Compromise in relationships is hard. Right?
Sure, there are times when it’s just a simple matter of taking turns choosing the restaurant or spending Thanksgiving with one side of the family and Christmas with the other. I won’t nag about your dirty socks on the floor if you tolerate my occasional home decor splurges…
But what about when you disagree about the BIG things? How do you deal with compromise then?
Consider this recent message from a dear reader:
“I just feel so stuck in life, filled with regret at not having confidence to try things, bored with day to day life, misunderstood by my own family. I hate being landlocked and have a strong yearning to be nearer the sea. I feel so much more calm and also energized by the sea, not just a holiday thing, I feel at home. I hate being landlocked and want to bring my daughter up with a more outdoorsy lifestyle and with a mother who enjoys life rather than just getting through the day…
I want to find a circle of like minded friends, to build a life near the coast and not feel this constant dread and nervousness I feel where I am. I feel I would have a better relationship with family seeing them for small periods, quality time, rather than pressure to see them every week.
A massive stumbling block is my partner doesn’t want to move, I don’t know if it’s fear based, he doesn’t cope well with change. So on one hand I feel selfish wanting to fulfill my desires, ‘first world problems’, but on the other hand I don’t want to regret not trying?
I’m tired of feeling like this, I just search for jobs and houses in the area I love but feel what’s the point if my partner would hate it and resent me. What do I do?”
I could really relate to this reader’s story, because I have faced similar conflicts in my own marriage. Conflicts that went beyond choosing to eat tacos over chicken salad tonight or making plans to stay home rather than go out this Friday. Conflicts that went to the very heart of where and how we were sharing our lives together.
There have been times when we’ve – simply put – wanted different things out of life.
Having navigated through those times, I’ve picked up some lessons about how to compromise in a relationship without losing myself in the process. It’s those lessons I want to share with you in today’s article.
How To Compromise In Relationships Without Losing Yourself In The Process
1. Communicate Openly
In order to compromise effectively, you have to be able to talk about things openly. If you don’t talk, one of three things is going to happen.
(1) You both just do your own thing and then brew secretly about the other person being an asshole who never compromises.
(2) One or both of you are making compromises left and right, but because you never talk about it, the other partner might not even be aware this is happening.
Think about it. If you often go along with what your partner wants, but you don’t say you’re kinda sorta doing things you don’t really want to do, how is your partner supposed to know? Your partner will probably just think you want what they want.
(3) Unless, of course, you opt to go the passive aggressive route to inform your partner about your preferences. 😉
2. Get Clear About Your Needs And Wants
One of the trickiest things about compromise in relationships is to know where to draw the line. How much should you compromise in a relationship? When is it okay to compromise and when have you given up too much?
To figure all this out, it’s helpful to separate needs from wants.
Needs are must-haves. They are non-negotiable. This category includes things you must have in order to function as your best self.
What exactly these must-have needs are varies from person to person, but here are my personal rules that I have developed through lots of trial and error:
Do Not Compromise Your Physical Or Mental Health
This might sound overly dramatic, but I think it’s something that deserves attention. Your physical and mental health are both rooted in your lifestyle. And if you go too far in aligning your lifestyle to someone else’s needs rather than your own, you can put your health at risk.
Am I able to pursue a lifestyle that maximizes my well-being?
Do Not Compromise Your Authentic Self
The only way to genuinely and meaningfully connect with other people is to reveal yourself fully and be loved for the authentic you. If you are constantly molding yourself into what other people want you to be, you will give away any chance of an authentic connection. You will risk people loving you for some pretend version of yourself and never being known for who you truly are.
Can I be myself in this relationship?
Is my personality loved and accepted the way it is or is there constant pressure to act out of character?
Do Not Compromise Your Core Values And Beliefs
What is considered a “core” value or belief varies from person to person. For example, I could never be married to a man who didn’t share my views about religion. Someone else might not care about diverging religious views, but could never be married to a person who didn’t share their financial values.
Am I able to live in alignment with my core values and beliefs?
Do Not Compromise Your Key Dreams And Goals In Life
Again, whatever dreams and goals in life you hold most dear is personal to you. For some people it’s raising kids, for some people it’s travel, for some people it’s career, for some people it’s passion projects. For some people it’s all of the above.
