Tis The Season For Talking To Your Partner About Shared Values

I have an aunt — my mother’s sister — who married late in life, to a fairly religious Christian man. Irreverent at best and sacrilegious at worst, my mother’s family has never been particularly pious: we’re a people more likely to worship at the altar of Judy Garland or Miles Davis or the perfect pair of boots than the Virgin Mary. We’re like a bunch of Lucille Balls in that famous scene in the candy factory, if instead of chocolate the candies were made of culture and style — sometimes there is simply no room and not enough time for the quieter, subtler things of life.

My aunt, though, takes our family’s materialism to another level. She’s always loved stuff — cosmetic stuff (when she tries out a new skincare brand, which is often, she buys the entire range), fancy food stuff (show her an artisan olive oil-balsamic vinegar duo and she’ll show you her credit card), stuff for your feet. Especially feet stuff — her favorite gift to my sister and me (still) is socks. Lots and lots of socks.

So when my aunt and uncle’s first Christmas together came around, there were conversations to be had. What did the holiday mean to them as a couple? Most importantly (to my aunt, anyway), what did my uncle’s religious ways mean gift-wise? If my aunt shared her concerns with me then, I wouldn’t know what to say exactly, since I was, like, 12. But if the same situation were happening now, I’d know just what to suggest, as I happened to talk to Emi Couple’sresident marriage therapist, Dr. Dominique Samuels, PsyD, about this very thing. Read on for a quick Q&A with Dr. Samuels, about when and how to have conversations with your partner about values.

Q: Is there a particularly good time for couples to access their values together? How often should couples reassess?

A: Value reassessing is not something anyone needs to do TOO often. Deeper dives should occur when major shifts have happened in life (marriage, children, job change, etc). However, it is helpful to do a quick check in now and then. Apps like Emi allow for a steady stream of reminders that help keep you both focused and communicating about what is important.

Q: Scheduling a “values reassessment conversation” is a bit of a daunting idea. What suggestions do you have for couples who aren’t as familiar with the process?

A: Instead of looking at this in such an open ended manner, find a list of common values and write down your top three. Share them with your partner, and talk about the meaning of each. Brene Brown has a nice list in her books, and many are available online.

Q: What do you think about couples making New Year’s resolutions to work on things that come up in their conversations about values?

A: New Year’s resolutions are always popular, but they don’t last. The gym is very busy for the first week of January, then by March it is completely empty again. With resolutions to work on relationships, we don’t want to see that same patterning. One common problem is that people think they can accomplish much more than they can. Smaller goals are more appropriate, and using reminders can really help. For example, “feel more connected in 2019” is overwhelming. Using reminders, like Emi, can help make a big task feel more doable.

Eventually, my aunt and uncle figured out what worked for them during gift-giving season. It was hard, though, and their miscommunication could have been cleared up earlier, saving them some stress during the holidays, an already stressful time. Now I know what I’ll say if the situation ever comes up again — that is, of course, if I’m not too busy watching Lucille Ball or finding the perfect pair of shoes.

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