Values. . . we often assume we know what we mean when we bandy about terms like American values, Christian values, Progressive values, and family values. Yet the words we use to describe our values can have different meanings for different people, even the people closest to us. When values collide, conflict arises.
The relationships that tend to have the least amount of conflict are the ones in which people share not just affinity – in community/work relationships – or love – in close relationships - but similar values too.
The sign of an emotionally mature relationship is when those involved remain unthreatened and maintain love or respect even when values differ.
The thing is, we tend to assume we share values with people we like so we can feel betrayed when we find out the truth.
One stumbling block to longevity in relationships is that attraction between two people is often so powerful that discussions revealing core values can be side-stepped (or clouded in fantasy) because feelings are so strong.
While attraction is a great beginning, lasting relationships develop from the give and take necessary to keep love or respect alive in the real world.
The art of compromise
The trick to this art is compromising only that which is non-essential to the core of your being, the essence of who you are. It may be that you haven’t recently reflected deeply on what is most important to you, what is absolutely non-negotiable and what you can compromise or let go of for the sake of the relationship.
In any relationship—whether in marriage, friendship, family, community, or work—clarity about shared verses individual values reduces conflict. When you know which values you share versus the ones you individually own, you can choose to agree to disagree, or challenge, probe, or embrace eachother’s values.
Name it; own it
This short exercise will help you name what you value. Naming things makes them real and allows us to deal with them. The exercise includes a list of values, but not a comprehensive one. Feel free to add some of your own. It’s a great discussion starter. I suggest sharing it with your beloved and then discussing your similarities and differences.
Keep in mind as you complete the exercise (less than 10 minutes) that many items in the center circle—non-negotiable values— can represent a bit of inflexibility that could result in numerous conflicts. Conversely, if there are too few items in the center circle you could fall prey to the adage those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.
And when you’re deciding what is negotiable or not, remember to think of how each value plays out in the real world rather than what sounds good. For example, if both freedom and safety are values you hold dear when and how will you allow safety to trump freedom? If honesty is a non-negotiable value does that mean you say everything you believe without regard to other’s feelings?
These questions and more are likely to come up in discussions so don’t just share this with your beloved. Share it also with friends, family members, and even coworkers.
You’ll be surprised by how much you thought was true about someone is not true at all. Treasure the journey of discovery.