Can’t Live With Em, Can’t Kill Em: Understanding Relationship Values

Can’t live with ‘em, can’t kill ‘em. There are many variations of this that walk into an office every week. One of Allison’s favourite sayings is “The best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach — preferably with a 12-inch kitchen knife!”

Relationships are without a doubt the number one thing I get to work with in a clinical environment. This is simply because everything is a relationship. People are relationships. We have relationships with others, relationships with food, relationships with drugs, relationships with objects, relationships with careers, relationships with money and relationships with family. There is, of course, is one relationship that is the foundation of all these different relationships — that is the relationship an individual has with themselves.

Relationships have the ability to produce the ultimate joy. Because of this potential, the loss of this joy or even just the fear of it can be equally devastating.

You might be asking who am I to talk about relationships? A very good question and one that needs to be asked before you take any advice from a person on this the most important subject of all. Simply, I am the guy who has fucked up more relationships than Flash Gordon, the Terminator and the Alien combined. This might not sound like a good starting point, but I beg to differ. Each mistake, each disaster, each euphoria, each heart crushing moment was a lesson.

The vast majority of people believe that successful people have always been successful. This is a myth. Successful people are just people that focused on the objective and completely accepted their failures as potholes on the road to success. You either drive through them or go around them. Take a hit, learn from it and move on as quickly as possible.

It has been with this attitude that much of the work around relationships has occurred. I am happy to announce that the last 12 years of my life have been exceptional as far as relationships are concerned. Not perfect, because relationships never are. Nevertheless, it is truly wonderful to have learnt enough to find myself in the best partnership of my life.

Relationships appear to be very complex when you first start out. Like most things in life, complexity will have an underlying simplicity. The trick is to spend time with a curious mind watching the complex patterns tell their simple story.

When people come to see me about the breakdown of their partnership, I am quick to point out that there are only three reasons people have issues in relationships with one another. Three separate posts will look briefly  at these three issues.

Misalignment of Values

Values rarely spoken about are the cornerstone of any great, loving and productive relationship when they are aligned. When values are not aligned, that is another story.

So what are values? Values are what we deem to be highly important. This is what we have learnt to focus our attention on. Values are generally programmed into us from the earliest of age. Values are established as we watch our parents go about their daily activities. Watching them we see what they do and what is important to them.

To me, values are a person’s internal compass. They tell us where we are going to spend our time, energy and resources. Values are our internal compass that tell us where our own very personal true north is.

By the way, it is not necessary for two people to have the same values. They do, however, need to be aligned with each other. How a person spends their time needs to be of assistance to the other and the same goes back the other way. Values can easily be observed simply by asking people how they spend their time and money.

A couple came in for some help with their relationship. After listening to them speak about the issues they were having and how upsetting it all was, it was clear that she absolutely loved the guy. I gently asked her “what are the most important things in life”? She answered “relationship, love, you know being loved and in love. Family, fun and feeling safe and secure”.

As I looked over at the guy, he seemed to be looking into space and not really paying that much attention. I stupidly asked him the same question. Just as stupidly he answered “my horse, I love my horse, he is my best friend. My desert racer and state qualifiers start next month”. My attempts to interrupt him were not working. He seemed to be totally engrossed in telling me these things and why not – they were his values, things that had total meaning to him. By the time he was describing the goose neck trailer that transported both the horse and the desert racer, my attempts to distract him yet again had failed. I’m sure the look of panic in my eyes did nothing to help the situation. This guy was so happy describing the details of the horse, the race car and the trailer.

It was at this point I noticed the expression on the girl’s face. Thinking to myself “oh no, she has just figured it out” we ended the session. It was lovely to see  both parties left feeling calmer and happier. Unfortunately, I realised then and there that they were calm for completely different reasons. About three weeks later I received a call from the guy. He seemed so surprised. She’s gone, just up and left. I just don’t understand why. Everything seemed to be getting better, we haven’t argued since we saw you weeks ago.

What I had seen in the session the weeks before was the girl’s realisation that she didn’t even exist on his list of values. Maybe she did, but that was after the horse, the car and the trailer, and then there might have been some time for her and that loving relationship to occur. In the way her compass was set, she had placed him first. On his list, if he had to choose time with her or the horse, the horse was going to win.

What I want you to get is neither of the value sets is correct, they are just directions. The event that on the surface looks painful and a disaster is really a success story. You see, the girl was now free to find a partner that would have relationships or something supportive of that on the top of his list of values. For the guy, it was also a great win, he got to spend more time with his horse.

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