Can Compromise Ever Be A Bad Thing In A Relationship?

19/08/2016 11:57

I tend to have a bit of a problem with the underlying message of the word compromise. When I think compromise, indeed when most people think of compromise, the feeling that immediately comes up for me is that you have to give something up so that the other person can gain something. This belief and the importance of compromise are very regularly taught in couple's therapy or counselling. Partners are given practical advice and taught the skills of compromising. For instance, if Susanne does the dishes then Tom should do the cooking or if you go to Tom's parents for Christmas this year, than you can go to Susanne's next. This kind of reasoning - I give something up for you, then you give something up for me because we love each other, want to reduce conflict and make things work in our relationship - feels to me to have something fundamentally wrong with its view of loving relationships.

To clarify my point, I'll give you an example. Think about the relationship a parent has with his or her child and the love that is shared between them. If the child is sick, parents will gladly stay up all night looking after her and nursing her back to health; if the child is upset, parents will love and console him; if the child needs something, they'll do their best to get it. All the while the parents are caring and nurturing the child, they don't ever turn around and say "ok now it's your turn to take care of me". Parents give openly and willingly because they feel genuine love for the child and have a strong desire to see their child happy and healthy. The relationship is deep and meaningful and there is an understanding that by benefiting the other person, I am benefiting myself (i.e. my child's happiness, brings me happiness).

While I understand that a romantic relationship is different than that between a parent and a child and requires a different dynamic, I think there is still an important lesson about value that we can learn here. A parent genuinely values the child and the relationship. There is an emotional investment, such that parents knows that if their child is successful and happy in life, than they will also feel successful and happy.

Imagine if this kind of attitude was applied to your romantic partner? If you had a sincere investment in your partner's success and happiness? When two people have a genuine investment in each other's wellbeing, they than work together to elevate each other and help each other succeed in life without keeping score. Moreover, they work to make each other's decisions, each other's choices and actions successful. They don't say things like "I told you so" or angrily remind their partner that they have a more stressful job.

The fundamental principle here is a shift in perspective where you no longer view it as giving something up to make your partner happy, while they give something up to make you happy (i.e. compromise); the idea is that you recognize that their happiness is your happiness. When you put up with your husband's overly involved mother, you do it not from a place of resentment and expectation that your husband now needs to do something big for you in return, you do it because you realize your husband's relationship with his family is important and you want to support that for the sake of your husband's feelings - not just to get something in return. Likewise, he goes out to dinner parties with you when he rather stay at home because he realizes you enjoy them and your enjoyment gives him enjoyment, not because he's trying to get you to agree to a weekend away with his mates.

When each of you are invested in the wellbeing of the relationship and in one another's happiness, than you don't feel like you are giving anything up or that your partner now owes you something in return because you did something for them. You don't see doing things for each other as sacrificing or compromising your own needs, instead their happiness and joy becomes more important for you than tallying up who did what and who owes who how much. The ironic point is that when you both begin truly valuing each other, genuinely caring about one another's feelings and investing in each other's success - without keeping a scorecard - then you no longer have to bicker or be rowdy to get your needs heard because your partner will already be too busy rallying on your behalf.