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How Core Values Help Relationships Grow

are you turning toward your partner?We can easily take our values for granted. So we may not be aware of core beliefs that guide our everyday lives. Happy couples typically share enough similar values for long term compatibility.  

If you value honesty, fidelity, a sense of humor, personal growth, respect, empathy, or patience, can you imagine having a life partner who doesn’t? How about ambition, lifestyle, desire for children and so on?

You don’t need to agree on everything; the idea is to agree on areas that are truly necessary for your lasting happiness. Actually, as shown in the example below, sometimes a difference in a core value may enrich a relationship.  

Complementary Values Can Enhance a Relationship

Jodi and Kevin came to see me for marriage counseling. “I wonder whether Kevin and I are mismatched,” Jodi said. She describes herself as ambitious and driven. Kevin is not. He has a low pressure job and likes it that way. He surfs sometimes on weekdays. As he puts it, “I care more about quality of life than getting ahead. I earn enough to live in a good area and pay my share of the bills.”

This sort of difference can be complimentary. If both partners are highly driven, who’s going to help the other slow down and relax? If one partner is tense from the pressure at work, it can be comforting to come home to a calm, supportive partner who helps the other to unwind.

Jodi values hard work and perseverance. Kevin values a laid back quality of life. Their basic values are unlikely to change. By accepting their differences as complementary, they will appreciate what each brings to the relationship.

But if Jodi’s core belief is that her husband must be ambitious, she’ll continue to resent Kevin for not carrying his weight. She’ll view him as a slacker instead of appreciating how his easygoing nature complements her driven one, in ways that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Identifying Your Core Values

What values do you hold dear? Do you find out which ones a relationship partner or a potential one shares? Whether your concern is about money, childcare, housework, or something else, when a difference exists only you can know whether it’s acceptable or a deal breaker.

If it’s one you can live with, you’re likely to be happier — instead of aiming to change him or to get your own way, you focus on what’s best for the relationship. Don’t expect to agree on every single thing. The best you can do when a tolerable, yet uncomfortable, difference in values shows up is to communicate in ways that are respectful and supportive of yourselves and each other.

How Core Values Help Relationships Grow

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014, audiobook, 2020), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists at NASW conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University. A former executive director of a family service agency, she earlier held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry.

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APA Reference
Berger, M. (2018). How Core Values Help Relationships Grow. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 22 Nov 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.