As human beings, we all have our own values, beliefs and attitudes that we have developed and continue to develop throughout the course of our lives.
When Sandra and I got to know each other, initially as friends and learned about each other’s history and previous relationships, we realised that we would not have been the right fit (for each other) in our twenties or even thirties. But as we got older and more settled, and our values became stronger and more defined, we found we are just right (for each other).
The man who views the world at fifty the same way as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life. – Muhammad Ali
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What are values?
When we married, we documented our common core values and created a commitment statement. A total of twelve statements, together form the basis for how we live, act and communicate in our relationship. When we owned a house, the single-page document was framed, sitting on our bedroom tallboy as a gentle daily reminder.
Different upbringings impact your values
Given that we are from different countries (I am from New Zealand and Sandra is from East Germany), have different cultural upbringings and speak different native languages, it was most important to us to recognise our past lives and the fact that we are individual beings before we are a couple. All too often people in relationships try to change each other or over-adapt, ignoring their own needs, and causing frustration and disappointment.
Example commitment statements
Our first commitment reads:
First and foremost, we acknowledge that we are both individuals. We have our own goals, experiences, preferences, rhythm, temperament, physicality, strengths, thoughts, feelings and opinions.
Our commitment statement continues:
At times, we may be on the same wavelength; at times, we may not. But at any time, we feel safe to be ourselves.
We both have friends who have experienced controlling relationships and have witnessed the pain caused when one partner tries to manipulate the other. Being able to speak our minds and feeling safe no matter what was (again) so important to us that we made it part of our commitment to each other.
Don’t worry, we won’t bore you with all twelve statements… we just wanted to give you some examples. Besides, they are very personal (and should remain that way).
Seven steps to define a Commitment Statement
So how can you define your personal values and develop a commitment statement? Firstly, you don’t need a partner to do this. This could be your commitment statement to yourself – a documented set of personal values that you commit to.
Our recommended steps are:
- Create space and time to write down words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs of ideas that resonate with you.
- Write down experiences that make you happy or sad and why – make note of the feelings you had.
- Consider values found throughout humanity such as
- Physical well-being (for example, rest, safety, touch)
- Autonomy (for example, choice, dignity, self-expression)
- Peace (for example, acceptance, hope, and ease of mind)
- Meaning (for example, celebration, participation, understanding)
- Connection (for example, warmth, respect, consideration)
- Play (for example, adventure, humour, joy)
- Write down 7 – 9 value statements and see if they encapsulate your commitment to yourself / your partner. Add more / combine them as you feel is needed.
- Next to each statement, write down how you will enact those values. For example, it may be important for you to be respected by your partner. Do you enact this value by never asking for their opinion or always being negative towards them? Do you value a deep sense of peace and harmony, but you don’t let go of clutter or negative feelings, and you stick your head in the sand when a conflict arises in your family? Make these connections between your values and your daily life.
- Allow the values and statements time to be considered. Don’t be scared to change them (while in draft form) if the words don’t suit you.
- Practice these acts and review your values regularly. Your values are likely to change over time as you get older, have more experiences and have different priorities. Perhaps do a formal review of them every few years.