Compromise. Or Not. (I Suggest Not. Here’s Why and How.)


“Compromise” is a word often tossed around as a fundamental principle that’s key to a lasting relationship.

The notion of compromise has always left me unsettled. Maybe it’s my stubborn nature. Or maybe it’s something else.

Maybe it’s because when a bridge’s structural integrity is compromised, the bridge is soon to fail. A bridge being something that connects two separate things, the idea of compromise seems fatal in the context of a relationship.

There’s another definition of compromise, it’s original use was “a joint promise to abide by an arbiter’s decision.” Personally, I don’t want a fundamental principle of what is a great relationship to require involving a third party.

Wikipedia defines compromise as: “To compromise is to make a deal between different parties where each party gives up part of their demand.” At least with this definition, there’s not a third party involved.

Wikipedia goes on to say “In human relationships “compromise” is frequently said to be an agreement that no party is happy with, this is because the parties involved often feel that they either gave away too much or that they received too little.”

And there’s the rub. For whatever reason, what it means to compromise has, perhaps, become distorted over time. Either that, or the media has taken the antiquated idea of compromise being key to successful relationships, and perpetuated it long after its cultural expiration date.

What I’d like for you to consider is that, maybe, compromise is not what you want to strive for or value in a relationship. Sure, it may have been something that previous generations have held in high regard as a value for a successful relationship. But relationships are profoundly changing. And, if for no other reason than that profound change, it’s worth considering a new way of looking at how to navigate differing wants in a relationship.

What I encourage you to consider is this:

The thing you think you want…may not be what you actually want.

What You Think You Want

What I’ve found in navigating conflict is that the conversation is usually about things that are actually distractions or other representations of what the real issue is.

For example, you might say to your partner “I want to spend more time with you.” And, through that conversation, you might “compromise” and ask for Saturday nights at home. Your partner is giving something up, and so are you. They give up their Saturday, you give up what you actually want.

The thing you are likely giving up is what the real issue is: you don’t want more time with your partner, you want love and connection. You just think that you’ll get it by getting more time.

Let’s take the example further. You might say “Oh, let’s make date night on Saturday, because, really, what I want is to be taken care of and go out and, through that, I’ll feel love and connection.”

Yes, you might have felt love and connection before, but I guarantee you it won’t be long (maybe even the first scheduled one) before Saturday night date nights no longer feel loving and connected.

This is because you’re communicating what you think you want, rather than what you actually want.

Communicating What You Actually Want

If you find yourself distracted by a surface request like “spending more time together,” ask yourself what’s underneath it. Follow the layers of your emotions and feelings down to what might be at the core of your desire to spend more time together.

In my experience with both men and women, love, connection, and safety are some of the most common core desires we all have.

Your “spending more time together” may reflect a desire for more connection. If you find that to be the case, ask yourself “if I spend more time together with my partner, what do I really need in order to feel connected to him or her?

Surely, you can spend time with someone and feel worlds apart. But you’ve probably had times when you felt closer than ever.

What was it, specifically, that helped you feel so close to them? Was it their undivided attention? Was it their depth of presence? Was it their humor penetrating your emotional tightness and relaxing your heart open? Was it even about them? Or was it about your presence and attention and heart-openness? Maybe it was all of that?

Regardless of what you find, you will likely discover that you play a part in it as well as your partner. What do you need to give in order to feel connected? In order to feel loved? In order to feel safe? What does your partner need to give as well?

Bringing both of these things – what you are offering and what you are requesting – to the conversation may sound like compromise, but in the middle of it, it will feel very different.

As the conversation shifts from giving up something that has nothing to do with what you actually want (e.g. “You buy less clothes and I’ll spend Saturday nights with you.”), to what you’re willing to offer which is what you need to give to get what you want, along with what you are requesting from the other person to get what you want, the texture of the conversation will shift dramatically.

An Example

What does this look like? Using our example, it might look like this:

“I’ve been feeling less connected to each other lately. At first, I thought I’d feel more connected to you if we spent more time together and tossed around the idea of date night on Saturdays. But the more I thought about it, what I really wanted is your full attention and deep presence.

I realize that, lately, I’ve been distracted when I get home from work, which makes it difficult for both of us to give each other our full attention and presence. So there are some things that I can do better here, too.

What do you think about, when you get home, you give me a hug and a kiss, then we both go do what we need to unwind. Sometimes that might be me just talking through my day. I don’t need you to be totally present then, but just getting it out, helps.

For you, I know sometimes you just want to zone out in front of the TV after a hard day, or you want to exercise or shower. You go do what you need to do, then we have some time on the couch or in the kitchen cooking dinner together? It doesn’t matter what we do, just that we’re giving each other our full attention and presence?

I know that if I unwound a bit after getting home and if you had some time to do your thing, it would be much easier to feel connected to each other. What do you think about that?

You might notice in that example, no one is giving anything up. The conversation is about what each person can offer, in the context of what works for both of them. For the other partner, they get to have their time to do their thing. For you, you get to unwind however that looks. Both of those things are needed in order to be present.

That’s what this conversation is around: what you both can offer, rather than what you both are giving up…all for the sake of what you both want anyway.


Image Credit: quitepeculiar

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