Zoe Coetzee

Compromise in relationships: the 12 secrets to bending instead of breaking

Compromise is a bridge you will need to cross in any relationship. It can be as simple as where to go for dinner, or as complex as where to raise children. This concept is a pervasive reality in everyday life with another person. Merging your perspectives and molding a life together is the great skill of a thriving relationship between two individual people. This is not to say that one should compromise on your own boundaries and identity for the sake of the relationship, but rather find the fine line to walk together.

So if you are still wondering why compromise is important in a relationship, we know the answer. Relationships take place between two people, and are played out on their common ground. This common ground is compromise, and it is a foundational layer for committed relationships. 

What does compromise in relationships really mean?

“A true definition of compromise – a little give, a little take”, Max Baucus

Compromise is commonly understood as giving up something in order to reach a place of understanding with your partner.  No two people are the same. At some point in your relationship you and your partner will have a different approach, opinion or wish. At this point, one of you need to concede, or the better alternative is to compromise.

Compromise is an "intermediate state between conflicting alternatives reached by mutual concession1". This is the positive side of compromise- when you meet in the middle. The goal is that the compromise is mutually beneficial - that you gain, not lose, through the concession. Each partner should be happy with the outcome. 

However, it is also defined as “the expedient acceptance of standards that are lower than is desirable”1. This is the down side of compromise. To successfully compromise in relationships you need to understand the disparity between sacrifice vs compromise. Compromise should never be a sacrifice of core values, beliefs or needs. That is when the scale has tipped too far in the wrong direction.  

Both of these explanations highlight the contradictory nature of compromise. It can be both the resolution and the demise of a relationship. So how does compromise play out in practice?

Hacking compromise: easier steps for acceptable compromise in relationships

“Compromise is a sign that your relationship is more important than your ego” Anon

Compromise in relationships can be a tricky balancing act. It has been called a necessary evil. However, the ability to compromise is a valuable skill across personal and professional relationships. We can’t always be right, but if we always give in, compromise can cause resentment. Let’s outline the essential skills of successful comprise.

4 tips for (easier) compromise

  1. Take the long view:  take a step back from the situation and ask yourself if this issue will matter in the long run. In five years time, does it matter if you had Chinese or Thai for dinner? However, if you use your savings to buy a house or go n a dream vacation, it may be a different story! Using time as a lens, put your problem into perspective.  
  1. Put on another pair of shoes: put your feet on their shoes. Honestly ask yourself what the situation looks like from your partner’s perspective. This is a chance to expand your emotional intelligence and capacity for empathy. How does it impact them? What does it feel like from their position? As they say, never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. Looking at your dilemma from a different point of view might just develop your own.
  1. Third place wins: your choice doesn’t need to be first place to win. In a relationship, there are already two first choices in play - yours and theirs. Can you find the charming third option? The winning formula in compromise is to incorporate both of your needs and desires, and to create a new version. Maybe you will find a completely new option; maybe it will be a blend. What’s important is that winning in a relationship isn’t necessary you coming in first place. Wining is being happy together and that may take some concession.
  1. Yoga for the body and mind: flexibility is key.  Being dead set in your ways is not only unhealthy for your own well-being, but also detrimental to your relationship. As inflexibility brings aches and pains to your body, if you approach your relationship with a rigid attitude, you may get stuck in place. If you aren’t willing to change your position and stretch yourself with new challenges, you and your relationship will remain stagnant. Practice your emotional and mental yoga for an open and inclusive attitude and improved relationship. A flexible approach makes compromise a lot more comfortable. 

Compromise is not always easy. Sometimes you win a little, sometimes you lose a little. But if both of you are not willing to sacrifice in the relationship, chances are you will reach a junction in your relationship that will bring it to a grinding halt. So let’s see where you should and shouldn’t be encouraging comprise in relationships.

