Melinda Gates says she and Bill share one quality -- and it holds an important lesson about successful relationships

Peter Macdiarmid / Getty ImagesThey’re looking in the same direction. Bill and Melinda Gates pictured.
  • In their most recent annual letter for their charitable foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates answered some questions they get often.
  • Melinda answered the question “What happens when the two of you disagree?” by saying she and her husband agreed on basic values.
  • Relationship experts (and long-married people) agree that sharing core values is an important part of a successful relationship.

Bill and Melinda Gates structured their most recent annual letter for their charitable foundation in a Q&A format.

One of the questions they answered was “What happens when the two of you disagree?”

Here’s part of Melinda’s answer: “We agree on basic values.”

She wrote about a wedding gift they received that symbolized this idea: “a sculpture of two birds side by side, staring at the horizon.” She added: “I think of it all the time, because fundamentally we’re looking in the same direction.”

Relationship experts would agree with Melinda’s assessment of what makes a marriage work.

Peter Pearson, a couples psychologist who is the cofounder (along with his wife) of the Couples Institute, previously told Business Insider that finding someone who shared the same core values as you was the “holy grail” of relationships.

Values are different from interests, Pearson said. If you, say, love going to concerts and your partner doesn’t, you can probably find a friend to go with you instead.

But if you’re obsessed with earning more money and power and your partner is OK where he or she is – a situation Pearson has seen before – you may run into problems.

Karl Pillemer, a professor of human development at Cornell University, spoke with a series of older Americans for his book “30 Lessons for Loving” and came to much the same conclusion about the importance of shared values.

One 86-year-old man told Pillemer that it’s important to find out from your partner: “What do they care about? How do they think about the world? What matters to them?

Pillemer’s interviewees recommended having an explicit discussion about core values with your partner before getting married, or deciding to be together long term. You’ll want to cover values around children, money, and religion – and whatever else is important to you.

One 80-year-old man put it in very frank terms: “If you have divergent personalities and ideas of what’s right and wrong, and what you want to do and what you don’t want to do right at the very beginning, well, it’s not going to get better. It’s going to go downhill.”

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