Values and Feeling Valuable
What are Values? How do they relate to the ways we value ourselves? What about how we value (and how we are are valued by) our partners? First I would like to share some background/psychoeducation on why this exploration is important. Following that is an exercise that you can do to really distill what your values are and name ways that help you live in accordance with your priorities while co-creating meaningful partnership.
Many relationships are in what we think of as an attachment/autonomy battle. Attachment includes the ways in which you feel connected to one another, and autonomy is how you function as an individual. The battle is usually about negotiating the ratio of togetherness vs. separateness. Many people believe that differences create separation and try to convince or coerce their partners into seeing and feeling and thinking as they do, hoping that it will bring them closer. This is problematic because when this plays out, attachment actually wanes as partners feel increasingly invalidated and unappreciated. However, true secure attachment comes when both people get to have BOTH - when they get to be themselves AND feel safe in their connection with their partner. This exercise is meant to
Deepen your sense of safety and identity within the relationship
Support each other’s selfhood by neutralizing and empathizing across potentially painful differences
Create communication and reassurance practices to keep your bond strong
Values are defined as a person's principles or standards of behavior; one's judgment of what is important in life. Our intrinsic values shape our motivation, how we move through the world, how we engage in relationship, as well as how we regard ourselves and others. Most of the time we simply think of our internalized values as universal truths and negatively judge people and behaviors that do not align with our values. For example, if you were raised with honesty being of the highest priority regardless of how uncomfortable that honesty might be for the other party, then you would likely not understand or respect someone who was raised to prioritize peaceful interactions, even at the expense of one's own comfort at times. Making these values explicit allows you to own them as your own, instead of projecting them onto the world as 'the way things should be'. It allows you to question where they came from and whether or not you'd like to build in more flexibility and choice into those beliefs. Remember, everyone's reality is valid. Do not privilege one person's experience over another's.
You are going to be different. Difference is not only okay, it is necessary. Accepting your partner exactly where they are in this moment allows for growth and movement; communicating (implicitly or explicitly) that someone should be somehow different is a denial and rejection of the person sitting in front of you. Focusing on what you wish were the case keeps you from being present in the moment with what actually is. Not a whole lot gets done in fantasy-land. Concepts, sure - actionable change, not so much.
TL;DR Don't 'should' on each other. Accept and validate where the other person actually is, even if you don't understand or agree with it.
Exercise: use the format below to begin to explore what values you have internalized throughout your life. After you list them, go back and explore why each value is important to you and what it represents. For example, if timeliness is a value imparted to you by your family system, perhaps it is important because it ensures people know you respect them and their time and therefore represents trust and reciprocity within relationships. Conversely, if time was loosely held in your household it could be important to you because it supports and prioritizes your individual needs and communicates a level of comfort and flexibility within relationships, representing the familiar and secure. Both realities are equally valid.
When sharing with one another it can be helpful to use active listening phrases to encourage your partner and let them know that they are understood. Things like, "Wow, it makes total sense why that is so important to you" or "I think I understand, but can you tell me more about (x)?" can be especially helpful as they communicate validation and curiosity. Something like, "You can't say that, it goes completely against what you said/did during (x) conversation" is a recipe for disaster - regardless of whether or not it's true, it is a judgemental shutdown. Debate and rehashing are not welcome in this conversation. This needs to be a place where all feelings and experiences are safe to be seen, heard, and held gently.
It is possible that you or your partner uncover implicit beliefs and values that are in some way deeply painful. Sometimes deeply held beliefs, when enacted, may perpetuate emotional violence; you or your partner may have to face having been an unconscious perpetrator. Realizing and shifting those deeply engrained values takes safety, compassion, and patience.
*Remember, this exercise is NOT about trying to sway your partner to your way of perceiving the world or an attempt to end up on the same page; it IS about accepting and celebrating your differences.
Three values that you learned from your family
Three values that you learned from someone you deeply respect
Three societal and/or cultural values
Values you would like to live by
Values you actually live by
I hope that this exercise proves fruitful. Of course if you have any questions or concerns please feel free to reach out to me for additional support.
*These questions were roughly adapted from the Exploring Values worksheet by Therapist Aid LLC.