Meeting on the middle ground: 4 issues to compromise in relationships

“Compromise is the best and cheapest lawyer”, Robert Louis Stevenson

The old axiom happy wife, happy life is reflective of a certain truth. Your relationship is much happier when your partner is happy. But that does not mean they have to get their way only.  Being heard and understood is fundamental to connection. Some areas are necessary to reach an agreement on as they form part of everyday life. Having a serious partner, means you will have to tackle certain issues along the way. And these are the places where negotiating pays off. Hear each other out, connect and create a shared approach.  

  1. Money, money, money: finances are a major issue of contention for couples with different spending and saving habits. If you live together, or are considering moving into together, it is imperative to have a mutual agreement on how to spend your money. Financial responsibility should be a guiding factor. Take advice from an expert, if you are battling to agree, and find the focus between frugal choices and having a little fun.
  1. Languages of your love:  do not compromise how you are loved, but you may need to adapt the way you communicate your love. For your partner to feel loved, you need to understand their language of love. Just because you feel loved when you spend quality time together, doesn’t mean that they don’t need words of affirmation to feel loved. Communicate in a way your partner understands, and is meaningful for them.
  1. Calendar clashes: how you spend your free time is an area where you need to compromise to strike a balance. Between friends, family, fitness and entertainment – it can be hard to fit in all the fun for two. Although your calendar might become crowded, arrange what is important – for you individually and for both of you as a couple. And then divide your time out. It can be useful to get a yearly planner and so you can work out your commitments in advance to avoid the clash of occasion.
  1. Sexy time:  some individuals thrive on emotional connection, while others can get more of a boost from physical connection.  Partners need to find a healthy compromise on the physical playing field. This means you may need to put in the effort sometimes when you feel like saying you have a headache. And sometimes, it’s fair to draw the line and call it a night. Discuss what you both consider healthy and need to keep your chemistry alive.

Issues that form a basis of how you live out your lives together can take a little negotiation to reach that place where you both feel acknowledged and accepted. But put in the efforts to cross the great divide and find your relationship middle ground on these fundamental issues. Happy love equals happy life.

Deal breakers: the no go zone for compromise

“Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take” Mahatma Gandhi

All compromise is based on give and take, but there can’t be give and take on some fundamentals. A relationship should not infringe on certain core factors. Your rights and needs should never be violated by your partner. These are the areas where you should not back down, and compromise would actually be the deal breaker.

  1. Just a little respect: you should always be treated with respect in a relationship. You are both equally valid and should be given the space to engage in the relationship dynamics on equal footing. Don’t accept disrespectful and undermining attitudes or actions from your partner.
  1. The ties that bind: your access to your social support network should not be limited. It is not acceptable for your partner to stop you from communicating with your close family or friends. It is a bright red flag if your partner tries to manage your other close relationships. Although you need to mutually agree on how to spend your free time, you should not have your close connections controlled.
  1. Face value: our core values and beliefs are the principal touch points we use on an elemental level to map our route through life. What we believe in is part of what defines who we are. When it comes to fundamental value systems, don’t compromise who you are, for who we are. Your partner should love and respect you. When they want to change you in areas essential to your identity, it may be time to admit a mismatch!
  1. Future you: your partner should want you to follow your dreams and aspire to your goals. If they try to cut your wings, encourage you to dream smaller or do less, this is not a supportive relationship. To journey through life together, you should both support the best for future you. If your future is undermined, don’t give up it up for the sake of your relationship.

It’s my way or the highway is not the most accommodating attitude. However, if your partner wants you to compromise on issues fundamental to your own identity and values, it might just be time to start walking away. 

Compromise is the beginning, not the end…

Don’t compromise if it means lowering your standards for less than you deserve. It is about creating a fair playing field to accommodate two individuals. It is not about conceding to a lower standard. The goal you should both work towards is to get the best of both your worlds. Remember that your approach to compromise should be the beginning of connection and does not need to be definitive. Change, grow and adapt together. Learn your lessons and make the best with what you have - your compromises can be as flexible as your attitude should be.

Use your individual strength and weaknesses, perceptions and values to expand, and not contract each other’s worlds. Compromise in relationships can pave the road to contentment. As Jane Wells said, “Learn the wisdom of compromise, for it is better to bend a little than to break”.

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