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  • Eve Coker, PhD, LCMHC

Why are values so important in relationships?

This is an excerpt from my book, A Worker's Worth, available here.


A value is something that we think is important. Our sense of value, and what we value, deeply drives our behavior. The value we place in an idea or person is what motivates us and drives us towards specific goals framed around those values.

We love some of the people in our lives and value them based on our ideas of what those relationships should look like. There are so many examples of what that could look like for every single, individual person. For example, some parents may feel as though parenting means giving their young an amount of freedom to forge their own lives and endure their own hardships, while others feel as though it’s their duty to hover over their children and have an input on every decision in their lives. Many parents may find themselves in a balance of those two extremes. A person in a romantic relationship may feel as though it’s important to spend plenty of time together and be best friends, whereas another person may feel that the ideal romantic relationship involves having best friends outside the relationship and seeing their partner occasionally. A company owner may see his or her employees as appreciated workers to help the company thrive, or he or she may see them as replaceable tools to be worked as hard as possible until they quit and the next tool is hired.

We typically value people who look and act like us, such as if they’re in the same ethnic group, race, or gender. We also value people more if they hold the same beliefs and ideas as we do, especially if they relate to political, moral, and religious ideas. When other people look like us, we’re more likely to trust them and listen carefully to what they’re saying. For people who hold similar ideas, we’re going to appreciate them more because those ideas are related to our notions of safety and what is “right.” When people are like us, we’re going to associate with them more and see them as “one of us” rather than “one of them.”

Our lifestyle choices also reflect what we value. We may feel as though luxury items enhance our lives. Maybe they do! However, there’s a fine line between enjoying nice things and defining ourselves by those nice things. Many people often do the latter, and things that we own become more important than who we are and how we treat others. When it comes to who we are, we may hold insecurities or internal conflicts. Valuing our own self-esteem and sense of worth, we may take these personal problems out on others who threaten how we value ourselves and how others may value us. It’s unfortunately common for leaders of companies to feel threatened by subordinates with bright ideas and leadership potential.

It gets complicated, then, when our values take us in different directions from the things that are not always what’s best for us or the people around us. Our values impact how we treat others. It’s important to learn how to shift our sense of values to maintain an openness to that which lets us thrive with others rather than in spite of others, because making choices to improve with others in mutually beneficial and trusting, working relationships gives us much greater rewards than when we do it at others’ expense. We have to let go of ego and tradition because things are always changing, including ourselves.



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