As much as we like to think that our belief system and values are defined by independent and reliable decision-making, we are only about half right. Everyone carries an embedded list of “shoulds” that, at times, are nearly inaudible, while at other times, scream loudly in our heads.
These “shoulds” often inform many of the values-based decisions we make. Most of the time, they can be very helpful. However, they can become problematic, and create a pretty powerful internal conflict.
Before we get to what some of these “shoulds” are, and how to deal with them if they become problematic, let’s examine their origin. Many of them can be traced back several generations to when a family’s belief system and values were instituted because they made sense at the time. Perhaps they revolved around immigration, war or illness. Or possibly, they were formed based on gender, racial or cultural norms and ideologies of the time. These ideals and ways of thinking become ingrained and are passed on from generation to generation.
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Typically, when people marry, they choose someone with a similar belief system and values. Or at least, someone who is willing to accept or adopt their values. At times, the assumption of similar values becomes challenged along the way in a relationship, while at other times, the values were not cohesive to begin with. Regardless of the cause, conflicting values are problematic in any relationship.
So what are some of these “shoulds” and why do they matter? Let’s look at a few big ones:
For the most part, you learn about the role of these from your family of origin. This can be parents, grandparents or any significant adults that helped to raise you. From the very beginning, these are the people that helped you to understand affection and intimacy by modeling it, both to each other and to you.
You learn about spending, saving, work ethic, and the general value around having money from your childhood. And certainly, your spiritual roots are grounded in your earliest understanding about how religion and general spirituality fit into your life. Finally, educational paths are almost certainly grounded in longstanding desires and expectations stemming from many generations.
And certainly, your spiritual roots are grounded in your earliest understanding about how religion and general spirituality fit into your life.
Many of us will evolve beyond our original indoctrination into our earliest value structure. And many of us will think that we have evolved until we are actually challenged to forsake our belief system and values with our intimate partners or our children. When the “shoulds” of our past interfere with our desires, or the desires of our current intimate relationships, problems arise.
At this point, we must all decide if the “shoulds” still work. What may have worked for many generations in a family informed by issues and beliefs decades old, may no longer work for you and your family. For example, college education may have been non-negotiable since your grandmother fought her way into a formerly co-ed college. But today, your son is an entrepreneur and college is not in his plan.
What may have worked for many generations in a family informed by issues and beliefs decades old, may no longer work for you and your family.
Where bi-cultural marriages formerly threatened one’s own culture and family acceptance, today, the world has more space and acceptance for marriages between people with a different belief systems and values. In terms of intimacy, discomfort with affection may have informed your parents, but is unacceptable to your spouse.
Finally, consider a person born in a Depression-era family who was not raised with the same financial means as the Baby Boomers that followed. The ways in which this person acquires, spends and saves money may directly contradict his or her ingrained beliefs and just feels wrong.
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Reexamining the issues and values from generations before is not disloyal or rebellious. It is essential for authentic living and successful partnerships. If we only choose people that subscribe to our earliest beliefs, which no longer feel authentic, then our level of satisfaction is challenged from the beginning.
If we don’t stop to examine the “shoulds” when they start to drag us down, then we run the risk of perpetuating a belief system and values which run counter to our natural intuition or needs. In other words, just because it worked once, does not mean it works forever, no matter how much grandma or dad want it to.
Carrie Rosenbloom is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and attorney mediator in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She specializes in helping individuals and families navigate the complexities of divorce. Carrie also works with family businesses, helping them manage transitions, create succession plans, resolve conflict, and integrate a cohesive culture throughout family owned businesses. More information can…
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