Are value differences a deal-breaker for couples?February 20, 2023
Many couples in the early stages of their relationship push aside value differences, hoping everything will work out, only to find these differences cause big problems down the track.
Differences in values can cause deep resentment between couples and even lead to separation. Many couples say looking back they could see the “orange flags” but ignored them because they were in the throes of love.
Not all differences in values are a deal-breaker. Sometimes partners complement each other with their differences. And sometimes the solution to a difference in values is simply to accept them. There will always be difference between partners. You just need to work out which set of differences you can live with.
In our Sydney and Couples Family Specialist pre-marriage course, we support couples to have an honest conversation about the ‘big ones’ – those values which can really make or break a relationship.
I wish that everyone who is considering a commitment to another person would do at least this component of the course. It would reduce a whole lot of future pain and angst for many people. But whether you are a new couple, a couple thinking about marriage, a couple hoping to have children, or an older couple on your second or third relationship, it’s really important that you stop before you commit and explore each other’s values.
Here is a starting list of values that I encourage couples to talk about.
- Family of origin relationships
- Couple relationship
- Where the couple will live
- Adventure and fun
- Socialising with family and friends
- Cultural traditions
- Alcohol and drugs
- Intellectual stimulation
Try working through the following together:-
- Discuss cultural differences between you both and what is going to be important in your future relationship? For example, christening a child. Or educating a child in a religious school (or not).
- Discuss the values from your family of origin you would like to maintain. Eg. How often you expect to see and have contact with your family of origin? What traditions are important to you?
- Discuss values and expectations around work and career. Is there an expectation that one of you will be a stay-at-home parent or work part-time if you have children? If one of you wanted to change careers – and that meant a reduction in income or stability – would the other support the move?
- Money – a hot topic. I see many couples in my work who have deep unresolved resentment about how they view money. Have you talked about whether you will combine finances? What your spending values are? What value you put on work or unpaid work?
- What are your values about your relationship vs parenting? Many couples come unstuck when one partner feels like the other partner is putting all their time and energy into the children. Equally many partners feel resentment towards a partner who demands attention away from a child/children.
- Discuss religion and your expectations here. Remember that many people do revert to values from their family of origin regarding religion when they have children.
- Politics – it’s okay and even healthy to have differences here. But if they are differences that will cause stress and conflict you may need to consider if this is something you want to live with long-term.
- Socialising with friends – are you an extrovert who craves and loves a constant stream of friends and family through your house? Or are you an introvert who needs time on your own to recharge? And how many times do you want to be able to see your friends in a week? And with your partner or by yourself?
- What about alcohol (or drugs for that matter)? Could you give this up for partner if this is what they wanted?
- How much do you value adventure and fun? And really what does this look like because your idea of adventure and fun might be moving to the other side of Sydney. Mine might be living in another country. What are you both really up for either now or in the future?
- And what about where you live? Discuss this because many cross-cultural couples come unstuck when one partner wishes to return to their country of origin. And the other doesn’t.
- Career or relationship? Do you actually want a career? Many people really don’t, whereas others value a career, and this value may be a priority over a relationship, quality of life, or even children.
- What about retirement – is it something you see as important to you one day? Or does the idea of retiring fill you with anxiety? If there’s a big-ish age gap between you, it’s especially important to talk about this one.
- Intellectual stimulation. This may seem like an odd value to be worried about. But the bottom line is many people realise as they get older that they value robust intellectual stimulation from their partner. Some people may not be up for this for a variety of reasons. This can leave many couples leading separate lonely lives with very different interests.
If you have managed to navigate the above conversations in a respectful way you are doing very well as a couple. If, however, this discussion has led to conflict and a feeling of being unheard or misunderstood I would recommend seeing a Couples Counsellor to help you navigate these discussions in a healthy way.