Having good relationships is important to a happy and fulfilling life. Romantic relationships are especially important, yet also especially tricky for many of us.
In a romantic relationship, we are challenged to make choices which may deny our individual wants and needs in order to serve the relationship. And we are challenged to make choices which may put the relationship second to an individual need. Some people are more comfortable with individuality and some more naturally serve the relationship.
The most stunning way it played out was during the pandemic. We were constantly confronted with situations where we were asked to put the whole, our communities, before our individual needs. (For example, getting a vaccine when we feared a negative reaction) And there were times when our individual needs had to come first. (For example, not getting a vaccine because of health reasons or religious/philosophical beliefs) I noticed people doing a balancing act between the two.
It's a delicate balance- Honoring ourselves and honoring our partner. Where is the point where independence and interdependence meet? We are asking that question on a large scale as we evolve as individuals, as partners, families, and as societies.
If you really want to be happy in a romantic relationship it is essential that you do the work of getting to know yourself before committing in a long-term relationship. Starting with understanding your “deal breakers”. Consider what you can't live with in a relationship. For example, for some people, someone being a smoker is a deal breaker. Or someone who earns less than X amount of money. Knowing what you cannot tolerate is just the beginning, though. It’s more impactful to focus less on the qualities you don't want in another, and more on what YOU value. It's a subtle difference in approach with a big impact.
Your Core Relationship values are your fundamental beliefs and highest priorities that drive behavior. One way to understand your core values in a relationship is to look back on the highpoints of your relationships and ask yourself "which values were being honored there?" For some, it's socializing with their partner- dinner parties, vacations with other couples or families, being part of group activities together.
In this case, a core relationship value might be being connected in a community. For others, it may be those memories of shutting the world out and being alone and intimate with their partner for long periods- an intimate secluded vacation together, a staycation watching movies and cooking and making love. The core value in this case could be that the romantic partnership deserves more attention than any other relationship.
Most people have 5-6 core relationship values that, if not honored, will sink the relationship.. It makes a really big difference to KNOW these things about yourself when dating and looking for a partner. You cannot have a thriving relationship between 2 people with opposing core relationship values.
For instance, one partner values quiet intimacy with their partner. For this person, a relationship must have a lot of downtime. Talking with each other, looking in each other's eyes, frequent lovemaking. While the other partner feels more fulfilled in a relationship where they are out in the world doing activities together.
You may be wondering, "What about compromise?" Most wisdom that circulates about successful relationships is about learning to compromise. Unfortunately, when it comes to core relationship values, there is no compromise. That is why they are called CORE values. They are what make you authentically you.
There are other places in a relationship where learning to compromise is useful. In the area of needs, for example. Needs are different than values because with the right person, needs can be negotiated and met without anyone betraying something that is core to them. Needs often are in the areas of how communication happens, frequency of sex, or a person’s love language.
Identifying core relationship values and learning the art of negotiation of needs in order to have a fulfilling relationship starts with knowing yourself. "To thine own self be true" is great advice and we are not taught how to do that in our culture.
We are often asked to be less of who we are in order to accommodate our families when we are young, in order to fit in as teenagers, and in order to earn money in our jobs. It is no wonder that we have very little experience with getting to know ourselves- what's unique to us and our values, hopes, and dreams.
It is possible, though! Living authentically is a practice. A coach, therapist, mentor, or even good friend or partner can support us in this journey. It takes support, energy and courage to shift orientation from constantly looking outward to looking inward.
Here is how you can begin the process.
I often give my clients the exercise to "date" themselves. Treat getting to know yourself like you would treat getting to know someone on a date! Here's some questions to start with.
What are the highpoints in your life? Which values were being honored there?
What are the highpoints in your relationships? Which values were being honored there?
Do you tend to be more independent or more interdependent in your relationships?
What are lessons you have learned from being alone?
What are lessons you have learned in a close relationship?