Have you ever considered what makes you consistently yourself?
Values generally remain fairly stable over time. They are quite difficult to change and usually arouse strong feelings not easily amenable to situational fluctuation or change. Most likely, despite changes in you and the conditions of your life, your values have remained fairly stable over time. At times you may have noticed that your feelings have changed about certain issues or about certain people; it is likely that these changes in your feelings were triggered by the behaviors of the other individuals involved, or by the circumstances about which you were concerned, were in conflict with or that deviated from their original position. Your values have probably, thus, been responsible for changing your feelings.
There are numerous ways of assessing values and of illustrating how widely individuals vary in their perceptions of situations and of other people based on their values. Values may be classified broadly into aesthetic, political, economic, social, religious, theoretical. As you think about yourself and your life in terms of these six classifications, you may be somewhat surprised to note that the values that stand out may be contrary to what you originally and impulsively would have predicted. Often when you examine the important underpinnings and motivating forces in your life, you’ll find that you have been acting in ways that do not direct you toward your goals most efficiently.
In addition, you might be surprised to learn that although you may appear to be behaving in the same way as someone else, you may be doing so based on different values. An example will illustrate: Chad works long hours as president of his own company. He gets to his office at about 8 o’clock in the morning and often stays until 9 or 10 o’clock in the evening working on reports or meeting with clients. He works hard and in talking to him one senses that Chad wants his company to be the top company in its field. He wants to make a success and to be a multimillionaire when he retires. For him, work is a game; it is the most important part of his life and he would work round-the-clock if he could earn more money for his company.
Don, on the other hand, is also president of his own company, and he also works from 8 o’clock in the morning until 9 or 10 o’clock in the evening. Don works hard and wants his company to be successful; his success is motivated by his desire to be involved in the contacts and political power that he can gain by the success of his business. He has been working hard because he wants to be active politically and to use his reputation so he can gain political power. Don sees his work as a means to an end in terms of achieving power rather than money.
These two men both work hard and probably live in similar ways; they are both high-powered, highly motivated, highly successful men. But their values are different and consequently their actions are based on different considerations and on different alternatives.
In assessing yourself, it is important for you to determine the underlying motivations of your behaviors. If you respond based on your needs, you are responding differently than if you respond based on your values. Because of differences involved in needs and values, it is essential that you understand your own values so you can deal with your partner in terms that are acceptable to both of you.
In a relationship where value differences exist, the partners often respond to their differences in ways that indicate that they have not accurately assessed their underlying conflict. Consequently, they attempt to change the other person and when they encounter resistance, as they undoubtedly will, they respond quite negatively and in ways that are hurtful to the other person. Such responses hurt the relationship as well.
A crucial assumption to make in maintaining healthy and well-functioning relationships is that the participants will, at times, have different values and different feelings about things. Part of the foundation of any relationship includes the other person’s right to be unique and to maintain their individual point of view. This acceptance of the other’s individuality is, in fact, acceptance of their right to function autonomously in the world apart from the relationship. To attempt to change the position of this individual, at times, is to impinge on their right to be themselves.
Many years ago, Dr. Thomas Gordon identified a method of differentiating between need and value conflicts. His work remains valid and valuable. According to Dr. Gordon, a need conflict carries with it a concrete and tangible effect on the other person. Thus, if in assessing a situation, you are able to tell the other person how their behavior has a tangible and concrete effect on you, then you are describing how their behavior relates to your getting your needs met. If, on the other hand, the other person’s behavior does not have a tangible and concrete effect on you, then your needs are not affected but you have a conflict of values.
Checking for a concrete and tangible effect on the other person is very simple litmus test that works very well in differentiating values from needs. This assessment and evaluation of values vs. needs is critical in awareness of how you might best proceed in your relationship.
In relating this understanding to your own situation, it might be helpful to you to list the major issues that confront you in your relationship. Then, identify the behavior of the other person to which you react, determine your feelings in response to that behavior, and consider the effects of that behavior on you. If the effects are tangible and concrete you can let your partner know how you feel; if the effects are not tangible or concrete you will know something about your differences in values and can also let your partner know. However, defining whether the conflict has to do with needs or values will enable you to have realistic expectations of the kinds of change you can anticipate your partner to make.
It is hard to get another person to change their values when feelings are equally important to both of you. Understanding and accepting this fact is essential for a healthy relationship. It can reduce the friction that builds when non-acceptance of the other person is based existing values.
Note: This document was first published in Marriage in Trouble: A Time of Decision (Haspel, 1976).