Relationships – or should I say, good relationships – are all about compassion and compromise. You’re a team, and you’re ready to take on the world together. Sometimes, and ideally, before the relationship gets too serious, you need to check on your fellow player and make sure that you’re looking towards the same goals and have similar values.
Here’s a case study based on my own relationship. My partner and I agree that it’s unfair and sexist for women to do all the housework; therefore, labour is split 50/50. However, he has eczema and can’t touch most common detergents, and I really hate the sound of hoovering. So I do anything that involves close contact with bleach, and he cleans the floors. It took us a while to figure this out, but ultimately we love and respect one another and therefore don’t need to constantly fight about it. Our values are aligned and because of this, we will find a way to make our relationship work.
Here’s an example of this going awry. A man and a woman are married. He works as a pilot, she is a nurse. During the pandemic, she works in a Covid ward and sees truly harrowing things, and he stays at home. Eventually, the vaccine is released and she, gladly, gets it. He decides he doesn’t want to. He’s fired from his job, and his wife kicks him out of the house.
He’s (unsurprisingly) been reading rubbish on social media about how supposedly dangerous the vaccine is (it isn’t) and when she points out that he should look for reliable sources and mistrust rambling and rumours from conspiracy theorists, he feels patronised. Difficult not to talk down to such an idiot, but that’s just me. I am 100% on the wife’s side.
She has spent years looking after people dying, and now he’s refusing to have a quick jab that will save his life, save the lives of vulnerable people around him, and as a fun bonus, get him his job back and prevent a divorce. The husband does not seem to value human life, and the wife doesn’t seem to value ridiculous lies and misinformation he believes.
Leaving Relationships With Different Values
It’s awful that this has got to this point. But we hear these stories with increasing regularity. People leaving their spouses because they’re #alllivesmatter instead of #blacklivesmatter (all lives do matter, but black people are the ones being harassed and murdered by the police, so let’s focus on reminding people that black lives have value) or because they voted for Trump, or Brexit, or the local fascists. It’s really interesting, because whilst we know that people change their minds, grow and evolve during their lives, it astonishes me that you could marry someone who had the potential to hold such different values.
Are We Capable of Change?
Perhaps there is hope. The man in the vaccine situation went online and asked for advice. In that particular case though, there is no compromise or negotiation: he either gets the vaccine or gets a divorce. But the fact that he’s willing to look for help is actually pretty promising and suggests he might be able to change his mind. Or he wants the validation of strangers on the internet.
Most arguments between couples can reach some kind of mutual understanding, but what’s beneath them are the values. Either you think something is important, or you don’t. Can you educate someone into understanding your perspective? Perhaps. It’s worth a try, of course, but don’t feel like you have to spend your life with someone who doesn’t respect the things you cherish.
This is one of the scariest things about marriage. You spend your courtships getting to know one another, and then you commit, but what if the other person changes into someone you don’t know and don’t like? It’s not a problem if someone becomes more understanding, or decides they actually don’t like olives, but watching someone you love become a creature filled with hate or apathy must be terrifying.
I don’t really know if I have any solutions. Make sure you really know someone before you commit to them, I suppose. Premarital counselling has always struck me as a good idea, so you can make sure you understand everything about the person you’re about to marry. Let’s be honest: if you’re holding a wedding when you’re in your late 20s/30s, there will be things you haven’t even considered about your later life that would require a spouse’s input.
How will you approach situations with your children as they leave home, what would you want to do with retirement, and what are your opinions on end-of-life care. You can discuss and renegotiate as you go, but you need to start with a person who has a good heart and holds the same values as you.