Research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin explored the relationship between personal values and relationship quality. The findings reveal that when individuals hold self-transcendence values (equality, kindness, compassion) they are more likely to report greater relationship satisfaction.
In addition, when one partner holds transcendent values, it does not have consequences for the other partner. This suggests transcendent values are valuable to relationship satisfaction only for those who hold them.
Studies have indicated that romantic partnerships between those sharing similar values are more harmonious. How the content of people’s values affects their romantic relationships remains unknown. Schwartz’s Value Theory has become the go-to framework for understanding human values worldwide and can predict them in over 75 different nations.
The model was updated in 2012 to include 19 different types of values. These values are grouped into two main dimensions. The first dimension is called self-enhancement, which includes values like wanting to have power over others and striving for personal success. The opposite of self-enhancement is self-transcendence, which involves accepting and caring for others, and being concerned about their well-being.
The second dimension is called openness to change, which includes values like being open to new ideas, being ready for change, and being independent in thought and action. The opposite of openness to change is conservation, which involves valuing tradition, preserving customs, and maintaining stability.
These dimensions are integral components of their relationship functioning and well-being. Previous research has indicated that self-transcendence values positively relate to romantic relationship quality while self-enhancement values negatively correlate to romantic relationship quality; hence this research seeks to explore this correlation.
Reine C. van der Wal and colleagues conducted four studies using surveys to collect information; participants completed questionnaires about personal values, relationship quality, demographic information, and cultural background. Each study surveyed between 200 – 400 individuals representing various cultural backgrounds. The total number of participants was 1,056.
The findings revealed that people report higher quality relationships when they hold values associated with self-transcendence, including equality, social justice, kindness, compassion, creativity, and independence. By contrast, those who embrace power values (dominance or achievement) or pleasure-seeking goals tend to report lower-quality relationships.
“Our findings have important implications for both the study of romantic relationships and research on human values. Advancing our knowledge about romantic relationships, we present robust evidence of the influence of valuing self-transcendence,” the researchers wrote.
Studies conducted to date have also confirmed the findings from this investigation that value disagreements among partners can significantly impede relationship functioning. When partners hold diverging value priorities or when one partner prioritizes power or hedonistic values over self-transcendent ones, conflicts can arise within relationships causing dissatisfaction and tension, resulting in discontentment and eventual breakups or other forms of separation from them.
Interestingly, the study found that the values related to the second dimension of the value structure, which is openness to change versus conservation, were not very helpful in understanding how well romantic relationships were functioning. These values showed weak and inconsistent correlations with relationship quality.
The research team suggests that understanding the role of personal values in relationship functioning may provide insight into why some relationships fail while others thrive. By identifying which personal values contribute to better or poorer relationship quality, couples may work collaboratively towards prioritizing shared values while more efficient handling and managing disagreements.
“Our research shows that, in a relationship context, the focus on helping others conveyed by self-transcendence values manifests as more pro-relational attitudes, more intrinsic motivation to maintain relationships, and higher levels of responsiveness to their partner’s needs,” the researchers explained.
However, this study’s limitations include its cross-sectional design and self-reported measures. Researchers recognize that causality cannot be deduced from these findings due to only measuring participants’ personal values and relationship quality at one point in time. In addition, there may be bias due to self-report measures.
Although limited, this study offers valuable insight into the significance of individual values in romantic relationships. Findings indicate that couples prioritizing self-transcendent, positive values may have higher-quality relationships. Furthermore, shared values play an integral part in relationship functioning, while value disagreements could potentially compromise it and have negative repercussions for relationship health.
Researchers suggest that future studies explore how personal values change and interact with factors influencing relationship quality, like attachment style and communication patterns. Furthermore, interventions designed to increase quality should incorporate an examination of values.
The study, “Values in romantic relationships“, was authored by Reine C. van der Wal, Lukas F. Litzellachner, Johan C. Karremans, Nadia Buiter, Jamie Breukel, and Gregory R. Maio.