To maintain healthy relationships, we need more than just love for each other. Because as many of us who have been in love know, feelings can and do change. One moment we may be at the height of euphoria – everything is glorious! Wonderful! Beautiful! – and the next moment we may feel like the world has just collapsed around us and we’re about to be sucked into a black hole of despair.

Interestingly enough, these moments aren’t strictly sparked by an emotional letdown or burst of endorphins. Instead, they’re often caused by a sudden jolt to our value system, where something has disrupted our personal values in a way that has affected our response.

Here is an example.

Two best friends of many years are suddenly finding it very difficult to meet up with each other. They keep trying to make plans, but one thing or another seems to always get in the way: doctor’s appointments, trips to the mechanic, etc. Soon, what used to be weekly visits become once-a-month visits, with limited time together.

I’ve seen this happen and know it occurs a lot in friendships. But is it really about the lack of time and the demands life puts on them? No, it isn’t. It’s about the differences in value systems.

Even with everything the best friends have been through, there is one thing keeping them apart: their different views on politics. When people find themselves in situations like this where they’re on opposite ends of the political spectrum, it can be a death sentence to even the strongest relationships. Why? Because their value systems are being tested.

Each one wants to hold onto her values with equal strength. But that can mean sacrifices must be made in order to preserve the friendship. One such sacrifice is getting together less often, because the fear of upsetting or offending the other person is greater than the desire to spend time with them on non-political topics. Not getting together ends up being the “safer” choice. But is it the best choice for the relationship? Not necessarily.

We all have a set of values attached to who we are and what we represent. We make choices, have experiences, and gather information that helps shape our internal value systems. These values become our personal truths. But what kind of truths should we have? What if our values are very different from others people’s values? Is it possible to change values, even ones we’ve held onto for years? These are great questions to ask!

Values come in many shapes and sizes and are formed from experience—how we’re raised as children, how we are taught in school, and how we work our way through life. Yes, some values may be considered “undesirable.” But this isn’t about knowing right from wrong, this is about what we hold inside ourselves and how we honor them. Values drive our actions, which in turn drive the way we interact with others. Knowing our value systems is critical to our own personal truths.

When we aren’t clear on who we are or what we need from others (for more on this, read “Does Your Relationship Fill You Up or Deplete You?), then we aren’t clear on our values. Values drive our actions, and when our values aren’t aligned, it’s harder to thrive and fully experience joy.

When we are living our values, it means we’re being our authentic selves. But if we value something and do the exact opposite of it, we experience internal conflict, and our bodies know it. The uncomfortable feeling we get when we sacrifice or ignore our personal values is a clue that we need to get realigned. And the feeling won’t go away until we become true to ourselves and our value systems.

If values are a new concept for you, you may think they’re things like:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Attaining success
  • Being perceived by others as “perfect”

But these things aren’t values, they’re external influencers. True values are the internal things you consider most important as a human being who wants to live a life of joy, happiness, and peace. Nothing in the above can guarantee those achievements will last forever. Jobs can be lost, success can change in the blink of an eye, and perfectionism is an impossible goal.

Knowing your values is knowing yourself. And when you know yourself, massive changes will occur. You will find more happiness, more joy, and more passion in your life. You will be filled with more love than you can imagine. It will happen.

Here is a set of prompts you can use to help identify your values. Write down your responses to each by completing the sentence with a noun (for example, “What I most enjoy is honesty“, or “What makes me feel most at ease is integrity“, etc.):

  • What I most enjoy is…
  • When I am most happy is…
  • What makes me feel most at ease is…
  • What is important/irrelevant to my peace is…
  • What I want to give to others is…

These questions are value-based questions. Find the words that are most authentic for you. Don’t worry about what others expect from you. These are yours to own and use.