There are many people that believe that all significant relationships, particularly marriages, should be saved at any cost. This simply isn’t true. Sometimes that cost is simply too high or the the things that must be done to save it render the relationship meaningless. What is true is that, like any investment, efforts should be made to see if changes will make saving it the right thing to do. There is a lot of room between spending a lifetime in a miserable relationship and simply throwing in the towel at the first sign of a challenge.
So when shouldn’t a relationship be saved? When there are so few shared core values and little or no respect for core values that aren’t shared. Successful relationships have some degree of shared core values. Core values are those things that define you. They are the beliefs you have about what is important, how life should be lived, how people should be treated…they are the things that make you, well, you. You may have other values and preferences that you don’t hold as strongly. Those are the things that you’d like to be a certain way but you are okay with if they don’t go the way you’d like.
While core values may change over time as you grow and learn, they should not be compromised, given up or treated lightly. When we act in ways that don’t reflect our core values, who we really are, we lose our sense of self and with it happiness. Having shared core values with our partner is important because it allows us to live our life in a way that is consistent with ourselves. If our partner has the similar values, you can be on the same path in life. That path includes the activities you do, the way you treat each other and others, the goals you work towards and so much more.
Not all core values must be shared. However, what is important is that the non-shared core values are respected by your partner. By respected I mean your partner doesn’t show contempt or disregard for those things that make you who you are. That doesn’t mean they have to agree with you, they just have to allow you the room to be who you want to be. If your partner is actively working to get you to act in ways that aren’t consistent with your core values, or tries to make you feel wrong or shameful or not valued because of them, it will drive disconnection…the opposite of a good relationship.
None of this is meant to say that you shouldn’t try to save your relationship. Sometimes the problems around values are as simple as a lack of understanding. Many people can’t articulate their own core values, much less their partners. Disrespect for a partner’s core values may stem from not realizing how actions are impacting one another. Changes can often be made.
And sometimes they can’t. At the start of partner therapy I tell clients that one of the risks of therapy is that each person may become a happier, healthier, improved version of themselves. And, they may then look at their improved partner, from their improved self, and realize that they have little in common and aren’t a person they want to be in a romantic relationship with. They may see a great new person, who might even be a good friend…but not a romantic partner. When that happens, when it is clear that core values aren’t shared or respected, that the way you want your life to be isn’t the same as the other person’s, then it may be time to end the relationship.
Or, if you know that your core values aren’t shared or respected, and your partner is unwilling to seriously look at and potentially make changes about something so important, it may also be time to end a relationship. I say seriously because there is a difference between saying, “I hear you and I’ll try to do better” and doing the real work to improve a relationship.
Relationships do take work. Even good ones. They take compromise and sacrifice. But what you are compromising or sacrificing matters. Compromising or sacrificing core values is never a recipe for a successful relationship. Because when you do that, it is no longer you in the relationship. It is an unhappy version of yourself. And making yourself more unhappy just to please someone else isn’t going to lead to happiness.