When I was in my twenties, my dad gave me a Franklin Day Planner and an audiotape on time management. The speaker was Hyrum Smith, co-founder of Franklin Covey. He offered the exercise of identifying our values, defining them and prioritizing them. I diligently pulled out my journal and did as I was told. I wrote things down like: Love, Spirituality, Health, Beauty, Service, Wisdom, Trust, Trustworthiness, Honesty, Responsibility, Loyalty, Integrity…and then proceeded to define what they meant to me. This is an interesting exercise because, if two people, even in the same relationship, tried to define “love,” or “loyalty,” or even “family” they may well have different definitions. So, even when your stated values are the same, your understanding of the meaning of those values may be different. This can impact your relationship.
Once identified, our values serve as guideposts pointing toward our goals and help to maintain our integrity. For instance, if acquiring money is a goal, there are a lot of ways to get it. Some fall within our values boundaries—earning, investing, or inheriting. Other means of obtaining money may not—stealing, selling drugs, or gambling. So knowing our values (and committing to them) can make decisions more obvious.
It is the importance of prioritization I want to emphasize here because this one, sometimes subtle, awareness can make a big difference.
Prioritization is important because quite often two values come into conflict with each other. If we know which one we hold at a higher standard, it helps to make the right decision. For instance, if “work” and “family” are both on our values list, but a family obligation conflicts with a work obligation, we need to be clear on which one we are going to honor. Sometimes, family may rank higher emotionally, but work allows us to pay for the family’s food and shelter, making it more immediately important. Communicating and agreeing with our partners on the prioritization of our values can reduce the stress when decisions are made.
Sometimes our values collide, making the execution of this exercise in our daily lives more difficult. Loyalty and integrity are great examples. Most of us hold both of these fairly high on our lists. However, prioritizing loyalty over integrity can come with consequences such as when people "look the other way" when observing shady operations in their workplace. Honoring a sense of loyalty to their boss or workplace may cause them to ignore, or even participate in, a variety of offenses. Of course, “security” also complicates this situation. If someone is afraid of losing the security of a job or a relationship they may value that security above their own integrity, ignoring that there isn’t a lot of security if the boss or the boyfriend (or you) get caught.
These values also come into conflict with family relationships. When you discover your child is doing something illegal, do you protect them or report them? How about when your parents or siblings are violating the law? What about when someone tells you a secret that involves someone else that you love? One man shared with me his internal conflict when a friend told him a secret about his brother’s wife. Suddenly his loyalty to his brother and integrity as a confidant were in conflict.
I invite you to explore your values, especially as they relate to love:
Write down each of your values on a separate index cards. Prioritize the list by moving the index cards around and see if you can clearly delineate the order in which you honor them. If it helps, imagine that this is a target and your job is to see which values fall within the bull’s eye and which come in each successive ring. After you have identified your values, define what each one means to you.
Then, keep them consciously in mind and commit yourself to living in alignment with them, allowing them to guide your responses. The results will be greater self-esteem, clarity, focus, and problem-solving ability—and a healthier love life.