Online dating profiles provide a window into who someone is and what they have to offer (albeit often carefully curated). But along with showcasing someone’s interests and personality, a profile can also be a helpful indicator of a potential partner’s values. That picture of summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro may signal a value having to do with adventure or adversity. A snapshot of a backyard BBQ with siblings telegraphs values around fun, family, and quality time.
So what are values, exactly? Values are, in their simplest form, the beliefs that an individual or community deems important. Values guide one’s behavior and define one’s perspective on life. In relationships, personal value systems can determine compatibility—and often make the difference between a long-term and short-lived connection.
At Keepler, our approach is rooted in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), a form of positive psychology that calls on a six-pronged “Hexaflex” to help develop emotional flexibility. “Values” is one of the six core tenets of ACT (along with Present Moment, Committed Action, Self as Context, Acceptance, and Defusion—all of which will be explored in separate Keepler reflection guides).
This Keepler reflection guide is designed to help you take a deep dive into your own values and learn more about how doing this work can lead to a more satisfying dating life.
Discerning Your Core Values
Odds are you can name some of your core values off the top of your head. Perhaps fairness matters deeply to you, or maybe social justice resonates strongly. But have you ever done a thorough assessment of your personal value system?
Taking time to clarify the values that you hold dear can not only yield a deeper understanding of yourself and what drives you, but also help you find the right fit in a partner. The beauty of individual values is that none can be considered right or wrong; it’s simply a matter of finding someone whose values align well with yours. (Therapist and ACT expert Russ Harris likens it to preferences for pizza toppings.)
In identifying your core values, Harris suggests looking at an extensive list of commonly held values and ranking each one as Very Important (“V”), Quite Important (“Q”), or “Not Important (“N”)—being sure to rank at least 10 as Very Important. From there, Harris recommends narrowing down to six core values from the “V” selections. (You can find Harris’ list of 60 values and do the exercise here.)
This type of exploration can also be a means of revisiting the influences that have shaped your values and views on life. Many factors combine to form your unique value set—from the work you do to the religion with which you were raised, from friends to family members, from role models to archenemies. These influences can leave resonant or dissonant imprints, both of which can inform your personal value system.
Suggested prompts for further exploration:
- What are some values that you share with those close to you (and some that you don’t)?
- What are some things that anger you to your core? Often this type of exploration can unearth some deep-rooted values (i.e. anger at animal cruelty might signal a value around kindness).
- What values point to fulfillment from your point of view?
What Do You Value in Others?
Ever been stumped by the question, “What are you looking for in a partner?” Tuning into your values will make sure that the answer to this question is crystal-clear moving forward.
Values such as honesty, freedom, creativity, and family are all typically considered desirable, but when given the task to prioritize these ideas (as in Harris’ assessment), we start to understand what we truly cherish in ourselves and in a potential partner. The ultimate goal? To create a mutually fulfilling and satisfying life together that honors your shared values.
In the context of relationships, The Love Lab researcher Kyle Benson recommends making a list of values specific to what matters to you in dating and then ranking them using percentages. In the example Benson provides here, a hypothetical 24-year-old woman named Kelly ranks attractiveness at 37% and socio-economic status at 25%, but religion and political ideology weigh in at just 4% and 1%, respectively.
Benson suggests using this type of analysis to determine where and how you spend your time looking for a partner—for instance, “Kelly” might try meeting new people at a nightclub or high-end restaurant rather than at church or a volunteer opportunity.
“I like to think of matching values as a car key,” Benson writes. “The feedback is the key; the unique shape is the value. Whether it starts the car is dependent on whether the key matches the keyhole.”
So how can we put the proverbial car in gear? By putting time and effort into identifying your values, you’ve already taken the first step. Illuminating your beliefs around what makes a full and meaningful life helps get you that much closer to sharing that life with someone.
Suggested prompts for further exploration:
- Spend some time journaling about a peak experience in a past relationship—a fantastic sexual connection, a memorable date, a thoughtful gift. What values are signified behind the reasons you consider this a peak experience?
- What would it feel like to be in your ideal relationship? Connected? Independent? Free? These are all indicators of values that can come into play when in an aligned state.