Partner's Workshop: Stage Three; Lesson Five

When Values Collide

While the majority of the issues involving value interaction within a relationship will be addressed in the Couple's Workshop, the importance of understanding it here, for you, is to recognize the need for compromise and compassion in the application of your value system. That, because you were the one who was violated, because your partner is the one who has the addiction, that it is your values that always take precedent is an unhealthy path to follow. Or, because you have been violated in the past by another, that it is appropriate to establish such rigid boundaries that it is justifiable to infringe on the values of another. Again, such an approach — an approach that compromises another's value system — is equally unhealthy. In other words, this lesson is a warning to 'be careful' in your application of values and boundaries within a developing relationship.

Be careful? But you said that boundaries are established to protect our values. Why should we compromise them...ever?

Ah, the nuances of life. We are treading into some murky water here, where your judgment and common sense will play a major role in determining whether or not you stay afloat. And while as a general rule, you are absolutely right: you should never compromise your value system...there are times when, must compromise your value system. Key word: you. YOU will compromise your value system. Consciously. By choice. So that you have the opportunity to extract higher values by sacrificing ones of less priority. For instance, imagine that you place the relationship with your husband above all else, followed by a desire to have children, followed by your religious beliefs. Lower on that same list, you also value altruism and believe that 10% of your family's earnings should be given back to the community. Your partner on the other hand, as well values religion, has the desire for children and cherishes you as his partner. However, he believes that it is more important to take that money and save it for a rainy day. This is a value collision. Two healthy values — both legitimate. However, they oppose one another and thus, a compromise must be reached.

Now take this same couple and use religion as the primary value conflict. You place a relationship with God as your top value. He, on the other hand, believes that God is merely a social construct used to manage the masses. Hence, another value conflict. Except here, the value that is conflicting is of such a high priority to you (and likely, a low priority for him), a compromise is not the best course of action. Yet, because emotions are so easily manipulated, you find yourself being coerced into altering your values so that God is no longer your top priority. If you can't relate to religion, substitute it with having a child together. You want to have a child, he absolutely does not. A conscious compromise will not be achieved easily. Emotional manipulation and pressure will be applied by one or both of you to effect the value system of the other. This happens all the time in addiction.

Value Conflict and Addiction

Invariably, when involved in a relationship with someone with an addiction, your values have already been compromised. You have made exceptions in areas of your life that you never would have made on your own. You have minimized your values at times when to apply them would have meant more conflict. You have subtly (and not so subtly) adjusted them to match your partner's skewed value system — often without even realizing it. In fact, it is one of your primary goals in the healing process to identify which areas of your values have been affected and work to rebuild those values to where you want them. But what about situations where you both have legitimate, yet opposing values? Is it fair to suggest that because you are the healthy person, that your values take precedent? Of course not. To take such an approach is to ensure they remain infantile in their own value management processes — a killer for not only the recovery process, but mutual respect as well. And yet, that is not to suggest that all values should be applied equally, because in addiction, it is a fact that many of your partner's values will have become so skewed that to apply them equally 'just to be fair' will also have disastrous results.

How then shall I manage such conflicts? First, you must develop the ability to recognize the difference between when your values are being compromised and when you are making the decision to compromise your values — because it is only in the latter where healthy growth occurs. Next, you must have a clear grasp of your existing value system and how it is prioritized. Finally, you must learn to apply that value system to your decision-making processes so that you are continuing to develop in a way that enhances your overall value in the long-run...rather than sacrificing that overall value for immediate emotional gain.

Again, the actual application of value conflict management will be addressed in the Couple's Workshop. Here, it is enough that you recognize — for an existing or future relationship — that there are times when values will conflict and that you role is to identify these times and act in a manner that enhances who you are, not jeopardizes it.

Exercise Eighteen

A. Provide an example of a value collision in your own life. How did you handle it? What resulted from this collision (e.g. compromise, resentment, suspension of the issue, etc.)?

B. What current values do you hold where conflicts can be likely anticipated? (Use your history in relationships as a reference)

C. What values, if any, are you unwilling to compromise under any circumstances? Give a thoughtful response, not a prideful one.

slide up button