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Shared Values Over Shared Interests: What’s Most Important in Relationships

I have been married to my high school sweetheart for ten years. There’s a sense of comfort and routine that accompanies a commitment of that length. When we first met, we couldn’t have been more opposite. He was the outgoing theater star who loved to keep up with sports while I was the quiet and shy bookworm already thinking about applying to universities while still in my freshman year. At first, those differences attracted us to each other and were the impetus in our interest.

Scientists reveal that while the phrase “opposites attract” might be true in some instances, what’s really at play is an underlying tension. When we meet someone who challenges us and stretches our idea of the norm, our eyes are opened and possibilities that seemed closed off before suddenly seem within reach. For instance, I never pictured myself on stage at a high school musical. I was much more comfortable behind the scenes, zipping up costumes and helping to re-apply actor makeup. Yet, when I first met my future husband, he pulled a few strings and got me a side part in our school’s production of “Grease” that year. It was nerve-wracking and I was horrified at first, but it ended up being one of the highlights of that season of life for me. It got me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to expand my horizons a little. Likewise, I introduced him to country music, novellas, and my favorite author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He graduated with a deeper appreciation for the arts and culture than he’d had before.

Interests vs. Values: What Does It Mean?

While I share that story to reveal that there are indeed, instances where opposites are attracted to each other, it’s important to also note that while individual interests might vary, for a relationship to last for the long-term, there have to be mutual, shared values. That means that one partner might love swing dancing, chick flicks and staying up late, while the other prefers action movies, watching baseball and going to bed early. Still, they should agree on the “big” stuff in life, like their future plans for children, where they want to live, and what they ultimately want.

Do Opposites Really Attract Forever? Science Says "No"

Remember the science behind opposites attracting? More research reveals that’s primarily a surface-level infatuation. Yes, we’re drawn to people who are different because as a species, we simply like to learn about viewpoints and interests that are different from ours. It’s why we’re drawn to magicians who push boundaries, celebrities who live more lavishly than we could even imagine, and anyone else who appears to be more exciting or interesting than us. Still, studies show that people do not form strong partnerships or friendships with people whose values, prejudices, and views are different from theirs.

When researchers first made this discovery, it was essentially a paradigm shift in how we view relationships. For so long, the notion of the good girl being attracted to the bad boy was an image we held true, yet no one checks in on that rebellious couple 20 years down the road when school is over and bills are due and babies are crying. If the bad boy is still out riding motorcycles, partying until dawn and rebuking authority, chances are the good girl isn’t sticking around. Why? Because that surface-level attraction has waned and real life has set in, and the picture they’d painted of a life together isn’t as ideal as they’d first imagined, because their core values were so opposing.

Conducting a study of more than 1,500 random pairs spanning romantic relationships, friendships, and acquaintances, researchers asked each one to list their core beliefs, values and personality traits. The results revealed that all the pairs had similar outlooks and life views linking them together, even if they had just met each other.

I don't think opposites attract. I think like attracts like. So, I don't think that they do attract—opposites. Only when you're talking about magnetic poles.

— Ashton Kutcher

Strong Foundation, Strong Relationship

So, what are core values and how can you determine if you share them with your significant other? In essence, these are the beliefs that make up the foundation of your being. They include such aspects as your:

  • Religion
  • Political beliefs
  • Career goals and choices
  • Lifestyle
  • Hobbies, interests, and ways you spend your free time

These may have been instilled in you in childhood, or you may have developed them over the course of your lifetime. Regardless, they direct your actions whether you realize it or not, and they’re a big part of what makes you unique. They also directly influence your conscience. When you do something that goes against your core values, you feel it in your gut and become uncomfortable. Thus, if you’re linked to someone who’s always putting you in that awkward and compromising position, chances are low that the relationship will continue to flourish.

Successful couples are those who connect on that deep level and share those core values that can propel them into the future. Then, at the end of the road when it’s just you two left when the kids have grown up and left the house, hobbies have extinguished, and there’s nothing but two rocking chairs on the front porch, you’ll have that common bond to fall back on. That’s a love that will last, and stand the test of time.

Comments

Yves on April 25, 2018:

Wonderful article. I couldn't agree with you (and research) more. I wish all couples would take the time to discuss core values before making a lifelong commitment to marry.

Frankly, I have heard of couples who have taken extensive questionnaires regarding their values (via a marriage and family counselor) and who afterward realized they no longer even like the person they had thought about marrying the day before. Why? Because they realized they were in love with a fantasy, having never asked valid questions in a way that may solicit honest responses.

Long story short, same core values most certainly do matter in a marriage. Thank you for writing this valuable hub.

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