Between contentious political elections, a global pandemic, major Supreme Court decisions and evolving social justice issues…there’s a lot to disagree on these days. If the last few years have brought to light different values in a relationship, you’re not alone.
It’s hard enough when you don’t agree with your partner on where to go out to dinner or how to spend your money. But what do you do when you’re married to or dating someone with different values?
Whether you have different religious, political or moral views than your partner, it can be a point of major conflict. So can a relationship work if you have different values? (Short answer: yes. If both parties are willing to communicate, listen and work together.)
Keep reading to learn what to do when values conflict.
Can a relationship work if you have different values?
When you and your partner disagree on a big life decision or a core value, it can feel like your relationship is doomed. But it is possible to have a happy, healthy relationship even if you do have some different views.
Like anything in relationships, however, the success of your partnership will depend on how you handle a difference in opinion.
The first thing to consider is why having different values in a relationship is causing conflict for you and your partner.
Are you disagreeing on political or religious views and simply want the other person to agree? Or do you have different viewpoints on a deeply personal subject such as abortion or LGBTQ rights?
In other words, is there an opportunity to “agree to disagree,” or are you disagreeing on something that significantly impacts the way you want to live your life (and who you want to live it with)?
There are many couples who experience different values in a relationship. Once you get clear on why this difference of opinion is causing conflict, it becomes easier to discuss and (hopefully) solve the problem.
How do you handle different values in a relationship?
Managing different values in a relationship all comes down to communication. There are plenty of long-lasting couples with different political views or couples with different religious beliefs.
If you can communicate – and disagree – respectfully, you can give your relationship a fighting chance to make it through.
Communicate your point of view – and listen to theirs.
The first step toward discussing important values in relationships is to have an actual conversation. This doesn’t mean having yet another yelling match after watching the news. It means sitting down, sharing your perspective and genuinely trying to understand your partner’s point of view.
Try to get to the heart of why your partner’s point of view makes sense to them. Remember, we all have different worldviews shaped by how we grew up, the influences we have as children and adults, our education and past experiences.
Childhood affects adult relationships in so many ways! Just because someone has different values from you, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are wrong (and vice versa).
Learn to fight fairly
Having different values in a relationship isn’t easy. And discussing those views is bound to bring up conflict (that is why you’re reading this, right?!). So it’s important that you learn to fight fairly – even when you’re really fired up.
Fighting can even help you feel more connected to your partner if you do it well because it can help each person feel heard. While you may never come to a compromise or see eye to eye on your political, religious or moral disagreements, you can ensure that the fights themselves aren’t what leads to the end of your relationship.
Some simple tips to fight fairly include:
- Pause: If you can feel your blood boiling, it’s best to take a break and take a few breaths before continuing your conversation. Communicate with your partner that you need a few minutes (or longer) to cool off and make a plan to continue the conversation at a certain time.
- Focus on the issue at hand: Try to avoid letting a fight about one issue spiral into a blow-up about every conflict you’ve ever had. It’s easier said than done but it won’t help either of you to bring up past hurts that aren’t involved in your disagreement.
- Don’t speak in absolutes: It’s unlikely your partner “always” tries to argue with you or “never” tries to see your point of view. Try not to use that kind of language, and remind your partner to avoid it as well.
- Speak in “I” phrases: The easiest way to avoid accusations and placing blame is by focusing on how you feel. Instead of “you always bring this up” try “I feel like we end up discussing this a lot.”
- Be kind: You may never agree with your partner’s point of view. But having different values in a relationship is not an excuse for name-calling or mistreatment. Speak kindly to each other, even when fighting.
Determine your deal breakers
So far we’ve been looking for ways to discuss and come to terms with different values in a relationship. But there may be times when this just isn’t possible. Some important values in a relationship are so important they will make or break the partnership.
The key here is to determine what your deal breakers are. For example, you might be OK disagreeing about which political candidate to vote for (even if it does lead to impassioned arguments). You may not be OK, however, being with someone who disagrees on a social issue that impacts your life, such as abortion or LGBTQ rights.
The sooner you can decide what core values in a relationship you want to share with your partner, the sooner you can figure out your next steps.
How do I talk to my partner about values?
If you’ve been with your partner for more than a few weeks, chances are you may have already had a few discussions about your beliefs, views and values. But if it hasn’t come up – or if you’ve been avoiding these talks altogether – then there’s no time like the present to start a conversation.
It may not be easy to talk about potentially contentious topics, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to do it when you’re dating someone with different values than when you’re married or having kids with them!
So, how can you start a conversation? The best place to start is by listing out your deal breakers, values and big life decisions that you have strong opinions about.
Some common ones include:
- Kids (to have or not to have, that is the question!)
- How to raise kids
- Where you want to live
- How you handle money
Remember to talk respectfully about these topics, and to do your best to truly listen and understand where your partner is coming from. This doesn’t mean you need to change your mind, but it does mean at least trying to see things from your partner’s perspective.
If you’re preparing for marriage, an online premarital counselor can help you and your partner talk through these important discussions before the big day and build key communication skills for future conflicts.
Need more help managing different values in a relationship?
If you’re in a relationship with different values, you may be conflicted about whether to stick it out or cut and run. If you’ve tried to work it out on your own and are still struggling, it may be time to call in a professional.
An online couples therapist can help you and your partner discuss your differences more effectively, and can help you each identify how your childhood, past experiences and worldviews impact your values. A therapist can also help you work together to determine if you want to stay in your relationship, or if your difference in values is enough to call it quits.
Whatever you decide, working with a couples therapist can help you and your partner navigate your emotions about the situation. If you’re ready to get help with different values in a relationship, contact Couples Learn to explore our online couples therapy services or book a free 30-minute consultation to get started.
Want to read more about this subject? Check out Couples Learn founder Dr. Sarah Schewitz featured in a recent Washington Post article.