When I was in my twenties, my dad gave me a Franklin Day Planner and audiotape on time management. The speaker was Hyrum Smith, co founder of Franklin Covey. He offered the exercise of identifying our values, defining them and prioritizing them. I diligently pulled out my journal and did as I was told. I wrote things down like: Love, Spirituality, Health, Beauty, Service, Wisdom, Trust, Trustworthiness, Honesty, Responsibility, Loyalty, Integrity… and then proceeded to define what they meant to me. This is an interesting exercise because, if two people, even in the same relationship, tried to define “love,” or “loyalty,” or even “family” they may well have different definitions. So, even when your stated values are the same, your understanding of the meaning of those values may be different. This, can impact your relationship.
Once identified, our values serve as guideposts pointing toward our goals and help to maintain our integrity. For instance, if acquiring money is a goal, there are a lot of ways to get it. Some fall within our values boundaries—earning, investing, or inheriting. Other means of obtaining money may not—stealing, selling drugs, or gambling. So knowing our values (and committing to them) can make decisions more obvious.
It is the importance of prioritization I want to emphasize here because this one, sometimes subtle, awareness can make the difference between whether you end up in jail, or divorced, or even dead—in the name of love.
Prioritization is important because quite often two values come into conflict with each other. If we know which one we hold at a higher standard, it helps to make the right decision. For instance, if “work” and “family” are both on our values list, but a family obligation conflicts with a work obligation, we need to be clear on which one we are going to honor. Sometimes, “Family” may rank higher emotionally, but “work” allows us to pay for the family’s food and shelter, making it more immediately important. Any and all forethought to our values will assist us in reducing the stress of decision-making. And communicating and agreeing with our partners on the prioritization of our values can avoid a lot of stress with each other when decisions are made.
Sometimes our values collide, however, making the execution of this exercise in our daily lives more difficult. Loyalty and integrity are great examples. Most of us hold both of these fairly high on our lists. However, prioritizing loyalty over integrity can come with grave consequences. I’m guessing (without any research proof) that women in jail are quite often incarcerated because they chose loyalty to their lovers over integrity. My theory is that often they chose behaviors that aligned with their boyfriends’ choices and desires over their own sense of right and wrong. Had they prioritized their own integrity, or self-esteem, at a higher level than loyalty, they may have kept themselves out of hot water.
This may also explain a lot of white-collar crimes, or at least explains when people ”look the other way” when observing shady operations in their workplace. Honoring a sense of loyalty to their boss or workplace may cause them to ignore, or even participate in, a variety of offenses. Of course, “security” also complicates this situation. If someone is afraid of losing the security of a job or a relationship they may value that security above their own integrity, ignoring that there isn’t a lot of security if the boss or the boyfriend (or you) get caught.
These values also come into conflict with family relationships. When you discover your child is doing illegal things, do you protect them or report them? How about when your parents or siblings are violating the law? What about when someone tells you a secret that involves someone else that you love? One man shared with me his internal conflict when a friend told him a secret about his brother’s wife. Suddenly his loyalty to his brother and integrity as a confidant were in conflict.
I invite you to explore your values, especially as they relate to love:
Write down each of your values on a separate Post-it Note. Prioritize the list by moving the post it notes around and see if you can clearly delineate the order in which you honor them. If it helps, imagine that this is a target and your job is to see which values fall within the bull’s eye and which come in each successive ring. After you have identified your values, define what each one means to you.
Then, keep them consciously in mind and commit yourself to living in alignment with them, allowing them to guide your responses. The results will be greater self-esteem, clarity, focus, and problem-solving ability—and a healthier love life.