LOVE LINGERS HERE: INTIMATE ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS XVI. PLATE THREE: DECIDING WHAT’S IMPORTANT (IDENTIFYING SHARED VALUES)
This third plate is closely related to the first two. In pure form, it often only emerges fairly late in the life of a couple, though issues concerned with values are intimately involved in all aspects of a person’s or couple’s life. Early on, most young couples will make decisions about spending priorities, political affiliations, recreational preferences and other matters related to values based on the preferences and affiliations of their parents. They will either uncritically accept their parent’s values or will react against their parents by selecting opposing values. In either case, the couple is dependent on parents for definition of central values. Later in life, men and women are much more likely to form independent definitions of central life values. Furthermore, the clarification and enactment of these values usually become increasingly important to the partners in a relationship.
The values plate is closely tied to the individual developmental stages of the two partners, hence this plate often continues to change throughout the life of the couple. Several adult development researchers (notably Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan) have provided extensive evidence indicating that adults continue to struggle with and change personal values throughout their lives. As couples mature, their mutual decisions and commitments regarding values tend to become increasingly unique. Their values structure reflects their own distinctive life experiences, rather than the socially-prescribed expectations of their culture, society or friends, or the values and priorities of their own parents. In this sense, the values structure plate is likely to move further away from the socio-economic plate as a couple matures, sometimes leaving a rather formidable and alienating chasm between a couple and the people with whom this couple has affiliated over the past twenty to thirty years.