I was talking to my brother in law earlier today, and we were talking about the fun filled topic of divorce. I mentioned how sometimes it feels like the legal system penalizes people for doing the right thing, and he made a comment about how the right thing is actually subjective.
I asked him what he meant, and he said:
It comes down to your core values.
If your core values tell you commitment is more important than personal happiness, then you are more likely to stay and work on a relationship that is struggling.
If your core values tell you personal happiness is more important, then a struggling relationship means it’s time to move on.
Divorce can be a bad thing or a good thing, it just depends on your core values.
This really hit me.
For years now, I’ve been writing about relationships. And from the beginning, one of my main premises has been that one of the fundamental struggles in relationships is finding a balance between “me” and “we”.
There has to be a balance between these.
Too much “we” and you risk losing sight of who you are. And this is often a big issue, especially with parents.
I’ve talked to so many people who have kids and then put their own interests on the backburner. Life becomes all about the family, and there is very little time/opportunity to be “you”. As much as people love their children, when the kids get a bit older there is often a of sense of relief when people are able to start doing some things for themselves again. Of course this is a prime time for divorce, because if there has been too much focus on the family and not enough on the couple, this is a time that a husband and wife will look at each other and realize they don’t really have anything in common anymore. They have the kids, and that’s it. Some are able to rediscover each other and “fall in love” all over again, while others just decide it’s better to move on separately.
On the other side of the equation you have couples who focus too much on “me”. When they do this, they are often two people living completely separate lives, and their relationship is more like being roommates – living under the same roof and sharing bills.
I have always subscribed to the notion that although a balance between “me” and “we” is important, for a healthy relationship it is always better to have the pendulum swing slightly towards “we”. To me, relationships are all about connection between two people. That connection ideally will exist on many levels; physical, emotional, intellectual and even spiritual. And I don’t really see how this connection can happen when your focus is on yourself first.
For me, my core values have always told me that “we” is more important that “me”.
Don’t misunderstand this, I’m not suggesting that “I” am not important in a relationship, because I clearly am. But the notion of sacrifice for the relationships has never really been a challenge for me. It’s never been a struggle, because it simply fit with what I believed.
Due to this, when I would see people who were focused more on themselves and what they get out of thing, I have never been able to understand it. It just seems selfish to me, and really, it is.
To me, selfish is wrong. It’s the wrong way to be, and the wrong way to live life.
Here’s the thing though, one of my other beliefs about relationships is that often there are different approaches to doing the same thing, and one isn’t necessarily any better or worse than the other. My way is just my way, and part of having a healthy relationship is learning to understand and accept your partner for who they are. To accept their way as valid, even if it’s not my own.
This is where today’s conversation really hit me. Maybe I’ve been a hypocrite here. Maybe what I consider selfish isn’t really wrong. Maybe it’s just different, and wrong for me. Maybe it’s just a difference in core values.
If so, then maybe a lot of the struggles people have in relationships are actually simply a collision of core values.
I’ve always believed that conflict between couples is actually a positive thing, because it’s how you learn each other and are able to grow to understand and accept each other.
I still think that’s true, but when the conflict is due to a collision of core values? Well, in that case a couple probably is in quite a bit of trouble. Because while you can often accept differences between people, differences in core values are significantly more problematic.
Commitment and personal happiness are two concepts that should both be important in a relationship, but they are also concepts that can sometimes conflict. So the question becomes, when it comes to core values which one is actually MORE important to you?
Because answering that question for yourself and then understanding how your partner would answer that question may have a lot to do with the nature of the conflicts you face.