Why Compromise Doesn't Work in Relationships
If we come to the bargaining table expecting to compromise in relationships, we'll walk away a loser almost every time. That's because when we expect to compromise, we rarely use our imagination or go after what makes us happiest in the relationship. Nor do we ever reach a real understanding of each other and unearth what our partner truly values or what is underneath a need, desire, or goal.
If we assume that we already know what our partner wants or that they know what we want, communication is already muddied. Or if we go into negotiations with the notion that a particular goal is more important to our partner than it actually is or that they will throw a hissy-fit if we don't go along, we may not bring 100% to the negotiations. Or if we already believe that relationships are just about keeping the peace or that there is no way for both of us to be happy, then compromise will be a part of our lives—because what we believe is what we create.
We tend to resign ourselves to compromise in relationships—not because it's necessary or effective but because we've been conditioned to believe that it's necessary or effective.
Compromise is only necessary when we don't exert the effort to truly understand ourselves and each other.
It is a lazy way of interacting. We've learned to get our needs met indirectly and to trade our own happiness for another's happiness. Instead of going to bat for a dynamic solution that far exceeds what we can possibly imagine individually, we've learned to compromise. But when we give up ourselves for another's wishes, it backfires every time.
Why would anyone want to be in a relationship or marriage when they have to give up their dreams, desires, and happiness?
In a Time article, "Recipe for a Happy Marriage: the Seven Scientific Secrets," Eric Barker states some research that shows that married couples should keep a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. When both partners in a relationship make happiness their own responsibility and both commit to listen to the needs and desires of each other, this ratio is achievable. However, if you expect your partner to make you happy or if you don't support your partner's fulfillment, this ratio will get off balance. So remember, for every snarky comment, you'll need to counter it with five positives!
Champion What Is Important to Each Other
Two strong individuals with a healthy self-esteem create the most successful relationships. They can be dramatically different in every way, but these couples have a knack for championing what is important to each other. Instead of settling on a compromise that will disappoint them both, they look for ways for both of them to be happy, even thrilled. Having limits to work within actually stimulates us to solve the problem in new ways. And if we go a step further and choose to see unlimited possibility, our creativity goes into overdrive and we find amazing solutions we didn't previously understand were possible.
When we look for and commit to win-win solutions rather than settling for compromise, we discover some very creative ways to move from conflict to understanding, from competing to a synergy that creates novel solutions. This new attitude greatly enhances a relationship. Compromise in marriage is unnecessary when we love ourselves enough to give voice to our needs and desires while also caring for our partner's happiness, too.
Take Compromise out of Your Vocabulary!
There was a time in my marriage when we were raising three small children and our budget was extremely tight. Due to financial constraints, we chose to go out only once a month. We were trying to plan for our next date (within a specified budget); my husband really wanted to go to a particular movie, but I wanted to go to my favorite restaurant for a gourmet meal. If we had compromised, either we would have gone to his movie (and I would have had to cook dinner as usual—and been resentful) OR I would have had a nice dinner out (and he would have missed his movie—and possibly been resentful). And would he have thoroughly enjoyed the movie, knowing I was unhappy? Or would I have thoroughly enjoyed the gourmet meal, knowing he wasn't happy? How would that compromise have helped us build a successful, enduring marriage?
It took a bit of talking, but we figured out a solution. Since I really only wanted a night off from cooking, my husband volunteered to grill my favorite meal; we spent some quality time with our children, and then we went to a later showing of the movie he wanted to see—not just a win-win but a win-win-win solution!
When my husband and I talked more about this new way of seeing things, a whole new concept unfolded for us. We found that there is always a way to express our love and stay connected while creating a win for us both. A light bulb went off: if our attention focused on creating more closeness and love in our relationship, a solution would reveal itself and allow us to shift more easily to generating a win-win solution. The more we practiced, the easier it became, until compromise disappeared from our vocabulary and our decisions.
Below are some easy yet effective keys to creating win-win solutions and eliminating the need to compromise. Remember: neither partner goes along with an idea until they are both truly happy.
Marriage Tips to Create Win Win Solutions
- Calm yourself if necessary to be able to truly listen to each other.
When we hit a bump in communication we can get stuck because of the way we perceive the other person's behavior. Sometimes our partner's behavior feels like an attack (because they are upset or angry), or we think that they don't care about what we want (when we encounter resistance and blocking). Take some time to calm and come back to your heart and to your love for one another. Then revisit the subject from this calmer place.
- Get curious about what is driving the emotion behind a desire or need.
Being curious keeps you from making incorrect assumptions about your partner's motivation. For instance, a couple hits a roadblock about how to spend their next vacation. The wife wants to visit her parents as usual, but her husband says that he doesn't want to visit them this year. If instead of getting defensive and upset the wife could move to curiosity, she might discover something new.
One man shared with me that this same conflict was commonplace since his wife was extremely close with her family. It was her go-to for every vacation. However, when I convinced him to express his desire to travel and to be with her alone recreating, they worked out a great resolution that they both felt good about.
It is impossible to reach an outcome that makes both partners happy without understanding and truly listening.
- When a conflict arises, seek to understand what is really important to each of you.
Many times we assume we know what is important to each other, but we're often incorrect. If your partner talks about buying a jeep, it may not be the actual jeep he wants as much as the freedom and adventure the vehicle represents. If your partner wants to buy a whole new set of living room furniture, what she may really want may be the fun of being creative that she misses from the interior design job she gave up. Ask open-ended questions that lead to meaningful dialogue—and happy resolutions.
- Move from "me" to "we."
When we move from "me" to "we," we cultivate a whole new way of being together. It's no longer about "self-ishness" that swings to compromise; it is about "we-ishness," where we create a daily experience that transcends a habitual way of interacting and becomes one of discovery. We see things from a mindset that keeps us alert to opportunities to ensure that each of us is thriving within the relationship.
This process takes commitment and requires transparency and honesty. The big payoff is a relationship that keeps getting sweeter instead of souring on the vine.
Compromise may not be for wine, but it's not for marriage either! Take compromise out of your vocabulary and start creating more fun. When a relationship moves from "me" to "we" in a loving and synergistic way, it forms a strong foundation of love and caring. The quality of our love life and relationship is up to us. Try these keys and discover a new and wonderful way of interacting that moves you from compromise to lasting happiness.
Jennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity Founder
As an Executive Coach and Relationship Strategist, Jennifer's specialty is emotional intelligence with an emphasis in utilizing brain science to create transformation. Her passionate mission is to create thriving relationships and teams at home and work. Jennifer coaches individuals, parents, and couples to help build healthy lives and loving families and communities. Jennifer also works with entrepreneurs and small businesses to remove the obstacles to authentic communication. She is married to her beloved husband of 38 years and is the mother of three grown children.