Reconnect with who you want to be in your relationship
Romantic relationships all have their ebbs and flows. Sometimes things are going great, and you feel happy and fulfilled with your partner, but at other times there can be arguments, bickering, conflict and maybe even a general sense of apathy and boredom.
Relationships take work, like tending to a garden over the seasons. You have to identify the weeds that threaten to strangle the other plants and flowers, much like identifying the niggles, problems and difficulties that can show up between and within individuals that are likely to harm the relationship. Neglecting one's values is one such weed that can take root in a relationship (Harris, 2009).
This article will describe three ways to improve the relationship with your partner, drawing on a key aspect of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy; values. By the end of the article, you will:
Have an understanding of what values are in the context of your relationship
Gain ideas about how to reconnect with your relationship values
Have a clearer sense of how to act on those values in your relationship
What are values in relationships?
Values are what you want to stand for and what characteristics you want to embody as you move through your life. They are like a life compass: values help you move towards your chosen life path and help keep you on track. In relationships, our values help us act in ways that align with the kind of partner we genuinely want to be and help us build rich, meaningful relationships with others. Values are different to needs. Values are what you want to do/how you want to act; needs are what you want to get from your partner or the relationship.
How can values help improve your relationship?
Values guided actions are the lifeblood of your relationship; without them your relationship shrivels and dies
How would acting on your values in difficult moments with your partner change the interaction with them? How would it influence the outcome of the disagreement or argument?
For example, could you act in an understanding or respectful way during a disagreement if being an understanding and respectful partner is important to you, even whilst experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings? Imagine if you pause, take a breath and say what you needed to respectfully and with an understanding tone, even though you felt angry at your partner. This would likely then positively impact how your partner responds to you, perhaps reducing the conflict and helping you both navigate your differences more effectively.
How to improve your relationship using your values
Step 1 – Clarify what's important to you deep down
The first step in improving the relationship with your partner is clarifying your values. One question that can help you do this is:
What kind of partner do I want to be in my relationship?
What came to mind as you read that question? If you are not sure, try answering this:
I want to be the kind of partner who is…(insert value)
Reflect on the relationship you want to build with your partner and the qualities you want to have. One in which you are loving, supportive, emotionally connected, present or something else?
Below are some common values to help give you some ideas, grouped into the categories of: connection, safety, care/support, communication, boundaries/self-expression. You may find there are a lot of values that are important to you. Try to identify your top 5 values at first – the ones that are non-negotiable regarding the type of relationship you want to have and the kind of partner you want to be.
Step 2 – Identify values-guided actions
The next step is to think of ways you can act in line with those values. One way of doing this is to use your words, gestures and physicality:
Words – What can you say to your partner that communicates who you are as a partner? How else can you communicate through your words? For example, poetry, messaging, writing cards and emails.
For example, if being a supportive partner is important to you, you may want to show support by asking how your partner's day has been.
Gestures – What gestures would help convey your values to your partner?
For example, if it is important to you to be a present partner, one idea might be to put your phone away when spending time with your partner.
Physicality – What physical actions can you take to help you live your values?
For example, if being an affectionate partner is important, try showing affection through touch such as hugging, kissing or holding your partner's hand.
Step 3 – Carry out values-guided actions
The last step is to carry out the actions aligned with your values. This can be easier said than done when life is busy, or there is conflict in the relationship. It can be helpful to start with just one values-guided action you can carry out daily or regularly and build from there. One thing to remember is that if you find yourself acting on your values to get something from your partner, it is no longer a value but rather a goal. Values are purely about giving you purpose, vitality and fulfilment in your life that has the knock-on effect of improving your relationship.
Values help guide behaviour in life and in relationships and can be a useful motivator when change is needed to help improve relationships.
Identifying the kind of partner you want to be and how you can be that partner through your actions and committing to carrying out those actions is key.
Want to start exploring what your relationship values are?
Download our Values in Relationships worksheet - click on the image below:
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Harris, R. (2009). ACT with Love. Stop struggling, reconcile differences, and strengthen your relationship with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. New Harbinger.