If you’re feeling the pangs of discontent in your marriage, friendships, commitments or work then it’s likely you have a values problem. Let me explain.
You Do What You Value
We tend to do what is in line with our values. It’s human nature. If you value health – really value it, not just say it’s important – then you’ll spend time ensuring you eat properly, get enough sleep and maintain some decent exercise.
If you find yourself NOT doing these things, then it’s because you actually value something else over your health. That might be comfort food, slacking around on the couch watching TV, or being too busy to do any substantial exercise.
We all live by our values and our behaviour showcases what we truly value, not what we say we do.
Pay Attention to the Signals
Now, if you’re not happy, say in your work, then it’s because what you’re doing is not in line with the values you want to hold deep down. This misalignment may have come from a growing realisation that you don’t like the work you do any more. Or it may be, you’re starting to value independence and yet your work requires you to be subservient to your ineffective manager or company policies, for example.
This is a signal you should pay attention to.
Because you cannot keep this discontent under wraps for too long. The incongruence between your values and your day-to-day actions will start to affect you – it’ll start to manifest itself in your life in other ways such as your physical health, state of mind or even how you react at home to the children.
Something’s wrong and it needs fixing.
Clashes in Marriage
The same applies to values clashes between you and your spouse. For example, they might not value saving as much as you do. Or, you might value tidiness and order, they may not – you know, the old messies versus tidies thing.
I believe it is largely values clashes that cause the biggest problems in marriages. This is why it’s so imperative to discuss values before getting together in a long term committed relationships. You may like each other, but if your true values aren’t aligned, you’ll end up having big problems sooner or later.
And what if you’ve been married or together for a while already, and you detect a real values clash between you and your partner? What do you do then?
Well, here’s my two cents worth and it applies equally to relationships as it does to work, money or passions.
1. Clarify your true values
You might say you value being physically fit, but do you really? Is it really important to you such that you’ll make changes to your spending, time and activities to ensure you get fit? Or is it just a platitude you espouse because it seems like a value you ought to have?
What actually are you true values? What are those things/aspects/objectives you think about all the time, want to have as hallmarks in your life, and simply cannot live without for long?
2. Examine and assess your current behaviour/situation
We all tend to do what we value at present. So, looking at your life in key areas – perhaps work, relationships, money and time – what do you notice about how you spend your time?
Are you happy with that or is something out of line with what you really want? Why is that?
I used to work in the corporate world and, for a time, it gave me a place to be, learn, and work in that I enjoyed. After a while I noticed I wasn’t so happy being an employee of a corporation anymore – it seemed too inhuman and full of policies, meetings and endless changes. I wanted, instead, more freedom and independence. Something had to change. (Thankfully, along with 30% of the organisation, I was made redundant in 2007 and was given enough of a payout to start up on my own.)
3. Once you detect a values gap, do something about it
In my experience, you largely have two choices:
1. Change your stated values to reflect your reality – this may be as simple as stopping saying you want to be fit and instead substitute the truth which is, “Right now I value relaxing and chilling-out over being fit. It’s more important to me.” At least you’re being honest with yourself and will probably find you’ll feel less guilty.
2. Change your current situation to reflect your values – this is harder but, as I’ve said, very important for long term fulfilment and enjoyment in life.
(Work) This might be realising that the kind of work you do is not what you want to do any more, and making changes accordingly. For many, this is wonderfully freeing. Or, it may be realising that you don’t want to work in that industry anymore and therefore you might need to look for a job in an industry you can be passionate about.
(Relationships) If you have a values gap in the way you approach money, you will need to find an effective way to sit down together, probably many times over a few months, and calmly discuss the gap, exploring the reasons for it. You’ll need to work out a solution that allows you to feel like your values are met, while the other person’s are as well. You’ll need to compromise, which is to say negotiate give and take, and not ‘one wins and the other loses!’
[Note – this may be an issue that’s not resolvable through negotiation. If so, you’ll need to try another tack like getting counselling together on the issue, or even, if worst comes to worst, decide if it’s a deal-breaker. By the way, if it is a deal-breaker then I suspect you have a host of other issues between you that aren’t working either.]
You cannot live with a values clash for long – it’ll start to affect your peace of mind, behaviour and fulfilment in life. If you detect that you’re not happy in a given area of your life, take the courage needed to look at the issue and resolve it. You’ll be glad you did.