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January 25, 2016

Don’t Confuse Shared Interests With Shared Values

At the beginning of a relationship, similar interests can draw two people together. Meeting someone who likes the same music or the same outdoor activities creates a sense of comfort and connection. Having similar interests immediately gives us something to talk about without having to search for conversation topics. When we enjoy most of the same activities, we naturally want to spend time together.

When two people are in the early infatuation stage of love, they are thrilled to discover that they have many mutual interests. It isn't unusual to hear someone exclaim with delight, "We have the same favorite movie, we both like Italian food, and we are both into mountain biking. We are so much alike, it's amazing!"

The more interests we share, especially if they are very specific or uncommon, the more likely we are to feel that we have found our soulmate. It seems impossible that anyone else in the world could be such an ideal match.

All too often, this ecstatic feeling of being perfectly attuned to each other is gradually replaced by disappointment and misery. As time goes on, the once-happy couple is likely to find themselves in serious conflict over one or more fundamental issues. They may be stunned by each other's attitudes and behaviors. How could the person who was everything I wanted have turned into someone who is just the opposite?

Interests and values are not the same

The problem is that we often confuse shared interests with shared values. If someone likes the same books that we do, attends the same kinds of events, and spends time on similar hobbies, we tend to take it for granted that this person also has the same world view and attitudes that we do. But the truth is that people’s likes and dislikes and the ways they choose to spend their time do not tell us the full story about their character.

Because we invest so much time in our interests, and because they are important to us, it is easy to think they represent our values. In fact, people who have identical interests very often have completely different character traits. A person who volunteers to help at an animal shelter may be motivated by compassion for the animals, while another person doing the same work does so primarily as a way to meet nice people. A person who enjoys science fiction, art museums, and tennis may be kind, honest and loyal. It is entirely possible that another person who enjoys the same things is a bully or a narcissist. We cannot assume someone thinks the way we do, simply because that person likes what we like.

What are core values?

Our core values are a set of principles and beliefs that guide us through life. They give us a sense of right and wrong, direct the major decisions we make, and govern how we treat others. Values provide us with a set of rules for living. Two people who live by different rules will soon find themselves in conflict.

There are many ways in which mismatched values undermine a relationship. A man who values career achievement and financial success needs to spend long hours at the office and in work-related activities on weekends. His wife, who values family and friendship, wants him to come home earlier, and spend the weekends involved with her and the children's activities. They cannot compromise, and end up living virtually separate lives.

A wife who values comfort and immediate gratification wants to spend the couple's money on luxury vacations, fine dining, and the latest gadgets. Her husband, who values organization and security, wants to live modestly while saving for retirement and putting money aside for their children's education. They argue about money constantly.

Interests are likely to change

There is no doubt that spending time with someone who enjoys the same things can be a great pleasure. Shared experiences help us stay connected. They create an environment in which it is easy to be supportive and develop a sense of togetherness.

But shared interests are not essential to developing a satisfying and successful relationship. Over the course of a lifetime, our interests may change. We may give up a hobby or turn to a new kind of music. A physical activity that was great fun in our twenties may not be such a good fit when we reach our fifties. We find other things to do.

One benefit of a long term relationship is that we can take advantage of the opportunity to have our partners introduce us to their interests. This is a good way to deepen our appreciation and understanding of each other. We may also decide to try new, interesting things together, thus developing more interests in common.

It is fairly easy to experiment with and adopt new interests. As important as they are to us, they are external activities that do not really reflect character. But unlike interests, core values are not replaceable. While we may modify them somewhat with maturity, as a general rule our deepest and most strongly held values remain the same. They determine the direction of our lives, and are at the foundation of who we truly are as human beings. We cannot compromise our values without compromising our souls.

When two people find themselves in opposition over the issues that truly matter, they are unable to connect on a deeper level. They cannot build a life together when they do not agree on what kind of life it will be.

For lasting love, focus on values

Having shared interests is important to a relationship. The good news is that interests can be cultivated. Discovering new ideas and activities together brings pleasure into a relationship and keeps it fresh. But the real key to long-term compatibility is choosing a partner with the same core values. These values will determine the major decisions we make about family, finances, and lifestyle. Sharing the same values means that we can rely on each other's judgment and trust that we will not disappoint each other.

When we are ready to make a commitment to a life partner, having interests in common need not be a major concern. We can learn to share new interests with each other. Our most important concern should be whether or not we have the same core values. Only then can we be true life partners who live by the same rules and have a shared vision of what our life should be.

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