The topic of compromise in a relationship is not an easy one. Let’s be real: Nobody wants to routinely give up or modify their desires in order to keep the peace and love their partners well. However, all healthy relationships have an element of compromise, probably a daily one if we’re honest. If you and your significant other seem to be at each other’s throats lately, are in the throes of a difficult decision, or are just looking to improve your relationship all around, a genuine understanding of healthy compromise might be just what you’re looking for. Let’s take a look at the importance of compromise in a romantic relationship, what constitutes healthy versus unhealthy compromise, and a few common examples. Put on your big kid pants for this one; mutual concession can feel like a punch in the gut!
Writer Note: Hey there! I’ll just put out there that this topic is hard for me, a stubborn, independent redhead who likes my own way. However, marriage is nothing but one giant compromise after another, especially if you are partnered with your complete opposite, which many of us are. In our seventeen-year marriage, I have learned a thing or two about compromise from my easy-going guy. This article is a compilation of relationship advice from some experts and a few personal experiences too.
Adventures From Scratch: Date Edition
A solid dating life, even years into your marriage, can help alleviate stress and deepen your relationship. However, you can only do so much of the same old date before you get bored. Don’t get to that point! Adventures From Scratch: Date Edition is packed with more than 50 strategically designed dates, complete with conversation topics, tips, and more to ensure you get the quality time you need. Just consult the key, maybe compromise on a choice a little bit, and then scratch off a date. There’s one for every week of the year, and they’re all different and awesome!
Healthy Compromise vs. Unhealthy Compromise
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, there are several different meanings to the word “compromise” based on use, but the easiest to understand and the one that works best for our purposes is “to come to agreement by mutual concession.”
In other words, this is walking the middle ground between extremes. That means both partners (or family members, whoever is involved) must give a little to come to a solution that is at least palatable for everyone. When compromise is healthy, each partner feels like their point of view has been heard, and you’re left with a decision that you both feel good about and are eager to carry out.
Unhealthy compromise can go a lot of ways. For the more dominant person, it often involves talking over your partner, making most of the suggestions, manipulating the situation, or using guilt tactics to convince your partner that you’re right. These tactics are red flags and can be detrimental to your partner’s self-esteem in the long run. If you leave the conversation feeling that your partner gave in too easily or you have an unsettled feeling about it, you may need to check back in. You should feel at ease with the decision, not be retracing every word that you said. If you don’t feel at ease, it is likely that you may have bullied your love into submission, and that’s not a compromise.
Note: As a naturally outgoing, creative, and talkative person, I have to be very careful in my own marriage not to push my grand ideas on my more laid-back partner. If this sounds a bit like you, check yourself. Remember that healthy balance involves taking the well-being of your partner, as well as yourself, into account at all times, in every conversation.
For a more submissive partner or one with less intense feelings about the situation, you may have the tendency to give in just to keep the peace or to satisfy your partner. If you’re constantly giving up what you want just to satisfy your significant other, you will eventually lose self-respect and resent your partner. Part of your personal growth in seeking healthy compromise is to make your feelings heard and end with a solution that you feel gratified with. If you leave feeling like your partner is mad at you, feel anxious about the decision, or genuinely feel that the decision does not meet your needs, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board with your boo.
Why Compromise Is So Important
Compromise is key to a successful relationship in the long run for many reasons. It isn’t just about respecting your partner’s needs. It isn’t just about making your own needs heard. Learning to compromise in a healthy way is a method of personal growth. When you sit with someone you respect and discuss ways to handle the same situation, you broaden your horizons, become more compassionate, and experience a true emotional connection with your partner. According to the relationship experts at Naya Clinics, healthy compromise can help you become a more authentic version of yourself, and a healthy relationship should enhance who you really are, not diminish your sense of self.
While each person’s preference in a given situation may be completely opposite, a healthy conversation allows you to pick and choose the most important aspects of each person’s needs and combine them into something that is a win-win for both. Healthy compromise is about respect for the sake of the relationship and both partners’ mental health. It is pertinent to strive towards this mutually acceptable middle ground at every junction of your relationship.
How to Practice Healthy Compromise
In this section, we address some realistic tips for ensuring that your relationship is mutually beneficial and healthy. Remember, nobody gets it right every time, but if you can make a habit of following these steps when conflict arrives, you may find that it arises less often and resolves more easily.
