Compromise in Relationships: Give A Little, Gain A Little
Compromise in relationships is like any negotiation.
Dr John Gottman calls this “Yielding to Win”.
To achieve our desired outcome, we approach a negotiation knowing what we are, and are not, willing to compromise on.
It’s the same in all relationships.
The Lovely Illusion of Limerance
When we first meet our love, our brains create a “chemical cocktail” designed to make us see things NOT exactly as they are. While falling in love, we wear rose-coloured glasses. This is an evolutionary feature designed to ensure we mate and procreate.
This state of infatuation is known as Limerance.
After about nine to 18 months (when nature presumes we have mated), this “perfection halo” wanes and our partner becomes more annoying to us. Limerance subsides and we begin to see things more clearly.
At this stage we are likely to start having disagreements. Even the best relationships have disagreements (these partners manage conflict well, though).
Why Compromise in Relationships is Essential
When we care about a relationship, usually we want both people’s needs to be met.
If one of you really hates Mexican food and one of you really loves Mexican food, what do you do?
Can the partner who hates it find one thing on the menu they’d be willing to eat?
Can you negotiate that you only eat Mexican food once a month or less often?
Will it work if the partner who loves Mexican eats out with a friend from time to time to satisfy the craving?
Compromise is essential so that both people in the relationship have their needs met, at least some of the time.
Where to Begin Compromising in Your Relationship
There are many ways to negotiate and compromise in relationships.
First, you have to be clear about what you are willing to compromise on, which means you need to know what the non-compromise areas are.
If there is an ingredient omnipresent in all Mexican food (pretty sure there isn’t but just go with me) that one person is allergic to, then one way for the lover of Mexican to enjoy their food is to occasionally eat out with someone else.
Who is the “someone else”? How often? How fancy a restaurant? What does the other partner get to do while the Mexican lover is enjoying their meals?
Perhaps the non-compromise areas are a spending limit and a time to return back home.
Once these are agreed, perhaps the compromise is that the other partner gets to spend the evening watching a TV program their partner can’t stand.
As you can see, the negotiation possibilities are endless, so it helps to be clear about what you are okay and not okay with.
Where Are Your Hard Boundaries?
Before you approach your partner with an offer of compromise, come prepared with a strong idea of what outcome is essential to you. Figure out your hard boundaries. It can be helpful to spend some time writing this out first.
This is the most important part of finding compromise in relationships. If you are not sure what you can’t compromise on, you certainly won’t be clear where you can compromise. You may be at risk of giving up more than you are comfortable with, or being so inflexible that it damages the relationship.
Identifying Your Hard Boundaries Can Be Challenging
In my relationship compromise work with my clients, I have found many people struggle to identify their non-negotiables. I suggest they go and have a think about it. They need to really work to visualise the situation and think, how can this be something that I am okay with?
For example, if a couple are discussing whether or not to have a child (or more children), perhaps there are certain things that each person needs in place before children can happen. What are these?
Is it a stable job?
A night nanny?
Funds for private education?
A promise that the child/children will be raised in a particular way/religiously?
There are virtually endless options that can be discussed, so you need to focus on the things that REALLY matter to you, otherwise you might be arguing for something that is of less importance to you, and not fighting for the things that really matter to you.
The Question To Ask Regarding Non-Negotiables
Ask yourself, would I be prepared to fight for this? If I didn’t get this, could I live with that?
If that answer is no, then you need to make your case.
Where Can You Soften?
It is also important that you are prepared to think of some ways you can meet your partner halfway.
Finding points that are negotiable is easy once you have the non-negotiables clear.
- Start with empathy. Think about why your partner wants what they want. Even if you don’t agree or don’t understand, recognise that their strong desire is just like yours.
- Consider ways you can give up an aspect that you would really prefer to go your way, but you’d be willing to let go of in order to get a bigger ‘reward’ or the thing that matters more to you.
Steps for Negotiating a Compromise with your Partner
- Start by asking your partner why X matters to them so much? If they aren’t sure, please be patient as they work it out.
- When your partner can give you the why, you can probably find a way to understand their reasons. Tell them this.
- Tell your partner why Y matters to you so much. Make sure they understand. Invite them to ask questions if they are still unclear.
- When both of you have your why clear, it will be easier to understand where there is or is not room to negotiate. Having your why validated by your partner will allow you to soften your position and find the areas of flexibility.
The Key To Compromise in Relationships: This Changes Everything!
Now that you have considered how you can meet your partner halfway, there is an important switch in perspective that can really change the experience of negotiating in a relationship.
You want your partner to be happy, right?
And you also want to be happy. True?
This is the crux of the struggle:
It’s not your desires against your partner’s desires. Instead, it’s the two competing desires in yourself: You want to be happy, and you also want the most important person in your life to be happy.
You and your partner are on the same side, remember?
When we make the effort to understand our partner’s why they want what they want, we validate their desire, rather than demean it. This allows them to feel heard and understood, and creates a softening between you both.
Then it is our turn to say why we want what we want, and have our partner validate that desire.
Let’s See Compromise in Action!
Imagine talking to a small child who is crying because they want blue shoes. You offer red shoes, but they are not right.
What is it about the blue shoes that they like so much?
They will definitely be able to tell you. And you most likely wouldn’t tell them they were ridiculous or stupid for wanting them in blue. You would convey your understanding that the blue shoes they want are really important to them for the reasons they have stated (the other kids have blue shoes, my favourite colour is blue, they match my hat – who knows?).
Okay, now try doing this with the special adult in your life. I bet you get a good understanding and a lot of appreciation for allowing them to explain their WHY to you.
How Do You Compromise?
Have you negotiated something with your partner that had either a great or not great outcome? We’d love to know how it went. Leave us a comment below!
Help with Relationship Compromise in Couples’ Therapy
At the Bondi Psychologist, our therapists are trained in the Gottman Method of Relationship Therapy. Book your appointment today for marriage counselling or couples’ counselling, where your therapist can provide personalised guidance to help you and your partner successfully negotiate.