In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I have been thinking recently about the definition of "true love," ie, how do you know when you've found it, what are the signs that indicate its presence, and what are the behaviors associated with keeping it alive?
I was reading a Tony Robbins book (don't laugh!), and he had a chapter on what he called a Hierarchy of Values. He was saying that, in order for any relationship, be it business or personal or romantic to be successful, each partner must understand and consciously acknowledge the other partner's Hierarchy of Values. It was an interesting and provocative (although perhaps not original?) way of looking at relationships that kind of hit home.
He lists a bunch of "values" and asks you to rate them from 1 to 20 or whatever. Some of the values include honesty, independence, lack of conflict, emotional security, financial security, social status, and intellectual challenge. I then thought of all the conflicts my friends (and I) have had in our relationships, and realized that almost all of them were as a result of the two partners not recognizing and/or valuing the other's Hierarchy of Values.
Case in Point: My friend's husband has a dog that he loves. She likes the dog fine but is essentially "Fido's" primary caretaker while husband works long hours. They used to fight tooth and nail over "that damn dog" until her husband finally just said, "I love the dog and I'll do what I can to get him trained so he doesn't make your life a living hell as you also raise our kids, but when you dis the dog you are devaluing something of great importance and emotional significance to me." Okay, he didn't quite get it out that articulately, but he made his point. That was when my friend realized that the best way to demonstrate her love for her husband was to learn to love his dog. She recognized that her Hierarchy of Values always put Domestic Order and Organization (which a shedding pooping pup ruins every day) above his major value, which was his need to have his wife acknowledge and embrace something that mattered to him--for the sole reason of it mattering to him. It wasn't her job to understand why it mattered or even to approve of why it mattered; he just needed her to love something that he loved because it mattered to him.
I've had similar Hierarchy issues in previous relationships. My Hierarchy of Values begins and ends with "Honesty." I even want honesty before kindness, before emotional security, before anything. It's just in my personal makeup that I can deal with anything--anything--as long as I know what it is and as long as I heard it from YOU first. When you date or marry someone whose primary value is Independence or Lack of Conflict or Emotional Security, it can spell disaster right out of the gate if you don't understand where each other is coming from. So a guy who doesn't tell you about the lap dance, the "harmless" kiss or the "office spouse" because it will cause conflict "needlessly" or who doesn't come right home but gets mad if you wonder where he went for two hours after work is probably not a great match for a woman who puts honesty at the top of the hierarchy--unless you have both talked about how you will handle those kinds of situations from a place of understanding for each other's needs.
For me, the essential question I've asked partners to ask is, "Am I not telling her this to save HER from worrying about something irrelevant--or to save my own ass from something I probably deserve?" And my approach has been to ask myself the same sort of question: "Am I asking this question about his activities because I'm just wondering/interested/genuinely caring or because I'm feeling somehow, somewhere insecure and I think that hearing the answer will make that go away?"
Other friends have had this issue with p*rn, inlaws, money, you name it. And I guarantee that if you sit down today and ask your partner to list in hierarchical order the things that matter most to him or her, you will find the root of your conflicts.
Whether you call it a Hierarchy of Values or something else, no matter how Anthony Robbins or any expert in interpersonal relations puts it, the only hope for having a long and happy relationship with another human is to understand, internalize and care about what matters most to them. Then, as we like to say in Judaism: Everything else is commentary.
In short, my little 5 cent psychobabble contribution to your happy valentine's day is precisely what I told my friend: you don't need to understand why it matters to someone you love, you just need to know that it does and act accordingly. Or, as I also said to her, the bottomline is that when a man tells you he loves something--most especially a dog--your first instinct needs to be to get onboard and love the dog. Anything else is a sign that someday, somehow, things are gonna go real wrong, simply because you have not internalized that a man saying, "I love this dog" is tantamount to him saying, "I love my mother, my child, my college roommate," and you are saying that you have already decided that you can't or won't love something he loves--even if you don't know why.
So maybe the answer is that I should condense Anthony Robbins' chapter into three sentences: Love a Man, Love His Dog. Love a Woman, Love Her Friends. Live Happily Ever After.