1. Set up a healthy conversation station.
If you need to approach a difficult decision or topic that you know you and your partner have differing ideas about, don’t just throw it out there. When you have some free time, get alone together to discuss it. You might even plan a time to talk so that you can both think about it beforehand and be able to express yourself adequately. Find a quiet place where you can sit down face to face, in comfort, and discuss the situation.
2. Give each person a turn.
Once you sit down, make sure that each partner has a chance to fully explain their preferences, concerns, and values regarding this situation. Practice active listening, acknowledging points by repeating and asking open-ended questions for aspects you don’t understand, but don’t refute yet. After both partners have spoken, take time to present any difficulties or disagreements that you have with your partner’s point of view. Again, each person gets a turn. Be respectful. Don’t name-call or accuse; just frankly present what your objections are and why.
3. Seek a solution rather than victory.
The goal of compromise or even healthy conflict in a relationship is to find a solution, not win a trophy. You shouldn’t go into the conversation with a list of why you are right and a battle plan to get your way. Instead, you should go in with a thorough understanding of what aspects are the most important to you and some ideas on how to remedy the disagreement.
4. Assess your preference carefully.
In order to successfully navigate this conversation, especially if it is a big topic, you may need to do some self-reflection or journaling first. You know what you want, but do you know why you really want it? You know you don’t agree with your partner’s perspective, but you do really understand what chafes you about it?
Taking some time to thoroughly assess your thoughts and feelings around the situation helps to delineate what aspects you can flex on and what you’re not willing to curb. You may find that once you really get into the conversation, the aspects that you’re most concerned about might be something your partner never even thought of and doesn’t care to leave out. It might be a much easier solution than you think.
5. Think outside the box.
Some solutions come easily, but others require some real creativity. You might need to just throw out both options completely and go in a totally different direction. For instance, let’s say your partner wants to go hiking at the state park this weekend, but you want to Netflix and chill all day. You could split ways and each do your own thing, or you could toss both plans and hit up the nearest indoor rock climbing facility, followed by a picnic in the living room and a favorite rom-com. Your partner gets their physical activity, and you get an evening in jammies with the tube. It’s a win-win.
Throw out crazy ideas. Take some time to explore seemingly random options. With a little creativity, the perfect solution is usually out there. Don’t get locked into option one or option two.
6. Check the proportionality of the result.
Once you have found a solution that works, take a break. Come back tomorrow and assess your feelings. Is one partner feeling like they got manipulated into a solution that they don’t feel good about? How much did each person give up to find the solution? Is it as equal as possible? If not, go back to the sofa.
7. Identify your own downfalls.
In order for a relationship to have consistent health, both partners need to be aware of their destructive tendencies. You might do really well for a while, but then that old will to win starts to creep back in, or you get tired of trying to be heard and you give in. Regularly check yourself and analyze those sensitive areas. Reinforce your values in your own mind and try again.
8. Practice with the small things.
Healthy compromise takes practice, and a healthy relationship incorporates compromise in almost every aspect. We aren’t just talking about differences in raising kids, religious preferences, or sexual needs. We may just be talking about whether you should go to Target or Walmart for groceries. Begin to practice your skills on the small stuff. Obviously, you aren’t going to have long, drawn-out conversations over this kind of stuff, but you can still quickly practice some of the same tips. Practice makes perfect, and when you get good at considering your partner in the little things, it becomes second nature to do it in the big things too.
9. Don’t compromise your values.
Some things are non-negotiable! If your partner is asking you to do something that goes against your core beliefs, makes you feel unsafe, or makes you bitter, then it’s a no. There are boundaries, and you need to know what yours are. You might not even be aware of these things or be able to verbalize them, so this may be an area of inner work you need to do to get a clear grasp.
10. Check in with each other regularly.
Just like checking yourself, you want to check in on each other regularly. Ask pointed questions like how are we doing? Are you feeling loved and valued by me? Is there anything we need to talk about? You don’t have to wait for a disagreement to ensure that you and your partner are on a healthy trajectory and feeling mutually respected.
11. Consult a counselor.
If you have tried everything and you just can’t seem to come to an agreement, or you just think that a non-partial mediator would be an asset in your relationship, consider booking an appointment with a couples counselor. They can help you isolate and organize your values, point out weaknesses, and give creative solutions to enhance your relationship. Probably all relationships could gain from occasional third-party advice from a qualified person.
Examples of Compromise in a Romantic Relationship
So far, this has been mostly abstract, but let’s talk about some concrete examples and see how you might find a compromising solution in some common disputes. There is no way we can hit on all the problems you might face in your relationship, but hopefully, with the tips above and a few examples, an understanding of the system behind compromise will emerge.
