Kira Asatryan

The Art of Closeness

Happy Earth Day! Learn the Secret to Relationship Values!

Is "having the same values" required to make a relationship work?

Posted Apr 22, 2015

Ian Pratt/Stocksy
Source: Ian Pratt/Stocksy

On this Earth Day, lots of people are reflecting on how they value the environment as well as the health and safety of our natural resources. If your spouse or partner is not also passionate about this cause, does it signal the end of the relationship?

If you ask your average pre-marital counselor, he’ll say that “having the same values” is very important in a long-term relationship. Most people think that values are core to who a person is, and if your cores are different, how will you two stay together forever?

But in my couples coaching practice, I’ve seen many couples with a number of core value differences make their relationships work. What are they doing right? What’s their secret?

First, let’s take a step back. What exactly are values? I see values as the things you really care about. These can be objects, principles, missions, goals or… really anything, as long as you infuse it with your personal meaning. That’s the thing about values—they are highly personal and individual.

If one person says she values something (be it an antique watch or a mission like “Saving the Earth”), who’s to say she shouldn’t value that? One person’s most dearly-held value could sound like a total nightmare or a complete waste of time to another person, but that doesn’t make it not a valid value.

So you see—since values are highly personal and subjective—it won’t be as common as you think to find someone who shares all of yours. What do you do then? You do what my successful couples do.

Here’s their secret: You don’t have to value the same things as your partner to make the relationship work, but you need to be aware of each other’s values and respect them unconditionally.

It’s not differences in values that cause problems in relationships. Problems arise in relationships when one or both partners remains ignorant about what the other person cares about. Even bigger problems arise if your partner knows what you value but absentmindedly belittles it or tries to change it into what he values.

The goal when it comes to values in relationships is not to always value the exact same things. The goal is simply to uncover and accept what your partner naturally values.

To do this, try making a list of 10 things you value (while your partner does the same). Share your lists and see if there is any overlap. Often some values will not be exactly the same (i.e. “Travel” vs. “Adventure”) but will have enough in common to be considered “overlapping.”

The places where your values overlap are your opportunities to come closer together. If one of you values travel, for example, and the other values adventure, the two of you could start saving for an amazing trip around the world.

If you find through this exercise that there’s not much overlap, don’t panic. Simply remember to respect and honor your differences. Differences are not closeness killers. Knowing and accepting your differences could easily bring the two of you as close as knowing your similarities!

For more relationship advice, follow me on Twitter @KiraAsatryan.