I just spent a week and a half in Ireland (I promise a post is forthcoming) and it reminded me that what I love most about traveling is the people I meet along the way and the conversations we have. One conversation in particular has stuck with me since returning home, when on a bus traveling north to the Antrim Coast I sat next to a 24 year-old Romanian. We talked about family, why we were traveling, how hilarious it was to watch Trump in the GOP debates, and inevitably our conversations turned to relationships (just like they always do no matter where you go).
What I particularly loved about this part of our conversation is that his questions were thought provoking. Usually I just get the “Do you have a boyfriend?” to which I respond “No” followed by “Well, why not?” and “How old are you again?” I remind them I am 27 and they balk “Better get a move on it, honey.” I hate these conversations. So, much to my chagrin, I was relieved when he asked me, “Which is more important – mutual respect for your partner or having shared values?”
To be sure I understood what he meant I asked him what his definition of mutual respect and values were. They matched my own; mutual respect being that we appreciate how our values, beliefs, and the way we live our lives may differ from someone we care about and want to be with. We don’t try to change our partners because we love them perfectly as they are no matter how different they may be from us.
Values, on the other hand, are the fundamental beliefs we hold about life and the world. They guide the choices we make in our life, from what we do in our free time to the career we choose to the religion we practice (or choose not to practice) to sex and everything in between.
So which is more important to me? Well, I suppose if I had to choose one or the other it would be shared values. Why? The simple answer is because shared values can coexist with mutual respect while mutual respect will unlikely lead to shared values.
We form our beliefs at a young age and they rarely change over time. Or, if they do, they don’t change all that much. That isn’t to say there can’t be differences in interests or the way we perceive the world, but at the end of the day, if you and your partner don’t share similar values it’s unlikely the relationship will be successful in the long-term.
When I reflect on my past relationships I see how differences in our core values were often the root cause of some of the ongoing frustrations I had with my significant other. I respected and appreciated our differences because it meant we were both being authentic to our wants, desires, and expectations in life and the world. However, in my experiences, the core values which guided those differences were so disparaging it was a constant struggle to find common ground.
Take my last relationship, for instance. Something just didn’t feel ‘right’ in my gut. It was an inner feeling I had almost from the beginning of our nearly 4 year relationship, yet I went along with it anyways. We had similar interests, of course, but I observed over time the fundamental differences in our values. For example, because he had two children, I was able to see how he parented and though he was an exceptional Dad, I often disagreed with his choices. Not to say he was wrong in how he chose to raise his kids, just that it was different from how I would raise mine, which surely would be a point of contention if we were to get married and have kids of our own.
When it came to religion, he was a devout Catholic. His relationship with God was a priority in his life and though I also grew up Catholic and frequently attended church with him, I knew my relationship with Him would never quite measure up to his own. Moreover, I didn’t want to send my kids to Catholic school and that, absolutely, was where his kids would go, no question.
When it came to our careers, I worked to live. He lived to work. It was an ongoing argument between the two of us because I wanted to spend quality time together and for our relationship to be a priority in his life. Of course, there were more differences than just those I listed here (like the fact I’m a Libertarian and he is extremely Conservative), but the point is that because of the fundamental differences in our values, I was always uncomfortable and unhappy.
When I was recently asked what the longest amount of time I spent in a depressive episode was, I thought back to this period of my life and, sadly, I believe it was the 4 years I spent with him. In hindsight, I see how I tried to change my values to align with his and along the way I lost who I was. This is the stage I am at in life right now. Wondering how much of who I am is because of him and how much is authentically me. The silver lining is that I gained a deeper understanding of myself, although that didn’t necessarily happen until after the break up.
I certainly don’t believe my values have to perfectly align with my partner’s. I just believe that the most important ones should. The longevity of a relationship is tested during those big life-altering decisions we have to make and if compatibility doesn’t extend beyond shared interests, mutual respect, and passion, we will never be in tune with one another.
I’m curious what other people think. Do you agree? Disagree?