We all have our own set of values. These are things that are important to us and principles that guide the way we live our lives. Not everyone will share our values and learning to respect that other people will have different values is an important part of living in a diverse, tolerant society.
When it comes to the people we love, however, there will be some values that we expect or need them to share. These are the core values in a relationship. We’re going to look at some common core values and why it’s so important that you and your partner are on the same page.
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Our values are the principles that underpin our decisions and our sense of right and wrong. They tell us what is important, how we should behave, and what we should care about1. When we act in ways that match our values, we feel congruent2. This means that we feel confident, secure, and relaxed.
When we share values in a relationship, we have a shared set of expectations and we can be sure that we’re working towards similar goals. We also know that we’re not going to be pressured into acting in a way that is not aligned with our values.
Having shared values helps us to build trust with our partners3. If we agree about what is important in life, we feel that we can trust them to make decisions on our behalf. We might not agree on the details, but we will probably be ok with the overall decision.
Sharing core values in a relationship makes it easier to understand where your partner is coming from and to empathize with any dilemma or struggles they may face. If you and your partner have radically different values, you might not understand why they are struggling with a situation or why they find something difficult.
For example, if you’re having dinner with your partner’s family and his Uncle Jack says something sexist or racist, your partner might find that really difficult to deal with. They might not know what to say or do. They value honesty and courage but they also value family and keeping the peace.
If you share their values around honesty, you might be surprised that they don’t find it easy to speak up. If you share their values around family and keeping the peace, you might be surprised that they don’t just keep quiet. It’s only if you share both of their values that you understand why they feel so conflicted.
So what are some common values in a relationship that it’s important to share?
For lots of the core values within a relationship, it doesn’t necessarily matter which value you hold as long as both you and your partner agree. Honesty is different. All good relationships require a commitment to be honest with each other.
Honesty allows you to build trust and is a core component of respect as well4. Without honesty, you can’t rely on what your partner tells you or the promises and agreements they make.
You already know that it’s important to be able to trust your partner in order to have a healthy, happy relationship, but have you thought about what you really mean by trust and how it fits into your values?
There are different types of trust5. Although you probably want all of the different types in your relationship, you’ll probably be more focused on some types of trust than others.
It might be about trusting that your partner will always tell you the truth or that they’ll always consider your needs when making decisions that affect both of you. Sometimes trust means feeling sure that you know everything there is to know about your partner. For other people, it means being comfortable with not knowing.
Trust also doesn’t have an on/off switch. When you trust someone, it’s almost never all-or-nothing. Instead, you learn to trust themgradually, and in a wider range of circumstances. It’s important to know that your partner understands this and is on the same page. This can help you rebuild if trust is damaged.
Communication is another area where we all know that it’s important but we don’t always think too deeply about exactly what is important to us.
Our values around equality and gender roles often become more relevant in our romantic relationships than they are in other relationships in our lives. They inform our decisions about how we divide up responsibilities and how we respond to each other.
Having similar values around equality and gender roles can help you avoid lots of domestic arguments. These values often feel like a simple case of right and wrong. If your partner doesn’t share your values, it can feel as though they don’t value you as a person or respect you.
This isn’t always entirely fair. Most of us pick up at least some subconscious expectations around gender roles without meaning to. Society tells us that women are tidier or men always want more sex. Even if we know intellectually that these aren’t accurate, it’s hard to ignore this kind of bias.
Having shared values about gender and equality, whatever those views might be, helps you and your partner overcome any difficulties that come from these subconscious biases.
Values that are important to you in your everyday life will be important values in a relationship. This is especially true when it comes to values around religion and spirituality.
Obviously, you don’t need to have the same religious beliefs as your partner. People can, and do, have successful relationships with people who hold entirely different religious beliefs. The important question is whether you can respect the values you each take from your beliefs.
If you have strong religious beliefs, or strong atheist or agnostic beliefs, you will need to know that your partner respects what those beliefs mean to you and will support you even if they don’t share them.
Religious beliefs and values can become an unexpected battleground in your relationship if you have children. While you might be happy for your partner to hold different beliefs from your own, you might have strong preferences for how your children are raised.
Talking to your partner about your religious or spiritual beliefs, the role these might play in your life, and how you might raise any eventual children can help you head off problems before they occur. It can even help you to feel more secure in your relationship as you work on a plan together.
“Family” means different things to different people. For some people, looking after their family is an important value. Others don’t have close relationships with their family. They might even be estranged.
Again, there’s nothing to stop you from having a successful relationship with someone who has a different relationship with their family than you do with yours but you will need to make sure that you understand each other's values and where they come from.
Ask yourself what family means to you and your partner. Do you expect to look after your parents when they get old? Would you be willing to move far away from your family? Are your answers compatible?
You will also want to have compatible values with your partner about having a family of your own. If you really want to have children but your partner doesn’t, that can put an expiry date on your relationship. If you really want to stay child-free but they want a big family, you will need to ask whether you can see a way forward together.
Even if you both want children, you may need to consider whether you have shared values around parenting.
These are important values, but they might not be something you want to discuss early on in a relationship. Focus on the bigger questions, such as whether to have children, earlier in the relationship. Questions about how to parent can wait until you are closer to making that a reality.
If you are planning to build a life with someone long-term, it will be important that you have similar values when it comes to financial decisions6. Having different financial values makes it difficult to come to agreements about how to spend your money and the kind of lifestyle you want to lead.
