How Compromise Is Actually Hurting Your Relationship (And What To Do Instead)

How Compromise Is Actually Hurting Your Relationship (And What To Do Instead) Hero Image
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For more than 20 years, my insatiable curiosity has driven me to seek the secrets of profoundly connected, passionate, intimate relationships. I want to know what draws people together and what creates a lasting, fulfilling relationship.

I ask any couple married more than 30 years, “What’s your secret?”

Nine times out of ten the answer is “compromise.”

No matter how many times I hear that answer, it still makes me cringe.

If that’s their answer, I keep digging to find out just how connected and happy they are. I ask questions like, “Does he know almost everything about you — your deepest, darkest secrets?” and “How happy are you in this relationship?”

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Now, why does that make a difference? Think about the definition of compromise. As a noun, it is “an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.”

As a verb, it means to “accept standards that are lower than is desirable.”

Compromise implies that both people have to give up something they want in order to come up with a solution that is tolerable for both.

While this all sounds noble and selfless, I think compromise as a solution may do more harm than good. Viewing compromise as your ideal solution requires that we enter a mindset of need rather than empowerment. We assume all we can get is the bare minimum rather than asking for what we really want. We settle rather than flourish.

So, next time a conflict arises, don’t ask yourselves and each other, “How can we compromise so that neither of us is deeply unhappy in this situation?”

Instead ask, “How can we both get what we want in this situation?”

My husband and I strive for and maintain a profoundly connected relationship by sharing what we each deeply desire in any given situation. We talk things through until we come up with a creative, and sometimes outside-the-box, win-win solution.

A win-win solution is an outcome in which neither of us feels like we’re sacrificing, obligated, or dutiful.

On the outside, it may appear that one of us is giving something up. That doesn’t matter. What actually matters is that we feel excited by and supported in our individual desires. That is the true barometer for satisfying relationships.

When we are expressed as ourselves within a relationship, we reach a level of understanding that we can’t reach through mere “compromise.”

For example:

My husband wanted to take a weeklong trip with 25 members of his family and friend group. That was not an exciting prospect for me.

So, I told him I wasn’t excited about the trip in general. But I was excited by the prospect of spending time with his brother-in-law and immediate family.

My husband told me that what he really wanted was to stay the entire week, play golf, and connect with his friends and family.

After we heard each other's desires, we decided that I would spend a couple of days with the people I wanted to see rather than spending a full week with the larger group. In this way, we both honored what the other (and ourselves) needed. That is a true “win-win situation.”

Understanding is the new compromise.

Understanding in this way brings forth compassion, love, and connectedness whereas compromise brings forth feelings of obligation, contraction, and resentment.

When you face conflict and want to resolve it with a double win, it’s crucial to begin by deeply understanding what you really want. You can’t discuss the conflict until you know that. The next step is to stand firm in your desires and command the courage to express them. Giving in or giving up actually means everyone in your relationship loses. When fixated on satisfying other people, we inevitably lose touch with our own wants and needs.

With a little practice, you’ll see the benefits of this strategy in your relationship, and you’ll never want to go back to “compromise” again.

Here’s a breakdown of the steps to resolving conflict through understanding and self-love:

1. When a request is made of you or an issue is presented, don’t react immediately.

First, take stock of your feelings in the moment and ask your partner to engage in this exercise with you. Before sharing your feelings with each other, ask yourselves the following questions:

What’s your instinctual response?

What about the topic presented makes you feel good? Why?

What aspects of it make you feel bad? Why?

If you could have it your way, no compromises, what would you want?

2. After coming to your own individual conclusions about these questions, let the other person in on your feelings.

Tell them what you actually want, and make it clear that you’re not asking them to sacrifice anything in order to achieve that outcome.

3. Discuss possible solutions to the problem or ways to address the issue until you land on one that results in excitement and comfort for both parties.

I would love to hear your opinion on “compromising.” How does compromising make you feel? How often do you do it? Do you see compromising differently than I do?

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