Compromise is a word that you hear a lot when it comes to relationships. It's so much more than just finding a way to meet in the middle. But just because compromises are important, doesn't mean they're easy.
What is a compromise?
Most of us have some idea of what a compromise is supposed to mean – finding a way to ‘meet in the middle’, or maybe taking turns when it comes to certain decisions.
But compromise isn’t always as simple as it might seem. While it can be a really useful tool for managing disagreements, it can also be a potential source of tension.
Sometimes, we act as if we’re ‘compromising’, but what we’re really doing is caving — giving into a decision because it’s easier, but secretly feeling a bit angry and put out.
Compromise isn’t about simply finding a practical way to resolve decisions together. It’s much more about fully understanding where each other is coming from and reaching a decision in the spirit of what is truly fair to each of you.
Why is it so hard to compromise?
Let’s walk through a scenario. A couple want to go to the cinema. However, they have different tastes in movies.
One of them wants to see an action film, and the other wants to see a romantic comedy. There are no films showing that they might both like to see.
They talk about it for a while, and it’s clear they’re not going to come to an easy agreement. In the end, one of them simply gives up and says they can go see the romantic comedy. The other person is happy, but the first one is secretly a little resentful that they had to give in.
Now, that might not seem like a particularly big deal, but it does contain a pattern that, when applied to something more serious or important, could be problematic.
The couple might feel that one of them is giving in and the other getting their way is a form of ‘compromise’. After all, one of them has ‘compromised’ what they wanted – arguably for the greater good of the relationship. And there might be a vague feeling that, maybe next time, they’ll go to see the film that the first person wants to see.
But what’s missing from this interaction is proper communication. Both partners are just voicing their opposing views, but not really listening to what each other has to say. The focus is on the situation, not on each other’s feelings. While they have been able to reach a solution of sorts, it’s left one of them slightly annoyed, and perhaps ready to bring the whole thing up again later on.
How to compromise
If you both communicate openly about a conflict, then you’re both more likely to be able to reach a compromise that is understood fully by everyone involved, and as such, less likely to cause problems further down the line.
Instead of simply suppressing your objections, try to talk about them openly. This doesn’t mean digging your heels in and refusing to give any ground, but rather being candid and honest about what you’re finding difficult. In turn, it will be important that your partner feels able to do the same and that you’re able to listen too.
When you’re both talking openly about how you feel about a problem, you’re more likely to be able to move towards a decision that is truly fair. By talking it over, you can make a decision that takes into account what’s important to both of you.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll reach an agreement — after all, if there’s no movie you both want to watch, one of you may have to watch one you don’t! However, it does mean you’re much less likely to feel put out or disregarded. So often, disagreements are less about the practical facts than they are about one or both people feeling they’re not being given the emotional attention or respect they deserve.
On a practical level — yes, sometimes ‘meeting in the middle’ or ‘taking turns’ can be good ideas. And being able to do this is certainly better than not reaching any decision at all.
But these practical methods shouldn’t overshadow what’s really important: that you both feel heard and understood. These should be deployed only once you both feel you’re communicating openly and respectfully. That’s the meaning of true compromise: an agreement that feels inclusive and fair.
The example above might not seem too serious, but the ways we communicate or make decisions in relationships often form into patterns. If the same pattern was repeated on something more important — say, deciding which property to live in or even when to have children — then you can see how the potential for serious problems to develop is very real.
There are ways to make conversations more productive and less likely to turn into big disagreements. These are applicable regardless of whether you’re talking about something small or something big.
Take a look at our 5 communication tips to try with your partner. These simple tips will help you think about ways to express yourself and practical considerations surrounding the conversation that will make it easier to express yourselves to one another without anyone becoming defensive or angry.
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