Underneath most conflict in a relationship is a clash of values. We all have personal values we live by, whether we realize it or not. When we are thriving and enjoying life we may even forget we have them, but when frustration or that out-of-control feeling sets in, that’s a pretty good sign we’ve slipped out of our values. So, how do you know what your values are? And what happens when you and your partner have different values?
A great first step is for you to reflect on your personal values as individuals. Here is a worksheet with a list of values to start with. As you read the list, pick the top ten that jump out as significant to you. Then, go back and rank them. Some find it helpful to add a verb to the words and make them a sentence. For example, instead of just the word “friendships”, you could write “prioritize time with friends”. Now, let’s say your partner had “family” as one of their high values. On the surface it may seem compatible that you and your partner value time with family and friends. But during a busy season when you have one free weekend and can’t agree on whether to plan a mini break with friends or visit your partner’s family, now that’s a recipe for conflict. Comparing your individual values and getting ahead of some of those situations can help you avoid the feeling of being surprised by a conflict in the moment.
After you rank your values list and write a sentence elaborating on what that value looks like to you, it’s time to talk with your partner. Most individuals have different values and that will be true of you as a couple, but you can bring them together in a beautiful way to dream about how to build a life that honors both of your core value sets. You can even blend them to make shared values. The more specific the better!
Here are some talking points to guide your discussion:
Take time to both share your lists and what each value means to you personally.
Share how you feel when you are not living out of your values. Do you notice a behavior or feeling in yourself that is a signal of a value not being met?
Brainstorm a list of shared values. It could be as specific as “go on holiday with our best friends who live in another country at least every other year”, or as general as “cultivate gratitude in our home”. Some values could be as mundane as “we have a financial plan and stick to it”.
Decisions come up in our lives every single day. What should we have for dinner? What do you want to do this weekend? What kind of travel will we do this year? Should the kids do football and piano lessons? Where will we spend Christmas?
We all have finite amounts of time, energy and resources. We need to make decisions with our partners as a team about how to allocate our shared time, energy and resources. Having a list of values you and your partner have agreed on is a filter that will make any decision easier and take less time to discuss. As the years go by, values might change or get rearranged in importance. Remember, you don’t serve the list, the list serves you. Edit it and let your values list grow and change with you!
TIP — Toucan Together’s Growing Module sets up some great conversations about strengthening your relationship as a couple. You’ll discover how to grow together through 5 common relationship challenges; explore 5 ingredients for a thriving relationship and find fresh perspectives for marriage (whether you’re married, living together or dating). You’ll also hear some great real stories from couples talking honestly and openly about their relationships.