Lifetime Connections

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7 Ways to Tell If You'll Work as a Couple Long-Term

Eventually, values matter.

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When it comes to keeping a relationship fresh and fulfilling for the long term, or even for a third or fourth date, it comes down to the evolutionary need to find a partner who potentially would be a good parent to your children—even if you cannot imagine being anywhere near ready for a brand new, car-seat equipped, five-star safety-rated, DVD-equipped SUV.

We are programmed to prefer partners who are different enough from ourselves to keep the relationship fresh and exciting (and, in terms of evolution, to keep us from inadvertently settling down with someone just a little too genetically similar—meaning, related), but similar enough in core values to assure us that if the time comes, they will be as good partners to us and parents to any potential children as we feel we would be ourselves.

All about the values

Seven core value types have been identified as universal—acknowledged and ascribed to around the globe. So no matter where you live, chances are strong that you have already formed your own personal values, to some degree, in the seven areas listed below. Research also indicates that relationships that are built on shared values are much more likely to endure—sure, a fantastic lover offers thrills and chills, but someone who shares your core values will be by your side once the early excitement subsides and the goosebumps disappear.

When you feel that a relationship has not moved in the direction that you thought or hoped it might, or if a lover just doesn’t seem to fit your life when you are out of the bedroom, or the idea of spending the rest of your life waking up to the person seems more like a sentence than a partnership, there may be some mismatched values.

What do you value?

To determine what your most important values are, take a moment to reflect on your own personal experiences and expectations within the relationship and outside the relationship. Next, use the categories and examples below to write down the values that you hold most dear. Depending on the relationship, you may invite your partner to do the same. If that is not a possibility, use your values as a guide to seeing how well your partner fits and this may help you decide whether to keep moving the relationship forward or acknowledge that it is time to find a better fit:

  • Prosocial (Caring about others). Example: A partner supports me when I am feeling down.
  • Restrictive Conformity (Avoiding harm to others). Example: Partners do not lie to one other.
  • Enjoyment (Seeking pleasure). Example: Partners should be able to laugh and joke together.
  • Achievement (Personal success in life). Example: I feel everyone should work hard to succeed on the job.
  • Maturity (Understanding, accepting self and others). Example: When my partner fails me or in pursuit of a goal, I do not withhold my love.
  • Self-direction (Independence in thought and action). Example: Even though we are a committed couple, my partner and I do not try to control each other’s thoughts, behaviors, or beliefs.
  • Security (Safety and stability of self, relationships; belongingness in groups). Example: My partner and I take time to discuss how the relationship is going and work together to ensure mutual satisfaction in our relationship.

And remember: The person who fit your life and your needs last year, or even last week, may not be the person who will be the best long-term fit. Values are pretty strongly held, core beliefs. You may go crazy for someone who makes you forget your name with a single meaningful glance, but what will really make you purr for the long haul is the person who will get up first to make the coffee, let out the dog, or feed the baby on those morning when you just have to go back to sleep.

Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, is a licensed counselor and professor at Northern Illinois University.
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