The Honeymoon of a relationship is inundated with endless ways two people are similar. There is ongoing delight over how much the two have in common. As each person's unique values and needs surface, the initial enchantment begins to fade. It's time to either lament over the loss of something more charming, wondering if a wrong choice has been made, or graciously accept it's time to learn how to deal with the reality of different values and needs.
There are three expressions of people being different that call for special attention and skill. These differences include: conflict of values, differing needs and conflict of needs.
Conflict of Values
A conflict of values is one of the most arduous tasks a relationship can face. Our values reflect our strongest beliefs and most cherished ideals. They give direction to our core life experiences such as parenting, religious and spiritual orientation, financial practices and political ideology. When values are significantly different, the natural reaction is to move into fight or flight. In either case, the relationship will experience substantial tension. Here are several recommended ways to work with a values conflict.
*Use the opportunity to deepen your understanding of your own values. Review early indoctrination, significant life experiences and fears that may contribute to your values position. As you do so, see if a new level of flexibility opens, leaving you more receptive to your partner's values.
*Be willing to learn from your partner's values. Heraclitus suggested, "It is what opposes that helps and from different tones comes the fairest tone." If you are able to move beyond simply making your partner wrong, then there is the possibility of learning and expanding how you see a situation. Maybe, there is the creation of a new perspective or the "fairest tone."
*Becoming a source of support for your partner. If you are able to move beyond who's right and who's wrong, your partner may feel more accepted, diminishing the tension in the relationship.
*Modeling the value you hold. It can be very helpful to eliminate attempts at influencing your partner. As you let go of an attachment to convert your partner to your values, they may become receptive to the merit of your values.
*Becoming more accepting. If you can let go of the fear that typically is attached to a conflict of values, then it may be possible to become more accepting of the differences. This is especially true if your partner's values have no actual concrete impact upon your life.
*Attending to a wound. Sometimes an early trauma locks us rigidly into a particular values perspective. For example, a man receives corporal punishment as a child and reproduces the alleged value of physical punishment with his own children. Addressing the injury may bring about more suppleness and flexibility pertaining to values, especially if the partner's values have no concrete effect upon you. An example might be that your partner values the experience of psychotherapy. He makes his appointments at a convenient time for both of you and pays for his sessions from his own savings. Although you do not value psychotherapeutic work, your partner's value may likely have little or no concrete impact upon your life.
Unmet Needs vs. Satisfaction
The most prevalent expression of difference in a relationship happens when one person's needs are not being met while the other person feels satisfied. We can say that when one person expresses an unmet need, people are being asked to address a relationship problem. There are typically two obstacles to addressing the problem and reaching resolution. The first obstacle is confusion about who has the problem. When folks with the unmet need do not speak directly about their need, they commonly use language that is blameful and accusatory. Such language creates confusion about who actually has the problem. Some examples include: "You play golf every weekend", "You certainly know how to make sure you find time to go shopping with your friends", "You are increasingly putting in more hours at the office". Using clear, non-blameful language to represent the unmet need clarifies who has the problem. Such communication sounds like: "I want to spend more time with your and I am interested in exploring how to make that happen." The person with the unmet need has the problem.
The second obstacle to resolution is confusion about the nature of the problem. Once clear and direct language is employed, it becomes obvious that the problem is the unmet need.
Listeners hearing the speaker describe his or her unmet need, are asked to hold two focuses: 1) Listening to the unmet need, and 2) Listening to the request. Remaining focused on these two items is facilitated when listeners do not blame themselves for their partner having an unmet need. They respond to the request by either saying, "Yes", "No" or "I want to negotiate". They refrain from offering any assessment of the request.
Conflict of Needs
A conflict of needs happens when people have different needs. Sam wants to go to the game on Friday evening, while Sally wants to go to the concert. Typically, the difference reflected in a conflict of needs can be easily dealt with. There are several key steps.
1. Both people must be willing to let go of an attachment to win.
2. Both people must be genuinely interested in supporting the other person's need as well as their own.
3. Both people must be willing to brainstorm possible ways that both needs can be met, and agree upon an option they believe will work.
4. Both people agree to meet after the events take place to assess whether or not both people are satisfied.
We can acquire the skills that help deal with differences in a relationship. The differences reflected in a values conflict, a needs conflict or when someone has an unmet need do not have to morph into a crisis. A relationship that is able to minimize the occurrence of crisis is also effectively avoiding unnecessary drama. The result is the attainment of a resiliency that strengthens the connective tissue and deepens a faith in the ability to weather relational breakdowns.