I talk to people who are keen to evolve their relationships and attempting to get to grips with values, and they’ve had at least one of these three habits:

I tremble at the thought of being in love with a tiny part of someone and mistaking it for the whole. Rupi Kaur

Ever been hung up on someone who, when the relationship crack wore off, you realised that they only had one redeeming feature that offset everything that was so wrong about them or the situation? You (or they) made them into a one-trick pony. Maybe they were good for sex that left you barely able to walk. Perhaps they were good for the most ‘amazing’ dates or hanging out and talking about those topics where you have ‘so much in common’ but not hot on anything else. It reminds me of that episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte dated the guy renowned for giving great head, but that’s pretty much all there was to him.

When confused about core values, people take one or a few things they regard as signs of dependability, attractiveness, commitment, etc., and then use them as justification for continuing.

They listen to my complaints about ________ becomes They’re a really attentive person and are girlfriend/boyfriend material. This is because we associate being listened to in this way with a relationship. As we don’t know this person that well, we assume they’re demoing the Deluxe Relationship Package. Determining compatibility with someone on one or a few arbitrary factors, though, results in ignoring the overall content of the relationship. In lacking real attention to core values, we take one piece and mistake it for the whole.

Sometimes, we’re unaware of where we’re out of alignment with our needs, values and boundaries.

There are so many people pleasers out there who pride themselves on honesty, loyalty and kindness as virtues. These same people, though, never consider that they’re, for instance, only honest in low-risk areas. They don’t recognise that they stop short of speaking up or being themselves in a multitude of situations. They also accept sub-par carry-on even if it means lying to themselves. 

Why be honest only in anger but not in the smaller instances along the way where we bite our tongue?

Why be loyal to others while betraying ourselves?

Aren’t these inconsistencies painful?

Why expect each party in a relationship to be honest about where they’re at and what they’re doing on any given day when we’re involved in an affair? Or why have those expectations when we avoid saying what we truly think or feel? Aren’t we messing ourselves around when we hold back our needs and pretend to be something that we’re not?

It’s like washing your front but not your back.

It’s not about trying to be a saint. Instead, it’s about recognising that if you say you value something, value it authentically. Strive to let that value permeate your life. When you become more conscious about how what you prioritise shakes down through your life, you become more conscious about what you’re in alignment with.

So what next?

1. Check in with your emotions

If you claim to be honest, loyal, loving, kind, empathetic, etc., but experience recurring feelings of anger, resentment, blame, shame and sadness that overwhelm you, you are not practising your values with yourself. In your efforts to please others, you’ve slipped into doing good things for the wrong reasons, cutting you off from your honesty. Acknowledge the sources of these emotions. From there, you can practice the self-care that comes with saying no, recognising your limit, and doing things without an agenda.

2. Don’t cherry-pick the “good points” in people

Respect is accepting that person for who they are not what you would prefer them to be. You don’t focus purely on one aspect of a person and create great expectations out of it. You either have to acknowledge and accept a person for who they are or admit that you don’t know them well. When you practice acceptance, your next actions will be from a conscious place.

3. Look for consistency instead of looking for your markers

What you interpret as a positive indicator of what’s coming in a relationship is something that someone else might not. What you overvalue in others is not necessarily the same thing that they’ll value in you. Whatever you assume has to consistently keep coming back for it to be considered real understanding and knowledge. Look for the landmarks of healthy relationships, not red-herring hallmarks. There’s no need to be on high alert waiting for your antennae to be pinged. Instead, it’s about consistently showing up as yourself and being open to receiving the truth about that person through your interactions.

4. Distinguish between preference and programming

Patterns occur when you’re living unconsciously. Quite simply, if you have a ‘type’, it’s programming, not preference. It’s effectively looking out for the same cues and triggers to switch yourself to autopilot. If you’ve been tripped up by type, it’s time to go through each aspect of it. Ask: What is this? Why do I believe it’s an indicator of someone’s character and direction? Asking, Why wouldn’t someone who was [the opposite or something different] be attractive or able to love me?, helps to distinguish taste from core values. If your type is weighted towards secondary values, or they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, break the faux rules of toxic type to break your pattern.

5 Pay attention to what you don’t have in common

Big differences in core values lead to tension, trust issues and immediate or eventual incompatibility. Needless to say, if you don’t have the same relationship aspirations and values in common, it doesn’t matter what you think you have in common, your relationship isn’t going anywhere.

6 Is what you assume true of all people?

So many Baggage-Reclaimers assume that if someone appears to have high intelligence or they command respect or enjoy popularity that ipso facto, they are emotionally intelligent and as such will do ABC (e.g. provide a loving relationship, offer safety and security, know everything). When you focus on whether somebody comes from a place of love, care, trust and respect of themselves and others, it’s self-evident regardless of intelligence and popularity.

7 Apply the relationship stages

Does the evidence you use to define certain people or to create certain expectations, represent the stage of the relationship that you’re at? For example, if you’re still banging on about something from the beginning or you keep circling back to a ‘good point’, it’s time to update. Similarly, if you’re talking about someone with a level of certainty despite you only knowing them a wet week, roll back.

8 Be the thing that you seek

Look up the definition of a value and think about what it means to you and how that plays out so that you’re not just playing lip service to it. e.g. Ask, What would someone who was honest do [in a variety of situations]? and you will see how someone who chooses that value as often as possible, even when it’s tricky, strives to live that value. Are you embodying that value? Have you seen evidence of that value outside of the context in which you originally attributed it to someone? Look for more than feelings and words.

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