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Why all the fuss about “values”?

the Flying Dutchman

Did anyone ever hassle you about your behavior when you were a teen, griping about who you were hanging out with…who you were choosing to date, how you were acting? Ridiculous question, right? Adolescence is all about (1/2 un)consciously doing things that will cause your adults to do exactly that. There are many reasons why, that differ with culture, but that is not the point here.

The point here is that the adults who raise you often try to “instill values” in you that will last through this period of rebellion. You might not realize they succeeded until you grow up, run off to the West Coast, and end up partnered to someone you can’t understand, with whom you share a flat, and who keeps borrowing your bike!

You’re saving every penny hoping to buy a house…isn’t that how everyone thinks? Sweetie is secretly adding Comcast channels to get more sports coverage. It’s Sports!

Your partner is having lunch with someone cute from work…but there is no harm in it, everyone flirts. You’re  outraged but think nothing of working a 75 hour work week in a job you love. Everyone understands work is important.

You get forced to move out of your apartment. One family shows up to help move and offer a little financial support. This brings up an old fight about how the parents of the other family have never been supportive of their offspring-in-law and how their offspring has never confronted them about it. Each partner thinks the way s/he is behaving is normal, and it is…for them.

What are “Values” anyway? They are just strongly held beliefs, but so strongly held that the just in that sentence might upset someone! And THAT’S where the trouble comes in. Not only do people feel that the way they were raised, therefore their beliefs/values are normal, they generalize their experience to everyone else without realizing it. These values are emotionally laden because they are family heirlooms, whether connected with positive or negative connotations, and they are endogenous, meaning so much a part of a person, it’s easy not to know they are there .

Have you ever felt genuinely shocked to find that someone feels differently about you on an issue that you didn’t realize had another option. Anything else was just WRONG. Have you ever made a decision to continue feeling that way even after you realized s/he might have some completely different relationship to that issue than you? I think everyone has. Maybe you softened , hopefully you  had some more conversations and softened later. Not necessarily changing your views, but just allowing room for others. Maybe not. Maybe you just decided to think that person was a person you wouldn’t be trusting anytime soon, and that might be the right choice.

The interesting thing about these values is that they are such a part of who we are, that often the very thing we are attracted to about another person has to do with their different values. You’ve always been spontaneous, creative and they are more organized and diligent etc. Good for a spark, but more difficult for a fire…the kindling of a relationship.

John Gottman studied couples for decades, those who made it and those who didn’t. The ones that stayed together for 30 years had some interesting characteristics. One of which I believe has to do with this discussion of values. Each couple had some 7-10 things they gravely disagreed on when they first got together. When he checked back in with the ones who were still together 30 years later…yup, still 7ish things that they gravely disagreed on. Some, interestingly had changed, but most were the same. I bet that these were values…like loyalty, how money gets treated, how sexual energy gets treated, etc.

The two things Gottman found about these couples were this:

1) These couples were best friends-they treated each other with respect, affection, and empathy. They made sure each perspective was heard and understood.

2) When dealing with conflict, each said five positive things for each negative thing about the other person! They knew conflict was inevitable and it had to be handled gently and hopefully rarely so they could get back to life and having fun.

So, this sounds like one of those things that is more easily said than done. If communicating around emotionally charged values were easy, we’d all be doing it like surfing…ok, not like surfing.

But we can use it as a goal. When having discussions around money or that flirty coworker or family issues:

1) set a time limit-this probably won’t be solved today…let’s talk about it for twenty minutes.

2) what goal do we absolutely need to reach today?

3) let’s not have the discussion right after we wake up, get home from work, right before leaving for work, or going to bed.

4) let’s each think of a sweet thing we can do for the other person or have a plan to do with the other partner when we are finished.

5) let’s remember to take time outs if we get too emotional

6) set another time to talk again if need be, and DROP THE SUBJECT

Remember: what you focus on gets bigger, so why not focus on the good stuff.

If you would like more information about staying happily partnered, communication, assertiveness skills, or therapy/coaching in general please feel free to get in touch



The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work by J. Gottman

One response to Why all the fuss about “values”?

  1. On October 1st, 2010 at 7:51 am , Barbara said...

    Thanks for the blog, Heidi! I enjoyed this one.
    Hope all is well with you. XOXO