Values determine what your priority will be in any given situation. Think of it as a checklist of criteria we apply to every situation where we decide it fits. You may have such a list of values that pertain to your work. This list may include: “fair pay”, “reasonable expectations”, “work-life balance”, “opportunity for growth and advancement”, “interesting challenges”, and other criteria that your experiences have made important for you. This article asks you to make conscious some of the values that govern your choices when you and your partner find yourselves in an uncomfortable disagreement. Stop for a moment and consider the workplace values example. Let’s take a hypothetical employee for whom those values are in fact all he or she is concerned about in a job. Let’s say we asked that employee to rank those values from least to most important. There’s no wrong answer – each item is ranked based on that individual’s values. Your own are likely to be quite different.
Let’s say our fictional employee ranked these values in this order:
- “interesting challenges”
- “opportunity for growth and advancement”
- “reasonable expectations”
- “fair pay”
- “work-life balance”
First of all, what can you infer about this employee? Is this person likely willing to work late nights and weekends if he or she finds the project exciting or challenging? We would suggest yes, as “interesting challenges” appears at the top of the list and “work-life balance” is at the bottom. Consider a different question, however: Would this same employee likely take on a less interesting project that offers little challenge, little likelihood for growth and advancement, merely because they would have more time at home with their family? Not likely, again based on how that person ranks their values in this area.
What is the relationship to…intimate relationships? Glad you asked. Let’s say that employee’s work day is done, and before going home, ranks his or her values for home life or life overall, and the list looks something like this:
- Making my partner feel loved, appreciated, and happy
- Finding a lot to laugh about
- Having plenty of recreational time with family
- Being active in the back yard with the family
- Having everyone recognize my wisdom (I’m almost always “right” so it’s important that everyone knows it)
Take a look at that last item on the list. For this person, being “right” in an argument might at times seem important, though not as much as the other items ranked above that on the list. We actually like this ranking fine, because such a person is unlikely to let their ego-based needs (such as feeling “right” and “wise”) to challenge such items as making their partner feel loved, appreciated, and happy. That alone makes it unlikely that this person will get caught in an argument with their spouse just because they cannot let go of the fight. That need to be “right” and acknowledged as such simply doesn’t rank as high as the other, more supportive values.
Now consider your own values. No doubt you have some variation on the lists above. But when you look at your own rankings, do you see any potential problems? If you regularly get caught up over the need to be “right”, you likely have such a conflict in your values. If when you communicate with your partner, you find yourselves at a point where each has plainly and exhaustively made your point, but you still can’t let it go, take a closer look. It’s time to ask why that might be. Is it because though your partner can verify that they received your message, understood your point, and can either repeat it back you accurately or paraphrase it, while maintaining your intended meaning, they have not admitted their fault? Is it because they have not (yet) acknowledged how right you were (and conversely how wrong they were)? And that if you persist, you will eventually “win” and they will surrender, admitting just how wrong they were (and the juiciest part, just how right you were!)?
This is where we want to reconsider our values because while you might derive satisfaction from assigning labels like “right”, “wrong”, and the corresponding gloating or head-hanging reactions, it’s not likely helping your relationship. Nor is it likely making your partner feel good about you or about being with you. There are many ways to shift the priority of your values in such lists, and we’ll explore that throughout this site. But the first step is to simply acknowledge that it might be good for you to do so. Though the hypothetical questions we asked above, such as “with a values ranking like this…would the person be likely to…?” what we are also doing is demystifying human behavior. That behavior will be remarkably congruent with an individual’s values. We can understand the person by inferring their values…which in turn we learn by watching what that person chooses. Even if that person is us.
And once we figure out that the reason we often bang our heads in frustration, stuck in unproductive arguments, may in fact be due to a values ranking that isn’t truly serving us, we can take charge of that ranking and change it. Think about it for a minute. If you figure out that in the second list above, y0u prioritize “Having everyone recognize my wisdom” or “being right” is number one, and “Making my partner feel loved, appreciated, and happy” is way down on the list, you are beginning to gain control of your experience.
Consider this: What might happen if you were to swap those two items on your values ranking? What if making your partner feel loved becomes magically more important to you now than was “being right”…just imagine what wonderful things might grow from that…