Problem: Can’t Decide on Where to Eat
You want Pizza Hut, and he wants Pei Wei. Common problem. Forget them both and go to Chili’s, where you can get a pizza and he can get a Chinese dish.
Problem: One Partner Feels Like They Carry All the Weight at Home
Devise a schedule for home chores, dividing them equally every day. You cook dinner. Your partner does the dishes. You mow the lawn. Your partner does the weed-eating. You clean the car. Your partner cleans the bathroom.
Note: It’s important to take other aspects into account with this one. If you are a total slob, don’t expect your partner to roam around picking up after you. If you work ten hours a week from home and your partner works 50 hours a week outside of the home, then having equal chores probably isn’t fair. Healthy compromise in this situation may not always be 1-for-1.
Problem: One Partner Wants Children
If you and your partner are throwing around the idea of having children but one of you is unsure, dig deep into why partner one wants a child and why partner two is hesitant. Perhaps partner two just doesn’t want the physical strain and destruction on their body and doesn’t want a year of sleepless nights. Perhaps adopting a 2-3-year-old child would be a good compromise. This won’t work for every couple, as some people really long for a child of their own bloodline.
This one is a biggie, and it might not be a compromise situation. Choosing to be a parent or not is a core value in most people’s lives, like the concept of marriage itself, and if you don’t agree on these core beliefs, this relationship might not be one to keep pursuing.
Problem: Differing Love Languages
If you and your partner feel love differently, it can be an adjustment to learn to show love in the way that your partner accepts it best. For instance, let’s say that your love language is service, meaning you feel most loved when your partner makes the bed, loads the dishwasher, or completes a job that was on your task list. This is probably the way you will try to show love to your partner without some training, and you will be sorely disappointed when you find out that these acts do nothing for your partner because they don’t speak the same love language.
Your partner might feel love best with gifts. They feel the most loved when you bring home flowers, a coffee, or a new pair of shoes. The compromise comes on date night. If you have two date nights a month, have each partner plan one. When it is your night to plan, you should purchase a thoughtful gift that your partner will appreciate to set the mood and make them feel special. When it’s your partner’s date night, they should start the evening by taking a task off your plate and completing it with excellence.
Problem: Disciplining the Children
Almost every parenting relationship seems to suffer from this one at one point or another. One parent is too harsh (says the other). The other parent is a pushover. It’s important to remember that both parents want the best for their children; you just disagree on how to get there. This is one of those instances where you set up the conversation and go through all the steps we discussed, perhaps many times.
Maybe you outlaw the extremes but come up with a system of discipline that lets your children know there are boundaries and they don’t rule your home. For instance, we won’t do spankings or yelling, and we won’t let bad behavior go unpunished. We will enforce age-appropriate timeouts, restrictions from favorite toys, and groundings from favored activities.
The details will differ for each family, but the point is to find something that honors your values of raising responsible, caring, and productive children in a way that both parents are comfortable with. Don’t get defeated and turn your frustration on your partner. Instead, tackle the problem hand in hand and seek professional help if you can’t reach a resolution together.
Compromise Is Worth It
Compromise is hard. There are no two ways about it. It is also one of the basic tenants of a successful relationship, and very few romances make it for the long haul without a healthy balance. Thankfully, there is usually a solution if we are willing to put the health of our relationship and household above our need to win. Talk it out, utilizing mutually respectful conversation tactics. Get creative and remember your partner is your partner, not your enemy!
A major tenant of healthy compromise in a relationship is learning to fight fairly. Check out “Mitigating the Long-Term Effects of Stress on a Relationship.”
There’s nothing that feels worse than those few hours after a big blowout with your partner. Here are a few tips for getting back to normal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Healthy compromise means coming to a solution that takes the core needs of each partner into account and meeting in the middle. It should be equal, respectful, and fulfilling for both sides.
The secret to finding mutually beneficial solutions is to always place the value and focus on the health of your relationship. Fight for a solution that is satisfying to both sides.
Many underlying issues are solved with strategic quality time and conversation. Regular dates with Adventure From Scratch can bring back some fun and quality conversation to your relationship.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Compromise definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compromise
Curry, A. (2022, May 27). Healthy and unhealthy compromise in relationship. Naya Clinics. Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://www.nayaclinics.com/post/healthy-and-unhealthy-compromise-in-relationship