Finding Our Values

July 11, 2012


It often begins in the bathroom.  That is the place where many couples discover that their values, traditions, or ways of doing things are different.  The conversation may go something like this.  “Don’t you know that the toilet paper hangs over the top of the roll?” or “Why do you squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle?”  When the holidays come around it may sound like “Well, my family always celebrates this way…”


One of the important tasks of developing and sustaining relationships is to define those values, traditions, and rituals we hold dear and would like to pass on to children.  A first step in the process is identifying what they are.  When I work with engaged couples, I ask them to identify the values they received from each of their parents that they want to continue in their own families.  Then, to identify those they received that they do not want to keep.  They can then begin to establish rituals, traditions, and ways of doing things that flow from those values.  Some folks find it easy to name values, yet they may not be clear as to how this translates into day to day life situations.  In addition, they may believe in one set of values and live by a totally different set.  A large part of the disconnect has to do with the how and where our values come from.  In past decades, many of our values originated in the family, school, and faith communities.  With the influx of more media, advertising, social opportunities, community connections, the internet, etc., people are exposed to more information that can impact their choices from day to day. How do they sift through what it important to listen and pay attention to, and what do they let go of?  How do parents begin to choose the values they bring to their relationship?   What happens when a value held in a family of origin didn’t work particularly well, what do we do to change that moving forward?


I invite you to begin to think about some of these questions for yourself and how they affect you.  There is no right or wrong answers.  Exploring them may be exciting, fun, or uncomfortable.  In any case, you will learn some things about yourself, who you are, and the choices that you make.


I am reminded of the story told by family therapist, Virginia Satir.   A woman was making a pot roast and cut each end off before putting it in the pan.  Her husband asked why she did that and she replied, “that was how my mother did it.”   They then asked mother why she did it and she replied, “that was how my mother did it.”  Still curious about the cutting the ends of the roast, they asked grandma who said, “that was the only way it would fit in the pan.”


Consider this activity….


List the values you received in your family of origin.  Why are they important to you, or not?  What did your parents or caregivers do that led you to believe that this was important?  Why do you think that value was important to your parents or caregivers?


Think about talking with the people who taught you those values, and ask them what values they believe that they taught in the family and see if the lists match.  As you discuss them, find out why those values were important to them, and what they believe they did to pass them on.


Sandy Keiser

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