Have you ever taken a test to determine your highest five or highest ten values in life? I have done so repeatedly during my life and have experienced an interesting shift in values and priorities as I get older.
I have had a couple of, let’s say “interesting years”, going through menopause, getting a first taste of the empty nest syndrome with my oldest daughter, and breaking both my ankles a couple of years ago, which meant experiencing what it is like to be helpless. With all this came a bit of a shift in my value system. Ten or even just five years ago my children were my highest priority, followed by building my business and my education/learning. Safety and financial security in old age did not even show up within the first five. Now it has moved up, because these experiences shifted my priorities.
My top values are not just the children anymore but “relationships” in general. By that I mean not only my own relationships, but also my ability to assist other people with their relationships. That number 1 priority is followed by the value of “learning and growth”. Now these top two go nicely hand in hand. Richard Bach said, “We teach best what we most need to learn.” I would fully agree with this. And I want to add to it, “We teach best what we feel most passionate about.”
With my value system shifting, I had a huge personal growth experience because what didn’t change in line with my needs and priorities was my partner’s value system. His highest values continued to be freedom and autonomy. Meanwhile, I was trying to sell him on my new highest values of making financial decisions for safety and planning ahead to the future. Basically, I was asking him to live life my way.
My blind spot was that I was trying to impose my agenda of what I thought was best for him and us onto him. And being unable to convince him of the importance of my values, I started feeling resentful. What I completely overlooked was that nobody wants to do something that they cannot link to their own highest values. Everybody is motivated to make changes, but when we want to shift, we need to be able to link how an activity or choice is serving our highest priorities in life. There was nothing wrong with his values, they were just different, and the safe choices I wanted to make were not in line with his main needs and value system.
Values are an important part of all our relationships. Where they overlap, we experience harmony and understanding, when they don’t overlap, we often experience judgments and fear. We try to change the other person based on our system of ideals. Those differences in values, priorities and needs usually arise during the second stage in long-term relationships, but can also show up again when value systems shift.
Relationship coach Jayson Gaddis from the Relationship School in Bolder, Colorado, explains that long-term relationships evolve through three or—depending how you look at it—even four stages of relationships. To understand what each stage is about and how we move to the next stage is critical for relationship longevity.
THE HONEYMOON STAGE
It all starts with what we know as the “honeymoon stage” when we are completely smitten with each other. We focus on what we have in common, the same interests and the same values or world views. The person we are infatuated with is at the top of our priority list because the electricity and chemistry we feel lights up the same part of the brain as addictive substances. When we are experiencing love, our brain secretes neurochemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, and growth hormones. We are on a euphoric high. We feel we cannot be apart from the other person. This is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of our species. This biochemistry is ideal for us wanting to reproduce.
The honeymoon stage usually last a few months to a couple of years. If we expect this stage to continue, disappointment ultimately sets in. This stage is not meant to last. It was meant to bring us together. It slowly turns into the stage that Gaddis calls “The Challenging Stage”.
THE CHALLENGING STAGE
Eventually, the sober reality comes in. As we get to know the other person with all their good traits but also their challenging ones or their “flaws”, disillusionment occurs. This is a chance to learn to love our partner the way they really are. We begin to see the difference between us and the person we love. We had different experiences growing up and have therefore learned different beliefs than our partner. No two people have absolutely overlapping values, and we now notice the values which don’t match as well as dissimilar ways of handling life. This is were we often try to sell the other person on our values. We want to convince them and are bound to fail because value systems tend to be strong and ingrained. Our baggage from our past resurfaces and needs to be dealt with. Our childhood wounds and experiences from past relationships enter into the equation. Our partner mirrors our disowned parts—also called our shadows—to us.
When two people come together, they are different to begin with, and in this stage, they might polarize into opposites and judge each other for those differences. What attracted them in their partner when they met is now likely to be a point of criticism. Certain differences even become perpetual problems. Dave, for example, has safety and security as a high priority, while his partner Marie has freedom as her highest value. Paul is identified with responsibility and hard work, while his girlfriend Eva is able to relax and enjoy life more. Jenny wants to expose their kids to lots of educational and cultural activities, and her husband Frank has different parenting ideas, wanting them to excel in sports. Laura likes to go out and party, while Ross prefers to be home. Amanda is very neat, while Lucas has a much higher tolerance for mess.
In this stage, we experience conflicts and might get stuck in arguing or even blaming each other. We end up in a tug of war trying to convince the other one that we are right. If we don’t learn how to handle these conflicts differently, the result is burn out. People either give up and leave the relationship, or they compartmentalize the difficult issues and settle for maintaining the status quo, as unsatisfactory as it might be for one or both partners. Unless we learn how to deal with the challenges in a constructive manner, we won’t advance to stage three.
THE MATURE LOVE STAGE
Stage two is testing us on how we handle interpersonal stress, and if we know what to do with our baggage from the past when it resurfaces. It is normal in all relationships to have disagreements and challenges, and it is also normal that we trigger our nervous systems into firing. When our reptilian brain perceives threat, we go into fight or flight mode. Our fear provokes the release of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, as well as inflammatory agents such as cytokines. How we navigate those differences determines whether we are able to advance to stage three.
When we learn how to deal with adversity in stage two, an empowered relationship in stage three is the result. The challenges in this mature love stage don’t stop, but we have learned how to deal with our triggers in a conscious way. We now have the confidence to make it through challenges together, knowing that we have each other’s backs. We are able to recognize when our values and priorities shift and handle this change consciously. This requires both partners to put in the necessary work to understand themselves and each other so that the relationship can get stronger through this growth process.
LOVE 360 STAGE
Gaddis names a fourth state which is an adjunct to stage three. In the Love 360 Phase, we trust the bigger level of life. You could say we assume a more spiritual view. We realize that things are not happening to us but for us. Our trials are blessings at the same time. That principle applies no matter what we go through, including affairs, disconnection from each other or even break-ups. What is happening is a gift and an opportunity to grow and learn from it, provided both partners are willing to put the work in.
When we reach the Love 360 State, we are experiencing a different clarity and are able to perceive that the events are all for our benefit. We realize that we are in charge of what we want to create as opposed to being in the victim seat, where we feel life is out to get us. Adversity makes us stronger as individuals and as a couple. We are able to hold more contradictory perspectives. We recognize our dis-empowering stories as limiting narratives and re-frame them. We are also able to hold the space for each other in the midst of drama or life changes and trust that we can work through anything together.
Contact me for more information on either couple’s coaching or individual sessions. We can work on your own triggers and patterns in individual sessions or on your interactions with each other so you can advance to the next level of your relationship. From March 20 to April 3, 2018 I am offering a 20% off SPRING SPECIAL for Couples.
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