Finding Common Ground When Common Ground Feels Lost

When my husband and I were first married, I made him a fleece pillow covered in a pattern of moose and trees. This pillow is one of the ugliest things we own. I have tried at length to get rid of it. I have set it in the donation pile. I have set it in the trash pile. I have tried to suggest it reside in his office. All to no avail.

The Moose Pillow

I thought I had finally won the pillow wars when we moved last month. I know I had put it in the trunk of our Subaru with other items to go to the local thrift store. But alas, a couple of weeks ago, when I was unpacking boxes after the move, I found it nestled between two large picture frames holding photos of our kids as babies.

As I pulled it out of the box, I turned to my beloved husband and attempted to bore holes into his soul with my displeasure.

“Dave, seriously with the pillow.”

“What?” Dave replied innocently. “It made for perfect packing material.”

After a few hours of attempting the silent treatment (which never works, but I have not outgrown it as an option), I simply decided to unpack more stuff in an area of the house well away from the annoying one who insists on keeping ugly things. I stewed for a bit and petted my labradoodle as I usually do when I’m frustrated, until the moment when my mind rested on the image of our first Christmas together:

Our tiny, one-room apartment.
The Charlie Brown Christmas tree with eight or so ornaments.
Drinking grocery store coffee from seasonal mugs I picked up at the Seminary resale shop.
Dave, unwrapping the pillow I wrapped with complete lack of subtlety.
Me, wildly excited to give him something I made with my hands and 75-percent-off fleece.
 
The word that came to mind was this: remember.

Remember Your Shared Values

Remember, not as a command or a point of nostalgia. Not “remember your love for each other” or what else you have overcome. Not “remember where you’ve been and where you are going together.” But something simpler and more concrete: Remember moose and trees.

The reason I made that pillow was that the fabric had a secret language of sorts, shared between just Dave and me. Nature was our thing. We loved to hike and explore, camp, sit under the stars, build a fire pit and talk until the embers died away, find interesting leaves, and spot mammals with antlers. God’s creation wasn’t something we simply enjoyed together but something we highly valued. As silly as it sounds, the pillow reflected shared values in our marriage. The very thing I needed to remember when common ground felt lost.

Values are the things we believe are the most important things in life. They are connected to our spiritual beliefs and how we see God, and also how we see the world and our place in it. They are impacted by our belief system, but also can impact our beliefs. For instance, if compassion is important to me, but for some reason, I don’t see God working compassionately in His Word, I will wrestle with God’s compassion. Values also impact our character, our words, our work, and our relationships.

Values are easy to forget because, in our culture, we don’t often define them—much less talk about them. Some of my values include compassion, adventure, kindness, and hope. You have your own values. You can see how many of these values reflect the heart of God and things I believe from my faith in Jesus Christ. Nature isn’t a value necessarily for Dave and me, but it touches on a lot of our shared values: care, adventure, restoration, reflection.

Hold Fast to Core Values

While as believers we don’t want to hold a value contradictory to God’s Word, we must recognize that because of our sinful nature, we each have self-centered values that are destructive to our relationships. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for those sinful values, and the Spirit works through Word and Sacrament to dislodge and destroy those values in us. Then, through the Gospel, the Spirit creates new, Christ-like values within us. But there are many different godly values, and we can hold a value contrary to our spouse and others close to us.

We all have what we call core values—or 5–10 values that are the most important to us—that we naturally give more energy to living in, talking about, and sharing than other values that aren’t core values for us. Honesty and responsibility are important to Dave in ways they aren’t important to me. It’s not that I don’t value honesty or responsibility, but they aren’t core values for me when they might be for him. There is tension in marriage, and any relationship, when two core values differ, but this kind of tension is not terrible. It has the potential to create deeper intimacy in our relationships through questions, conversation, and empathy.

We are each created as unique individuals, knit in the womb by God. Even though we share a common Christian faith, the values we hold most dear within that may not be identical. The Bible and Jesus aren’t values. This is one reason why trying to find common ground only through the name of Jesus doesn’t entirely work when we are feeling far from our spouse or far from understanding someone we care about. The Spirit uses the Law in God’s Word to expose our sinful values, and the Spirit uses the Gospel to save us from them while creating and strengthening new godly values in us—values of love, caring, and forgiveness that strengthen and sustain our relationships, even when we have different core values. 

Finding Common Ground

What is helpful is finding our common values in the moment, as well as recognizing and maybe making peace with where they differ:

  • What is most important to you in life?
  • What is most important to you about Jesus Christ, God the Father, or the Holy Spirit?
  • What are the non-negotiables for you in life?
  • What things are worth fighting for, and why would you fight for them?

To find common ground, we need one more question:

  • Which of these values do you share with your spouse or even the person sitting across from you at the dinner table?

Values work is central to lots of different methods of individual and couples therapy. You can also do an internet search for “values list” and find many resources available for figuring out your values. You can cross out the values you don’t agree with on any of these lists, and that in itself brings some clarity. Compare the values that stand out for you with the Word of God, as 1 Thessalonians 5:21 exhorts: “But test everything; hold fast what is good.”

When the going gets tough in the conversation, the moment, or the season of marriage in which we find ourselves, it helps to step into the values realm and bond around those core things. The depth of shared values has stronger legs than the shallow ground of activities we might enjoy together or shared interests. Values also help remind us that the present moment is only the present moment and marriage is a hold-fast-to-what-is-good kind of gig.

I still do not want to own the pillow made of fleece with moose and trees. Values are unlikely to get me to a place where I want to own the pillow. However, they help me see my husband past the pillow and see me on to connecting with him again.

Scripture: ESV®.


Find more tools to connect with your spouse in Finding HopeFrom Brokenness to Restoration.

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Written by

Heidi Goehmann

Heidi is a licensed clinical social worker and mental health provider, deaconess, writer, speaker, wife, mom, and advocate. She can always be found at heidigoehmann.com, advocating and providing resources for mental health and genuine relationship. Heidi loves her family, sticky notes, Jesus, adventure, Star Wars, Star Trek, and new ideas...not necessarily in that order.

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