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Understanding your ‘core values’ in relationships (no they’re not your ‘common interests’)

Posted Apr 29 2010 5:03pm

One of the things that people are most confused about and that I get asked a lot of questions about, is the issue of ‘common interests’ and letting superficial things inadvertently get mixed in with your ‘core’ values. Over the past few days I’ve been talking about value and values in relationships , and in this post, I put a clear division between the nice to have stuff that doesn’t actually cause your relationship to endure unless you have the ‘core’ values covered off.

Values are about what you need in order to live your life authentically so that you can be happy and feel good. These are about your firmly held beliefs about what makes you a person of value and also what you see as valuable in others.

Your values are based on your experiences in life and will impact on everything from who you are attracted to, your political leanings, your tastes, things you do in your spare time or that you have interests in, your religious and social interactions, where you want to live, what you’re passionate about, and more.

Values work in tandem with your boundaries which are your personal guideline of what you are prepared to accept in your relationships and from people, and are tied to your values, so if you have one, you have the other, and where you have little or no boundaries, your values, will exist, but are likely to be focused on more superficial, insubstantial values that don’t make a positive impact on your life.

Values (and boundaries) allow you to know what is good and bad, and right and wrong about life, both in terms of morals and how you feel about everything around you.

If you don’t have them, how will you know if you’re acting in your own best interests?

How will you know if something feels right?

How will you know if something feels wrong?

How will you know when you need to step back and take action that may involve opting out?

How can you stay you, if you don’t have your core values, the fundamental, absolutely necessary things that help to determine your sense of self and help you feel good and enjoy the good in life?

How can you respect yourself if you’re quick to abandon your values to adopt someone else’s?


If you haven’t figured it out already, the lack of values and not connecting them with your actions and choices means that you engage inrelationship insanity – repeatedly doing the same things, going out with same person different package, and expecting different results. Note that I say that values are about what you need as opposed to what you’d like to have. This is because we often inadvertently value things that are superficial, surplus to requirements and add little value to the relationship because they’re not enough to help the relationship grow and prosper.

You have two types of values much like businesses have two types of costs (fixed and variable).

Your core values are the ones that stay in place for very long periods of time and tend to endure even when other aspects of your life change. I like to think of these as the values that you cannot do without and will make you absolutely uncomfortable and acting out of step with yourself if you don’t respect them. They’re very important and tied to your belief system, so if you improve your self-esteem, your values may shift to accommodate your new beliefs, and likewise, if your self-esteem takes knock, your belief system can change as a result. What we believe is reflected in how we act and who we choose in our partners which is all the more reason to address what you believe to prevent you from doing stuff that sabotages your own happiness.

Everything else are what I consider ‘variable’ values and they change as you go through life. These values grow with you and reflect where you are at that point in time.They’re hobbies, interests, some personality traits and qualities, and for the most part, superficial stuff that are nice to have, but not absolutely crucial like your core values, even if it will feel like it at times. You’ll realise that a value fits in this category if you place a high value on it yet it doesn’t actually help the relationship to prosper – basically it makes little or no difference because other more important core values are not being met in the relationship.

To make it easier, let’s think of your core values as your primary values and everything else as your secondary values.

There is no point in having the secondary values if the primary values are not in place.

This is because the secondary values only take on meaning and add to your relationship in the context of the primary values being met.

As I’ve said many times before, everything in relationships is contextual which is why it’s important to see the wood for the trees, the big picture, and basically ensure that those things that we’re focusing on and praising to high heaven are actually in context – if I had a pound for every woman who has told me about how the he helps the old lady down the street, everybody likes him, he’s respected by his peers, he’s a cop, he’s kind to animals and kids, he’s been married before, he goes to church etc, I’d be rich. These things mean nothing if they don’t do anything for you.

A great way of testing whether something is a primary or secondary value is to take something that you value and believe exists in your relationship and put it with something that is missing.

So for example:

If you believe in monogamy and commitment, and they don’t, it doesn’t matter that they’re successful, attractive, like a lot of the same things you do, make you laugh, and are respected by their peers.

Also compare yours and their values, so for example:

If you value intimacy and companionship, and they value their solitude, doing things their way, and no matter what they profess, they consistently do things that exclude you and make you feel anything but intimate or a companion, you are incompatible. The closer you get, the more they will move away. Even if they like a little intimacy, they only want it when they want it, which may be little. If you cannot manage on this, it’s not going to work. If he doesn’t want to get closer, it won’t work.

And compare the values you say that you have with with the things that you look for in a relationship, so for example:

If you say that you value love, care, trust, and respect, but you chase guys for passion, attraction, chemistry, sex, and excitement, you’ll likely end up with a fun loving, great lay, that looks great and makes your heart skip, but treats you like a casual partner and has no desire to be in a committed relationship.

You should also ask yourself, what secondary values will be clouded out if your primary values are not met? If they’re not being clouded out and becoming less important, you should be worried because you’re ignoring things that are fundamentally important to you being happy in your relationships and with yourself. Either that…or it’s time to have an honest conversation with yourself and question whether your primary values are actually what you say they are – I come across many people who don’t realise that they have made their secondary values their primary ones.

If you do this, you will end up with insubstantial relationships with conflicts of interest. This is why many women, for instance, get bewildered because they feel like someone is so ‘right’ for them because they think they’re compatible, that these guys are their ‘type’ and that they share common interests, yet the relationship is going so wrong. You may have a lot in common, but you don’t share the common ground on your primary values, the things that actually matter most to you.

Think about what you value and ask yourself why you value it. Also look at the values that you expect a partner to have – do you embody them? If not, why not?

Interesting values to ask yourself about are: Why do you value money? Why do you value appearance? Why do you value success? Why do you value passion?

Then ask yourself, what do you believe these things will do for the relationship or for you? Also ask yourself what the flipside is to some of the things that you value – classic examples of this is that the flipside to valuing appearance is that you are likely to be involved with superficial partners who don’t value more substantial things about you. The flipside of valuing success is that if someone prioritises success, they may be totally focused on work and uninterested in a relationship or having a family.

Dig deep and get honest with yourself – it will open your eyes, and you never know, you may actually be with someone who you could potentially forge a relationship with, you’ve just been missing the good things about the because you’ve been too busy worrying about inconsequential stuff. Or…you may discover your incompatibility, but at least you can use the knowledge to focus your energies in the right direction – on you and moving on.

Your thoughts? Look out for a workbook I’ve put together on values that will be out over the weekend.

My ebook The No Contact Rule is now available to buy and provides a dedicated guide to getting over someone by cutting contact and injecting some boundaries into your life so that you can move on to a happier you. For a no holds barred guide to emotionally unavailable men, including separated guys that flip flap in indecision, and the women that love them, you can also get Mr Unavailable & The Fallback Girl . For personal advice or analysis of your relationship/situation, check out my consultation service .

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