Content note: mentions of abortion, abuse, cheating.
Core values are something that everyone has. They’re the ‘north’ by which you set your moral compass, the guiding light by which you make any difficult decision. Core values might be something like, ‘always tell the truth,’ ‘do no harm,’ or ‘violence is always wrong.’
It’s important to note, though, that not all core values are inherently ethical. Humans are by nature complex and multi-faceted, and what seems morally necessary to one might be morally reprehensible to another. One need look no further than debates about the current Controversial Topic of the Week to see this in action. I believe, for example, that the absolute inalienable right of a human being to decide what happens to their own body is a necessity for a civilised society. An anti-choice crusader, on the other hand, probably feels with an equal level of conviction that compelling a woman to give birth against her will is morally justified because abortion is always wrong.
In a similar vein, it’s possible for a person’s core values to not go much beyond ‘do what benefits me the most in any individual situation.’ As I said – not always ethical. I once ceased communication with an otherwise attractive and seemingly compatible person on an online dating site when they revealed that they vote for a political party whose policies I find reprehensible, because ‘they’ve always benefited me personally.’ I know people who’ve cheated because they didn’t see anything wrong with doing whatever it took to get what they wanted, when they wanted it.
But what I want to focus on in this post is the core values of a relationship, rather than an individual. If you have a partner or partners, do you know what yours are? Does your idea of the core values of your relationship match your partner’s? If not, consider discussing it with your partner. Knowing the central tenets crucial to your partnership is vital for a happy and harmonious relationship. Ideally, you should be able to name just two or three things that make up the ‘bottom line.’ They will be different in every relationship depending on the set-up and the individual histories and baggage of the people involved.
I’m not talking about rules as such here. You probably have rules and agreements in your relationship. My primary partner, Mr CK, and I have a document of several pages which explicitly spells out our relationship agreements. Core values in a relationship are less about “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not,” and more about a small number of guiding principles against which any action or decision is weighed. I don’t personally advocate for relationships with no rules at all (though this is, I’m told, the Fashion Du Jour in the polyamorous world) but it’s theoretically possible to have a functional relationship without rules. I do not believe, however, that it is possible to have a healthy relationship without core values.
Ours are, simply, as follows:
- We do not lie to each other. This includes little white lies and lies by omission as well as big, bare-faced lies.
- Any agreement we make in our relationship applies absolutely equally to both of us.
They sound simple, but they cover so much. To me, they sum up the mutual respect, consideration and equality that underpins our love. Any time there’s a big decision to be made or a negotiation to be had, it will be held against these values. If it contradicts either of them, that’s a deal breaker – the thing won’t happen, the agreement won’t be made. We recently rejected an agreement that, on paper, made perfect sense because it would have violated Core Value #2.
Yours are bound to be different, but you need to know what they are.
One of the things that finally made me realise that my past relationship was abusive was the point at which I realised my core values were being eroded (as a Wiccan, my first is ‘do no harm,’ and my former partner was forcing me to act in ways that caused notable harm to others, a fact of which I am still deeply ashamed.) And when I look back now, I can see that our relationship had few if any values of its own – the ‘bottom line’ was He Says, CK Obeys. (Which is fine in so far as it goes – as a consensual kink – but it was going on a long time before he collared me and extended far into reaches of my life I’d never agreed to have controlled. It wasn’t kink. I was simply afraid of him.) Once I saw that I was not living in accordance with my values and that the relationship did not have a solid value-based framework of its own, I could not unsee it and the undoing began.
In my humble opinion: your partner may have different interests. They may come from a different walk of life. They may have life experiences you have not lived, and vice versa. But if your core values – or the way you view the core values of your relationship – are very different or even opposing, you will probably be in for a very rough ride.
What are the core values in YOUR relationship? Tell me in the comments!
I’m going to finish off here by echoing More Than Two’s technique of leaving you questions to ask yourself/your partner:
- What are my personal core values?
- What are my partner’s?
- To what extent do they align? Are there any contradictory differences?
- What do we think are the core values of our relationship?
- How will we determine if a given decision upholds or transgresses these values?
- Will I know if my values are being violated to an unnacceptable degree?
- What will I do if so?