with your partner.
    Love Esther

    • Thank you Esther. Communication is so important within a relationship. If you share about your core values, so much becomes clear.
      with love

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