Mind Your Mind: Understanding relationship values and common core values

I met my partner a few months ago at a job interview. We ended up working as summer camp programmers, and spent our days hanging out at the water park, playing icebreaker games and teaching kids how to put on a reasonable amount of sunscreen.

We’ve been seeing each other for some time now and the other day, we sat down to talk about our values. But before I jump in, let’s look at the definition of values.

What are values?

According to Steven C. Hayes's 2005 book Get out of your mind and into your life: The new Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, values are essentially “chosen life directions” or “intentional qualities that join together a string of moments into a meaningful path.” In other words, living according to your values should be “vitalizing, uplifting and empowering.” Values are something you do, not something you have.

They entail responsibility and are an intimate part of you. They guide your actions and reflect your moral standards. They are not about obtaining or “winning” positive outcomes or sneakily getting what you want. When you live by your values, you’ve already won, no matter the outcome. It’s all about the journey and not the final destination. For me, living according to my values is an act of “self-fidelity,” and it helps bring meaning into my life.

On the other hand, goals are “things you can obtain while walking a valued path. They are concrete achievable events, situations or objects.”

Romantic relationships and values

I have my own set of values, but I also have values that are specific to my romantic relationship. My partner and I found a list of approximately 60 values and compiled a list of values that resonated with both of us. The great thing about sitting down with your partner and discussing values is that not only will you be on the same page, but it’s also an opportunity to talk about what living according to your values looks like for both of you.

Take for example, the value of respect. Most people value respecting others and being shown respect in return. But what does that look like? For me, I feel respected when my partner validates my emotions and uses active listening skills. This means that I appreciate it when my partner does not give me unsolicited advice.

Everyone has different sets of values, but ours included:

Play: My partner and I tease each other a lot and we value laughing at our flaws. One thing that is important to me is learning how to not take life so seriously. This can look like dedicating more time to games, silly activities and humour.

Self-compassion: My partner and I value being self-aware and self-compassionate. We all make mistakes and acknowledge that we will, at some point, have conflicts or arguments. We want to give ourselves permission to fail and permission not to beat ourselves afterwards.

Boundaries and safety: My boyfriend and I value being aware of each other’s triggers, using safe words and being responsible when it comes to communicating our limits. We are also mindful that boundaries evolve and change over time.

Commitment: My partner and I are realistic and conscious that we may not end up together happily ever after. But each day we ask ourselves, “Can you commit to tomorrow?” That way, there is less pressure, and this allows our relationship to grow. We try to accept the unknown.

Teamwork: My partner and I support each other’s goals and decisions, even if we may not agree with them. We can share our thoughts without fearing judgment from the other person.

Humility: We want to let go of expectations and the idea of a “perfect relationship.” We value being kind, having the best intentions and feeling grateful for the life we have.

I enjoyed taking the time to discuss my values with my boyfriend, because it made me feel closer to him and we are now on the same page. We have not been together for a relatively long time, but our connection has strengthened and this is in part due to our common core values.

There are so many values, so I invite you to pause and ask yourself, “How do I want to live the rest of myself?” Being caring, loving, trusting, respectful, loyalty, equal, honest, courageous, vulnerable, fair … that’s the wonderful thing about values. We get to choose them.

The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency, call 911.