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Ask Dr. Gayle

My Husband and I Have
Different Values and Morals

QUESTION: I'm a Christian and my husband isn't. We have very different value systems and moral standards. He thinks picking up a ten-dollar bill on the street is OK, but I think that's not right from my Christian perspective. He thinks not reporting the entire household income so that our son can get into public preschool is OK. I conformed because I didn't want to fight with him, but I've been feeling guilty all the way. These are only a few examples of our conflicts. There are many more. What's your advice on how to resolve this?

ANSWER: Differences are a part of marriage. And divergencies in morality issues are deeply challenging to any relationship. Your capacity to resolve conflict is at the heart of successful marriage. The first step in resolution is to understand one another's perspectives. It is possible that over time, you may even influence one another's position, however that should not be your expectation in the beginning.

The goal of "understanding" does not mean that you agree with your partner's position. It does however reflect empathy for what is your spouse's experience. It is through feeling heard and understood that communication flows in a nonjudgemental and truly exploratory fashion. From this "meeting of the minds" is the potential for each one of you to change your own perspective, or at least increase tolerance for your loved one's reality.

Perhaps you have been avoiding discussion in depth about topics that are troublesome to you because you fear a nonproductive or even damaging power struggle if you express yourself strongly. But evading these issues will only delay a discussion which erupts in less than ideal circumstances. If you find yourself overcompromising and losing your sense of self in the marriage, it is likely that intimacy and affection will become casualties of the relationship.

Seek a genuine understanding of each other's experience as your first and primary goal. Speak with passion, but follow the guidelines set forth in the article for open communication. Your relationship will be greatly enriched if you are able to express yourself and be understood by your partner. And remember that passion is a part of a healthy relationship. The more your interactions reflect a passionate engagement, the more connected you feel. Constructive anger takes the form of passion in a discussion.

Marriage partnerships that have evolved the capacity to express anger constructively and continue discussions to a point of understanding (not necessarily agreement) tend to maintain passion in other areas of the relationship. Partnerships that avoid expressing anger and resolving conflict are often at risk for deadening passion in the marriage.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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