Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Is There Room In Your Relationship For Each Other’s Values?

One of the most difficult disagreements a couple can have is a values clash. Why?

Values are emotional rules that guide us in our behavior and decision making in life. Values can include moral codes, ethnic, cultural and national norms, as well individual beliefs of what is important, useful, valuable, beautiful, sacred, good, and the antitheses.


It goes without saying that what we value is an integration of many things including- who we are, who are parents were and a multitude of factors. These are generally sustaining qualities and belief systems.

Most partners get along because they share a number of core values.  Things can become strained and stressful when their worldview or beliefs clash.

Given that values bring with them expectations, the clash often erupts in the face of unmet expectations.

Consider these examples:

  • “How can we go on vacation when the house needs to be painted?”
  • “If you say you believe – why don’t you go to church with me?”
  • “What difference does it make what dishes we use?”
  • “In my family, men bought the cars.”
  • “I don’t think I can live without the possibility of having children.”

How do We Deal With Value Clashes?

The fact that partners go back and forth – sometimes even in heated ways – about such issues is not the problem. In fact, for couples of any age, a values clash is often a necessary step in values clarification. It fosters an opportunity for partners to be known to each other, to develop shared values, respect for differences as well as the possible recognition of some incompatible values.

Here Are Some Questions Worth Asking:

Is there room in the relationship for each other’s values?

Making room for the vacations and the paint jobs is in some way symbolic of making room for each other.

 Are you imposing your value on your partner in a way that makes his/her personal choice impossible?

In matters of religious belief, many partners feel respected when they have the choice to be with their partner and disrespected when made to feel obligated. It is important to note that many partners are proud when their partner espouses values they themselves don’t embrace:

“Go to my wife if you need someone to pray.”

“He’s the one who is really active in our community.”

“She’s the one who finds the pet that needs a home.”

 If your partner’s value, custom, or frame of reference gives them pleasure and does not take from you, can you respect this special part of them?

Often your partner’s love of the special dishes, the garden, the presentation of food, the holiday rituals, spectator sports, the annual campout brings more to your life than you ever expect.

 Is there room for re-evaluating your family’s values and the expectations in the context of the life you now share with your partner?

Maybe he will always be very religious and she will always want to travel for the holidays. Couples can build upon and extract aspects that are valuable to them from their families and cultures of origin to create a new plan that gives something to each.

 Is your value clash so incompatible that it will take too much from one or both of you?

It can be frightening and painful to realize that you and your partner have a clash of values that is incompatible with a relationship.

A woman wants no children, her husband does.

A man wants to tour with a music group for most of the year, his wife does not want to be without him or to raise the children alone.

  • Most couples want a marriage with room for both partners’ dreams and needs. That shared value is often the first step is talking it out and trying out different working solutions or timelines. Often there is a way.
  • Some couples becomes so worried that there will be no solution that they put off talking or fighting about the value clash and carry resentments that eventually erode the relationship. What can’t be aired can’t be shared.
  • Some couples realize that in light of their values or dreams, they just can’t compromise or go forward.

When there is a fear of approaching a values clash or there seems no movement, some couples benefit from a professional third party to help  them communicate and illuminate the realities, the possibilities and the feelings attached.

Given that few of us marry a clone of ourselves (that would be a nightmare) most couples have difficulty, at times, making room for their unique mix of individual values and shared dreams.

If you can accept the differences and create a life out of the mix of values that feels good on the inside for each of you…keep going.