How we spend our money might seem like a practical question, but it usually has a lot to do with our values in life. For example, some people want to spend their money traveling because they value experiences. Others prefer to save their money for a rainy day or to buy expensive luxuries.
None of these is the “right answer.” If you value having high status, it’s perfectly reasonable to spend money on expensive jewelry and cars. If you value having a secure future, it makes sense to have a large savings account.
As long as you and your partner are aiming for the same things in life, you can work together to build a future that makes you happy.
It’s also helpful to have similar values around how you want to deal with disagreements and conflicts. Some people are perfectly comfortable having dramatic arguments and then talking things over when they calm down. Others find that upsetting and confrontational.
Even more importantly, some people place a high value on talking things through and resolving underlying problems while others are more focused on keeping the peace. If you and your partner fall on different ends of this spectrum, you will probably struggle to work through your problems.
Most of us don’t really think about our values around how we resolve conflict. It’s one of those things that we just assume everyone agrees on. Understanding that other people might have a different perspective allows you to explain your values to your partner, and ask them about theirs.
It can be tempting to assume that resolving conflict isn’t important in a great relationship, but that’s not the case. Conflict and disagreements are inevitable. What makes a relationship great is finding a way to deal with them well.
Another set of values that you might want to talk about with your partner concerns responsibility. Some people place a huge value on personal responsibility whilst other people find this less important.
If taking responsibility is important to you, it can be difficult to understand when other people don’t feel the same way. This can erode your respect for them and damage your relationship.
Similarly, some people can try to take too much responsibility. They might see themselves as responsible for things that they can’t control, which can be difficult for the people around them.
Finding a partner who has a compatible approach to responsibility is important for having a healthy relationship.
Placing a similar value on cleanliness might seem like a minor, domestic issue. In reality, this is one of the most common times when your values are likely to come into conflict with your partner’s.
Both extremes of tidiness and cleanliness can be awful. Someone who is excessively clean and tidy can create unnecessary stress for their partner and even leave them feeling unwelcome in their own home. Someone who goes too far in the other direction can create a health hazard.
Even if you avoid either extreme, there is plenty of opportunity for disagreement if you don’t have a broadly similar level of cleanliness and tidiness to your partner.
Of course, it’s not always easy to know how much someone values cleanliness. Most people will claim that they’re “reasonably” clean and tidy. Rather than trying to guess what value they place on it, try looking around their space. Could you imagine yourself being happy with that level of cleanliness? If not, you might have incompatible values.
The final value you might want to consider in a relationship is where you fall on a number of political issues. In an increasingly polarized political environment, you may find that there are some political issues where you simply can’t imagine dating someone who disagrees with you.
For some people, this might include membership of a political party. If that’s important to you then you should definitely be clear about that early on.
More often, however, what’s important is the underlying values and issues. For example, your views on abortion might be influenced by your religious beliefs or your values around equality. Many political issues can boil down to who and what is important, which is exactly what your values tie into.
If you discover that your partner holds different political views from yours, try to be curious about what lies behind it. Rather than assuming what their political beliefs say about their underlying values, ask them… and listen to the answer.
You don’t have to agree on absolutely everything to have a great relationship, but your values do need to be compatible. If you disagree on some of your really fundamentalvalues, it can be hard to see how to build a shared life together or agree on shared goals and objectives.
If you’re not sure whether you and your partner have compatible values, it can be helpful to dig down into the really basic beliefs about the world that underpin your values. If you can agree on those, your values might be complementary even though the details are different.
One way to do this is to keep asking “why is this important?” For example, you might value saving your money while your partner likes to splash out. When you try to understand your values, it might look something like this.
You might realize that you share the value of wanting to keep your family safe. Your partner might want to spend more because they want a safer car while you’re worried about paying off the mortgage. You have different surface values, but you’re aligned on the deeper values.
Once you understand the underlying values, you’ve got a great starting position for trying to find a compromise that sits well with both of your values.
There might also be times when it’s helpful to have a partner who has different values from you. We pick up many of our values when we are small children from the things our parents say and do. Some of the beliefs and values we learn in this way might not actually be useful to us, or even healthy.
For example, we might pick up a strong work ethic from our parents. That’s great. Valuing working hard can be really motivating and encourage you to succeed. It can also push you to work too hard and not take the time to look after yourself.
Having a partner who places a higher value on self-care or happiness can help you question your own values around hard work. You might realize that you have absorbed your parents’ values wholesale and that you have the choice to change them. You might start to create a value system that suits you better, based on creating a healthy work-life balance.
Having a partner who can help you recognize and challenge your values in a healthy and respectful way can be incredibly helpful in supporting your growth and self-development.
Talking about the things that are important to you is a valuable way of finding out whether your partner shares your core values in a relationship. Try talking about your hopes and dreams, current affairs, plans, lifestyles, and experiences. Be open and honest about your values and curious about theirs.
You can still be happy together even if you don’t share all of your values in a relationship. Some issues are more important to you than others. Even when it comes to core values, you might sometimes benefit from having complementary (rather than identical) values.
If you realize that your partner doesn’t share your core values in a relationship, the first thing to do is to talk to them about it. Some core values are so fundamental that you might need to end a relationship if you can’t find some common ground.
Living according to your values is a key part of feeling confident and secure in your actions. If you’re in a relationship, it’s helpful to know that your partner will support you in those values. Having different values in a relationship doesn’t mean you can’t be happy together. Having compatible or complementary values can often be even more important.
What do you think? What values do you need a partner to share in a relationship? Let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to share this article with someone who is struggling with their partner’s values in a relationship.