Updated: Dec 4, 2019
I recently came across a concept that really landed with me, and I’ll summarize it thusly: For every difficult problem, the conventional wisdom that surrounds it is wrong. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a difficult problem.
The messages that society feeds us around relationship problems are a perfect reflection of this, and there is one bit of conventional wisdom that creates a lot of harm. This is the idea that a successful marriage is based on “Compromise.” It sounds warm and fuzzy and reasonable as an ideal, but it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, and the biggest reason is the way it is applied. Too often…WAY too often, it is used to manipulate one party or another to “give in” on their values. And too often, it is one partner that does the lion’s share of “compromising.” Giving in on your values for the sake of the relationship rarely ends well. Too much of that, and you start to feel like a doormat, and the resentment builds.
Do you compromise on safety? Do you compromise your integrity? Do you compromise on protecting your children? Of course not…so why would you compromise in your relationship?
Anytime people live together, they have to find ways to get along with each other. For instance, deciding who does what and when, when dividing household chores, ideally should involve a sort of negotiation, and the best place to start is to just ask each other about preferences. Does one partner HATE washing dishes, while the other can’t stand doing the floor? Here’s a great opportunity to create a solution where everyone’s needs and preferences are addressed. OR you could “compromise” and split it 50-50, and everyone is miserable.
Negotiation isn’t compromise. Finding a solution that creates harmony and satisfaction for everyone is a far better approach for most situations in life, but most particularly a relationship.
Stephen Covey, in his book “7 Habits for Highly Effective People” describes a concept that is perfect for any relationship, but particularly intimate relationships. Habit 4 is “Win-Win or No Deal”. His idea is that in ANY negotiation, if anybody loses, everybody loses. Anytime you think that you have only two possible choices, stop. There is always another possibility. Get creative. Taking the time and effort to find the “third solution,” or that unexpected solution that ends up serving everyone is key.
Take that time and always be sure your partner is as well served as yourself in your decisions together. Stop compromising, and don’t ever permit that in your partner. You both deserve better.