Each person who finds themselves in a relationship has as an influence and reference point: their upbringing and what they witnessed between those who raised them. There are three choices when it comes to dating, mating and relating.
- Emulate the family pattern
- Resist or otherwise avoid the family pattern
- A combination of these two
Any of these options may be engaged in either by conscious or unconscious intent or action. Each of them helps to mold and shape the values by which we choose partners.
Sally found herself attracting partners who were like her distant and brooding father. Try as she might, she was not able to get them to pay attention to her when she quietly attempted to communicate her needs, so she “upped the amps,” and escalated her behaviors to have them take heed of her needs as she had with her dad. That backfired time and again as they expressed that she was “too high maintenance” for them. Having a partner who gave her positive attention was an important value for Sally.
Jack was determined not to emulate his father who was an actively drinking alcoholic who he tried desperately to save. His dad was in and out of treatment throughout Jack’s life. He chose to be sober himself and when he married, found a woman who shared that lifestyle. Sobriety and stability were crucial values for Jack.
Millie was raised by her grandparents after both of her parents were killed in a car accident. She learned that nothing was predictable, and that abandonment could happen at any time. The upside to her upbringing was that her grandparents took good care of her. Throughout much of her life, she attracted partners who would remain with her for the short term, but would eventually leave without warning, leaving her in an emotional tailspin. It was when, through therapy, she became aware of the patterns, that she was able to see her way clear to a healthy relationship with her wife. Consistency and reliability were essential values for Millie.
Take a moment to recall the interactions of the adults in your life as you were growing up. What was their communication style? Did they go head to head or heart to heart? Was there deafening silence or shout-it-out conflict? Did those patterns send you running into the arms of those who were mirror images of your parents or polar opposite. Many are addicted to chaos since it is what they knew.
In my case, I have become abundantly aware of what baggage I carried with me from childhood to adulthood — relatively lightweight in comparison to those in my personal and professional lives, carry-on that would fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of me. I do wish it was backpack size, but since I was raised by humans, I tote around some.
I was taught by my parents that communication was important and yet there were times when concerns went unexpressed for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. “Don’t tell so and so or it will upset them,” was the occasional mantra. In my marriage, words were said and sometimes shouted, even if either of our feelings were ultimately hurt. That flew in the face of the dictum of my childhood, borrowed from Thumper’s mother, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Over the years, I have learned to express what was true for me without stepping on toes. Tact and diplomacy are two of my essential values.
In their book, called For Seven Lifetimes: An East-West Journey to A Spiritually Fulfilling and Sustainable Marriage, long married couple, Vatsala and Ehud Sperling share the story of their courtship over distance and time as they grow a values based relationship, rather than one based primarily on chemistry and attraction. Inconceivable for some, they didn’t meet for quite a while after their initial contact via a personals ad (long before the days of internet dating) in a newspaper. He was living in the United States and she was in India. He is Israeli born Jewish and she is Indian born Hindu. The book describes how through written correspondence, sharing of photographs which built to phone calls, escalated to an in-person meeting during which they decided that they indeed wanted to be together for those seven lifetimes. They recognized, as they were getting to know each other, that they had shared values that were the foundation of their sustained relationship. They taught them to their now adult son. They blended the best of both worlds.
This dynamic has become increasingly noticeable since the 2016 elections here in the United States. Although most people’s social circles are likely to be homogenous, there are some outliers whose political beliefs are in opposition to theirs. Political consultants Mary Matalin and James Carville, who wed in 1993, notwithstanding, most marriages don’t survive such dramatic differences in opinion about world view.
Dating “in the time of Trump” is fraught with even greater angst. As two people sit opposite each other at the table, they may find, to their dismay that they sit on the other side of the aisle socially and politically. Politics are about more than just which lever you pull in the voting booth. They are a reflection of how you see the world, the causes you support and reject. The ways in which you interact with people around you. On dating websites these days, people clearly state in their profiles that if those who peruse have specific views, they would be better off continuing to scroll on by and not initiate contact. Some sites state that they are either liberal or conservative. Others that are neutral often have compatibility questions that ask definitively.
A study out of Yale and Stanford in the Journal of Politics found that as a result, we are on the lookout for partners whose beliefs mirror our own or at least, are compatible far more than in the past. When we can see our own values expressed by them, we feel more at ease getting to know them. One of the study’s authors, Neil Malhotra, says that love will be even more challenging as a result. He says, “People no longer view the other side as the loyal opposition, but increasingly as fundamentally immoral.”
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
What are your values with regard to those with whom you want to share your life?
- Expression of love and affection
- Role responsibilities
- Career path
- Religion and practices
- Cultural expression
- Gender presentation
- Leisure activities
- Health lifestyle choices
- Expression of anger
- Communication of disagreement
- Cleanliness standards in the home
- Substance use
- Walking the talk