Dear Carolyn: My wife and I met when we were very young and very religious. Ten years later we've shed the religion but still hold on to a sexual ethic that consists of believing that sex is about love. Neither of us has ever been inclined to legislate that on others, but held it to be true in our own hearts.

We've been talking about it for the past year, and she's come to a different ethic, one that she says doesn't need to be about love, that feels hard for me to accept. We're talking about it in therapy but it feels like an impasse.

Is there any way to reunify our beliefs? How do other people get through this? We're very close, and I love her very much.

— Changing Values

Changing Values: Why do your beliefs have to be unified?

As long as you’re not acting on them in a way that’s in conflict, differences can be healthy, even enriching.

Two individuals make up every marriage, and with that reality comes the necessity to reconcile or just accept some differences. I’d love to hear more detail about why this is a problem, if you’re out there and willing to share.

As for the sex issue, not that you care what I think: Human sexuality has a reproductive component, a physical wow component and a love component — all of them built-in, and each of them possible without the other two. Isn’t there something to that?

Carolyn: I appreciate your response. I know there is the reality of the three components factor. I certainly wouldn't argue that. But more so we've always had a value system based on the sacredness of the shared experience. It's painful that she's shifting from that. I guess the response you gave indicates it's just a matter of accepting the pain of that reality rather than finding a way to reunify our values.

For what it's worth, I'm not trying to imply she shouldn't have her own thoughts and ideas. It's just this particular idea feels very tender to me.

— Changing Values again

Changing Values again: No doubt it feels personal, as if what you share has been somehow devalued.

And maybe that’s why you’re so unsettled — out of fear that something you count on is either changing or was never true to begin with. That is legitimately unnerving.

But I don’t think it necessarily has to be. It can just be an awakening to the experiences of the wider world and that a different path can be valid, even beautiful. For example, your wife has changed the way she thinks about love and sex and yet is still actively, every day, choosing you.

I hope the reality isn’t only about pain for you. Thanks for writing back.

Re: Sex: It could easily become cloyingly sentimental if the letter-writer insists on over-the-moon, love-love-love every time they have sex throughout their entire marriage, just because of his commitment to this "value." I think Changing Values should consider that his wife is just insisting on a let's-get-real honesty in their relationship.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: The get-real phase: Buckle up, everybody. Thanks.

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