But whatever it is for you… Whatever you most want out of life, whatever it is that keeps you going even when the going gets tough, whatever sustains you… Whatever that is for you should not be sacrificed for anyone.
Sometimes we might put our dreams and goals in life on hold for a bit, but the whole point of a relationship is to have a partner-in-crime who will support you in realizing your best self and your best life.
Am I able to pursue the dreams and goals that are most important to me in life?
Let’s move on to “wants”. Wants are nice-to-haves. Wants are things you can negotiate and compromise on without sacrificing your well-being, your authentic self, your core values, or your key dreams and goals.
When it comes to wants, you can give freely, as long as you don’t take it too far. It’s good to remember that a long series of small compromises can have the same accumulative effect as one giant compromise.
If you want to know when you’ve gone too far…
3. Pay Attention To Resentment
The one reliable sign of too much compromise is resentment. So pay attention to it. If you have agreed to a compromise, but it keeps nagging at you, it’s not a sustainable compromise. Do not compromise more than you can compromise without resentment creeping in.
If you think you “should” just endure for the sake of the relationship, think about what years of stuffed down resentment are going to do. How is agreeing to something that makes you feel more negative toward your partner ever good for the long-term health and sustainability of the relationship?
4. Recognize That Sometimes People Have Incompatible Needs And Wants
Here’s the uncomfortable truth about compromise that nobody likes to talk about. Sometimes there is no good compromise. Sometimes two people have equally valid needs and wants in life that are too far apart for common ground to be found.
Part of knowing how to compromise without losing yourself in the process is to be able to recognize and accept this possibility.
What if all you ever wanted was to be a mother and your husband had zero desire to have kids? What if the only life you could see yourself living was that of a digital nomad, but your wife refused to give up the stationary career she loved?
5. Ask How You Can Both Get More Of What You Want
With that being said… When two people genuinely love each other and want to make it work, there’s almost always a way. And here’s how you find that way.
ACCEPT EACH OTHER’S NEEDS AND WANTS AS VALID
First off, you must both accept each other’s needs and wants as valid. It does you zero good to keep trying to convince each other of why “your way” is better. Get away from the kind of either/or tug-of-war where one person gets everything they want and the other person gets nothing. The only destination this will take you is Resentment Town.
SEE YOURSELVES AS A TEAM
Second, see yourselves as a team whose job it is meet each team member’s needs to the highest degree possible. That’s the whole point of a relationship. The relationship is there to serve both of you. The relationship is there so you can put your heads together and figure out how best to move both of you closer to your best lives. Two heads is better than one.
BRAINSTORM SOLUTIONS TOGETHER
Third, brainstorm solutions together. Ask how you can both get more of what you want.
In my dear reader’s case, it could be making some of the lifestyle changes she is yearning where she is at with her husband’s support and with frequent visits to the coast. Or it could be moving to the coast with careful preparation and frequent visits back home for her husband. Or it could be moving just a bit further from home to get some distance but not so far that it totally freaks her husband out.
There are endless possibilities.
Learning how to brainstorm new ways of doing things has literally saved my own marriage. My husband and I have a lot in common in terms of values and beliefs, but we have some wildly different preferences when it comes to lifestyle. After years of battles, we finally trashed the tug-of-war rope and decided to lead different lifestyles together.
I’m a highly sensitive introvert, while he’s a social butterfly. Sometimes we both stay home and sometimes we go out together. But I also stay home by myself a lot, while he goes out on his own or with the kids.
I’m a morning person, while he’s a night-owl. We set aside time to hang out together most evenings before my bedtime. And then I go to bed early and get up at the crack of dawn. He goes to bed later and sleeps in.
I’m unconventional and felt imprisoned by a traditional career, while he finds safety and security in a steady paycheck. I work for myself. He has a regular 9-5.
What we finally realized is that a good relationship makes room for doing your own thing in addition to doing things together and supporting each other. Instead of fighting over who gets nothing, we learned to ask how can we both get double.
What about you? Do you struggle with compromise in relationships? Or do you have examples of good compromise to share? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!