Values, values, values. Such an important topic that I’m taking three articles to talk about it. And that’s only scratching the surface.
First, I talked about what core values are, why they’re important in life, and why they’re important in dating and relationships. Next, I outlined a few processes for pinpointing your core values — yes, there are many ways and I’ve found it helpful to use a few different ones. Today, I want to talk about living the values.
Identifying your values is a big step. A step that’s fundamental to having a meaningful life, attracting the right partners, and, if partnered, having a meaningful relationship. We can agree that knowing and living our values is important, and we can acknowledge that doing so will benefit our relationships. So once you discover your core values, it’s all good, right?
If only life were that simple. But it’s not. Nothing is.
The road to living our values can take a few unexpected turns. That’s okay, though… once you have at least some idea of your values, you can always return to them and use them as your guide. But here are some of the challenges you can face:
It’s Not Working
Sometimes, you ID your values and try living by them, and shit goes awry. You aren’t happy. You’re just as miserable as before, or worse. That means you haven’t ID’d the right values, defined them the right way, or pursued them in the right way. That’s a sign to go back to the drawing board and do the exercises again. For example, you may value career success, but maybe your definition of success or your means of pursuing it need tweaking.
You’ll know when you strike gold. It will “feel” right when you identify your real values, and you’ll feel better when you start living by them. Value-hunting isn’t as much an intellectual exercise as it is an emotional one.
You Focus on Certain Values to the Neglect of Others
Yeah. I know this one too well. One of my six core values includes career/writing success. It’s not just a job for me, it’s a deeply held value that defines my life in a big way. I don’t just write to make a living, I do it because I love it. I have to do it. It’s me. However, more often than I can count, I’ve let that value overshadow the others. I’ve let it take over my life, to the detriment of other values. And when that happens, I become tired, cranky, and depressed.
It makes sense. Career/writing success is not just a value, it’s my job. It’s a necessity. It’s easy for me to justify focusing too much on it because it’s so “important.” Yet, that’s an excuse. That value is important, but it’s also my comfort zone. If I’m not working/achieving/succeeding, I feel guilty. That’s a whole other problem, but the point is that when I live the other values, my perspective improves. My mood improves. My health improves.
You have to live ALL the values. How you do that is your choice, but do it. One exercise I did was to write down each of my six values (including their definitions, for clarity), and then for each, I jotted down goals based on those specific values. For example, for my health/wellness value, I considered going to yoga once a week (I’m not a big yoga person but MAN does that shit make me feel good), meditating every morning (still not great about that), hiking outdoors more during winter, etc. Post your values somewhere you can see them, write down goals for each, and commit to them.
You’ve Inherited the Wrong Values
As a good friend pointed out recently, we inherit value systems from those who raised us. My parents have always been hardworking, honest people, and I am too. I dig those values and I have ended many a relationship with men who didn’t share them. My husband has both of these qualities, in spades, which is one reason we’ve stayed together.
As a side note, I haven’t mentioned hard work and honesty before. They aren’t in my Top 6. My Top 6 is more lifestyle-based because that helped me. But values can be even more fundamental, like honesty or trustworthiness. However, I tend to think of those as “needs,” which is a separate issue worth pursuing in a similar way as values, since needs are just as crucial to relationship success.
Anyway, if you’ve inherited values that feel right to you, great. However, some people don’t. When you come from a background that lauded values you hated (for example, your father was irresponsible with money and bankrupted your family), identifying your own values can be a challenge because you’ll strongly react to what you were raised with and tend to go to the other extreme. Even more challenging is when you like some of the values you inherited but hate others. Humans prefer to avoid ambivalent feelings whenever possible.
For example, I once knew a guy whose parents were extremely religious, to the point where their lives revolved around church and God and service. With such values came many others, some of which he respected, others he did not. He rebelled against the ones he hated most, but felt guilty doing so and felt obligated to honor the ones he didn’t mind as much. Getting clear on his values was a real challenge for him because to live according to his values meant dishonoring his parents. Not an easy road when you come from a family whose values differ greatly from yours.
Overall, values clarification is a necessity in life. Your values are buried in there and it’s your job to chip away at the blocks and find them. Ignoring them or shirking them or pretending to value things you don’t for the sake of getting along won’t work. Your core you is your core you.
Living a value-driven life is important in dating because the clearer we are about our values, the more likely we are to meet someone who shares them. When the values don’t mesh well, we get rid of that person (or they get rid of us). The less clear or the more ambivalent you are about your values, the more likely you are to choose partners who are wrong for you.
Likewise, successful relationships are based on those with some shared core values. You don’t have to share all of them, but agreeing upon the ones most fundamental to you will make your relationship/marriage much easier. And learning to respect your partner’s values that differ from yours is important. You won’t agree on everything, but those few shared values can get you through the difficult times.
Tell me, what do you do to live your values? Have you struggled to do so? How and what did you do to correct it?