Own My Growth

Helping folks with practical tips to manage themselves better

Dealing With A Relationship-A Mental Model.


We all have our share of stressed or damaged relationships.

You start out being on good terms initially. But something changes over time, and the relationship starts breaking down. The same person with whom you were enjoying a decent relationship now becomes a source of stress.

Much as you try, every interaction becomes labored. You feel like the other person is trying very hard to get under your skin to upset you deliberately. You think the problem is always with the other person, and you feel like you are the victim.

I have had a couple of such experiences in my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I have learned something about why stressed relationships happen.

First A Quick Overview Of Values

A value represents a fundamental belief you have about something important for you. A value determines what is essential for you in your leading your life. Values describe the personal qualities you choose to embody to guide your actions. It defines the sort of person you want to be.

Every person is unique with a set of unique values that are instilled through parentage and upbringing. When you interact with someone who shares values that you value, that person’s actions and behavior match your values wavelength. And it is this overlap that becomes the foundation for a good relationship.

Conversely, when the values don’t overlap or when the values are opposite, it becomes a fertile ground for stressed relationships.

  • You like to make quick decisions. The other person always procrastinates. 
  • You like sharing even the tiny details. The other person is secretive and reticent. 
  • You are comfortable being vulnerable, and you open up and share your concerns. The other person is an introvert and does not open up. 
  • You are helpful, always trying to do good for others. The other person is self-centered and does not reciprocate. 
  • The list goes on…..

As an aside, one may wonder about the concept of opposites attract? How does that happen? Here too, the attraction is at the intersection of the values. Someone is docile and gets into a great relationship with someone aggressive. For the outsiders, it appears as opposites attract. But, for the two individuals in the relationship, it is founded on some other common values both of them share, but those are not visible to others.  

Relationship Conflict Is Rooted In A Shift in Values. 

As people grow and mature in life, their values also evolve. For example, when you were young, socializing and building connections was one of your core values. Today, the family may take precedence.

A shift in values on both sides is often the reason while perfectly healthy relationships deteriorate over time. 

Let me illustrate this with an example. Imagine there is a 

gentleman looking to enter into a relationship with someone very confident, good-looking, and caring. Similarly, a young lady seeks a relationship with someone intelligent, well-groomed, and with a sense of humor. When these two individuals who embody the values they seek in the other person come together, chemistry happens. There is a positive overlap of values leading to a great relationship.

Now, after a decade of being together, the relationship does not break up suddenly just because the other person is no longer confident or not intelligent or has lost the sense of humor.

The relationship develops cracks because the values the couple were looking for in each other have changed. With the burden of growing responsibilities, the lady may want the partner to be more helpful on household chores and commit more family time to help her cope with her workplace stress. Similarly, the man in the family may be looking at his partner to understand his challenges at his workplace, which require him to commit more time.

The root cause for broken relationships is often in the shift of values that both sides don’t try to understand. What is important changes for one person but does not change for the other person. When the overlap of values breaks down, friction and stress are a natural consequence.

Adjust Your Actions To Align To The Other Person’s Values

I have, over time, developed a simple mental model that I use to help me manage my struggles.

What is important for the other person? I try to define the core values that are important for the other person, and I ask myself what behavior of mine is not aligned to the other person’s value system. Once I understand that, I adjust my behavior and actions to align with the other person’s values.

  • He was my best friend at work, and our working relationship was frictionless. One day my best friend became my boss. The demands of the more significant role required a shift in his operating values. He needed to be more formal with me. I recognized that shift and adjusted my behavior, respecting the need for more formality. Our relationship thrived, and we continued to be best friends.
  • My client likes efficiency and speed. I am naturally easygoing and want to operate at my own pace. I adjust my operating style to align with my client’s values. Our relationship thrives.

To be great at relationships requires one to be aware of one’s own values and the other person’s values. The chemistry for a great relationship is always at the intersection of values.

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