What’s the secret to our happiness? For starters, we share the same values.
Lots of us claim shared values with our spouses, me included. Shared values are often a bullet-point in our romance-cliff-notes when we tell people why we chose our mates, why we want kids together, why we’re optimistic our love will last.
It’s not surprising, then, that if we hit a rough patch, we find ourselves uttering phrases like: “I thought we shared the same values, but I guess I was wrong.”
What, exactly, are values?
They’re the qualities, attitudes, and behaviors that are important to our fulfillment. They’re ingredients in the special sauce that makes each of us uniquely who we are and, more than that, who we want to be. For couples, our values help make us, well, us; and those we honor as co-parents offer, for me at least, the true definition of family values.
That’s a long way of saying I get the importance of values. I really do. Which is why I hope you’ll take this in the helpful spirit in which it’s intended:
Most of us don’t know what the heck we’re talking about when it comes to our values, shared or otherwise.
I mean we literally don’t know. Why? Because we rarely spend adult-time exploring, defining and, most importantly, choosing our values as individuals, as a couple and as co-parents.
Given that our priorities, indeed our values, often change as life changes, taking time right now to mine our values–better yet, to figure out which ones are non-negotiable–offers us a roadmap to our fulfillment.
Here’s my line in the sand: To feel satisfied in our lives, I believe we need to honor–if only to a degree–our most important personal values, even when we’re coupled, even when we’re parents. To enjoy our relationships, we have to fan the flames of our values as a couple, and nurture our own and our spouse’s personal values, even if we’re busy parenting.
To co-parent effectively, we have to cultivate our parenting values with our spouses, even if they sometimes bump up against our individual values and values as a couple, and even if it’s challenging to get on the same page with our beloveds.
To do any or all of this, we need to really know our own and our spouse’s values.
Unless we were raised exactly the same way as our mates, we might assume sameness where difference exists. The problem isn’t having different values.
The problem is assuming and, indeed, relying on our values being the same without being certain that’s true. If we assume sameness, and find out we’re wrong, we might feel betrayed by our spouse, or worry our relationship is a bust.
Take Craig and Lisa:* They’ve been together 3 years and are expecting their first child. They’ve always shared the value of family. But on the cusp of their baby’s birth, they discovered that the word, family, means a variety of things.
Craig hasn’t had much to do with his parents since he was a teenager. To him, family refers to him, Lisa and their future child.
Once their baby is born, Lisa just assumed family would include more time with her mom and dad, who she also thought would be regular babysitters.
But Craig’s not a big fan of Lisa’s parents and, to be fair, Lisa has complained regularly about their bickering and has spent minimal time with them in the last few years. Still, she’d always presumed that, once the baby’s here, her complaints would be set aside.
Why? Her grandparents were really important to her growing up, so her version of family includes her own parents hanging out a lot with her kid.
Craig not only disagrees, he thinks that, given how Lisa’s parents handle conflict, they’d be bad role models.
Without a shared understanding of their value of family, Craig and Lisa now have to grapple with reconciling their 2 different perspectives.
Doing so requires them each to, first, understand each other’s definition of the value–which at this point, is an individual value, since it’s not really shared–and, if possible, explain to each other what’s important that individual value.
To move past their standoff, they have an opportunity to work together to redefine family as one of their parenting values, perhaps, by crafting some sort of hybrid definition, by honoring at least some degree of each of their individual definitions.
It’s never too late to clarify our values as individuals, as a couple and as co-parents. The goal isn’t to have the same values; it’s to understand what’s important to us, and our spouse, about each of our core values; and to work as a team to honor those values, at least to some extent.
For steps toward further achieving that goal, check out When Shared Values Aren’t Always Shared.
* Names and details have been changed to protect privacy.