You’re on the phone with your partner while you’re driving or waiting to pick up your kids. Distracted by the tasks at hand, you say something offhand or inconsiderate to your spouse.

After you hang up, you start to think about the conversation. The offhand remark makes you cringe, and suddenly you start to feel awful.

That awful feeling is your conscience talking. And the fact that you feel bad about how you acted? That’s actually a really good thing. When you next see your spouse, acknowledge that your actions were inappropriate with an apology and that will probably be the end of the issue.

Doing this is honoring your core values. You did something. You felt bad about it. Because you knew it went against what you stand for. Feeling bad is your conscience telling you that you just did something that you don’t really agree with. So you fessed up and said you were sorry.

We all hold onto core values that act as a moral compass. They lead us in the direction of a happy, productive life not just for ourselves, but also our partners.

Unfortunately, we do not always honor those values. Sometimes this is because we don’t want to admit to making a mistake. Other times, the negative things we feel can be confusing, with anger or sadness replacing guilt. And then there are the times where our emotions seem to shut down altogether.

But when you ignore or fail to recognize your core values, it can do a lot of harm to your relationship. So that’s where you need to start: recognizing the things you value.

What Are Your Core Relationship Values?

While everyone has slightly different core values, there are constants in just about everybody. In a relationship, our moral compass follows these six core values:

  • Improvement – We don’t want to do or say anything that we know will hurt our relationship or make any of our current relationship conflicts worse. Just as we ideally strive to improve our careers, health, and other aspects of our life, our core values are always leading us in a direction that will improve our relationship.
  • Appreciation – You have a pretty fantastic partner, don’t you? Deep down, your moral compass and conscience know how valuable your partner is to your life. Our core values lead us to appreciating the good things in our lives, and working to “pay them back” for the wonderful gifts and lessons they have given us.
  • Connection – Human beings are social animals – we strive for connection with other people. Romantic relationships and marriages satisfy some of our deepest needs for connection with another person. Anything that detaches us from our partner automatically leaves us feeling empty, or wanting something we do not have in front of us. How do your actions and words bring you closer to your partner (or pull you apart)?
  • Protection – When we have a good thing in front of us, we do everything we can do protect it and keep it from going away. When we feel a break in connection, or that our relationship is going in the opposite way than what we want, our instincts kick in and we have the urge to do everything we can to protect the relationship.

I want to conclude the list with two core values that I think may be the most important: integrity and compassion.

  • Integrity – Having integrity in a relationship means always doing what you say you’re going to do unless it becomes impossible. And if it does become impossible, you then need to make amends to the other person. Essentially, integrity means staying true to your words and showing that they matter and you can be trusted.
  • Compassion – Having compassion in a relationship means truly and deeply caring enough to do whatever you can to reduce (and, if possible, eliminate) your partner’s suffering. You don’t want them to feel bad, and you actively try to make them feel better.

The messages we receive from our conscience can all be traced back to these core relationship values.

Moving Forward With Your Core Relationship Values in Mind

So you’ve encountered a situation where you went against your core values. How can you move forward and prevent a situation like this from happening in the future?

First, you must listen to your intuition. If you feel bad about something that has gone against your core values, you must recognize it. Recognizing a harmful situation will help to prevent you from getting into a similar situation in the future.

Next, you have to think about what lead you to do or say the thing that went against your core values.

Finally, you have to apologize and try to remedy the situation at hand. You’ve recognized that your actions went against your core values, so communicate that lesson to our partner. Assure your partner that you have thought about ways to prevent the situation from coming up again, and that you have refocused your mind on improving and protecting your relationship.

Let’s go back to the example we used earlier. You were on the phone with your partner and faced with multiple distractions when you made the off-hand comment. You weren’t paying attention to what you were saying. But now you’ve recognized your mistake.

When you get home, apologize to your partner for the comments you made on the phone. Point out why those comments were harmful, and how they deviated from your core values. Promise to focus on your phone call (or hang up and have the conversation face-to-face) to prevent further distracted or inconsiderate comments. Going through this with your spouse will let them know that you consider your relationship a priority, that you appreciate your partner, and that you want to protect their feelings by giving them your full attention.

What can you do next time to prevent a situation like this from happening? Easy! The first option is to put down the phone when you’re driving. Let your partner know that you are behind the wheel, or distracted with a separate task that requires your full attention. If your partner requires immediate attention, pull over to the side of the road, or put down whatever is distracting you from your phone call.

To Sum It Up 

So, what have we learned today? Basically, trust your gut – it’s your conscience talking. Our conscience communicates with us both when we are following our core values and when we have strayed from the path. When we stray, we can use our core values to move our relationship back in a positive direction.

by listening to your conscience and the lessons it teaches you.

Appreciate the great qualities that attracted you to your partner through your actions, words, and effort.

Deepen your connection by communicating what you have learned, and how you plan to honor your core values in the future.

Protect your relationship with your core values as tools in your relationship toolkit.

As a nice bonus, people who match their behaviors to their core values tend to be happier and have higher self-esteem than those who act against those values.

Imago Relationship Therapy teaches us that change happens best when insight is combined with action. How will you put the insights from this blog post into action moving forward? How will you honor your core values?