The old saying that they divorced because they were just different might have more truth in it than previously thought. In fact, recent research points to the validity of this concept, and it all boils down to values. Your values and your significant other’s.
“Basically, the more similar your values are, the more you tend to like each other and get along. Where values are dissimilar, it can result in endless quarreling and disrespect. In marriages, you see that evidenced when couples have the same argument over and over again and it goes nowhere,” explained Dr. Steven Reiss
, 61, author of “Normal Personality: A New Way of Thinking About People"
(Cambridge University Press.)
“Different core values. That is why they are arguing. It creates conflict. And usually if someone has different values than you, you walk away and stay away.” Apparently, there are 16 core values which we all have. And as those values increase in importance to us, so does the potential for problems. “Certainly, sex is a big one. How much you want to have or don’t want to have, how important it is to you, that can be a marriage breaker. You may argue and argue over it and it’s probably going to predict that you don’t stay together,” said the professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University. “Whereas, orderliness probably is very minor in the larger spectrum.”
Based on a series of scientific studies, this book advances an scientific theory of psychological needs, values and personality traits. Reiss’ research shows how the motivational spectrum produces different personality traits and values, and how that correlates to the way we handle/deal our personal relationships. The research was over six years in the making and another 15 in the refinement.
“So for instance, if he values having a lot of sex and consequently devalues honesty, then he believes there is nothing wrong with cheating as long as you don’t get caught,” said Reiss. “He doesn’t value honor but does value expedience and opportunism. And if conversely, she doesn’t value sex and values honor, there is going to be a big problem. He doesn’t want to be loyal. He is having affairs. She wants him to be loyal They are going to argue.”
And consequently, that argument will go nowhere, says Reiss. It will be circular. “You will do one of two things. You expect the other person to change but that can’t happen because every person believes their values lead to their greatest happiness. And you can’t change your values. At first you are optimistic the other person will change, but then you realize that you can’t change them, so what happens is you quarrel over and over again,” he said.
But why can’t one of you change your values? “The problem is, why would you want to change? You value it. It is part of who you are. Your values make you happy, they define you. Sure, you can be tolerant and try to change your behavior. But even if you do temporary compliance, the value doesn’t change at all. It only creates some distancing and disrespect. And it can’t be resolved. You can only agree to tolerate it,” he said. “ you need to understand that the reason for your conflict its because you are different. There is no ulterior motive. You were just born different.”
And agreeing to disagree is perhaps the only way to handle such core difference. Respecting that person for sharing different set of values is a different story altogether. “Different values mean you are going in different directions. How can you respect someone who has different value. For instance, if you value intellectual activity and your spouse devalues it, how can you have conversations? Values are very central, get along with someone for a long period of time.”
The 16 values are: acceptance, curiosity, eating, family, honor, idealism, independence, order, physical activity, power, romance, saving, social contact, status, tranquility, and vengeance. Reiss says that having more than five or six differing values is the kiss of death for a relationship, or living in a relationship where there is constant bickering.
“I don’t know if there is a magic number. It’s up to people to decide what is important to them or not. But I think when you get to five or six values that you feel strongly about and you don’t agree, when you start to go over that, it depends on how strong those conflicts are. Those can create disrespect and problems,” he said. “But the opposite is true too. Where you have shared values, you have bonding and a sense of understanding each other. You have an enjoyment of similar activities aiming for a similar goal." Lenore Skomal is author of seventeen books, including Bluff, Third Willow, and Heroes: 50 Stories of the American Spirit. She is a columnist of an award-winning weekly column in the Erie, Pa., Times-News, she also teaches college journalism in Pennsylvania.