When to Compromise in Your Relationship (and How to do it)

Compromise in your relationship is a big topic. But when should you compromise and how much?

When to compromise

There is a rule I learnt during my relationship coaching course — you are only responsible for 50% of your relationship. That is, a relationship, any personal relationship, is a partnership and you are both equally responsible for it. You can put 100% of your effort into your 50% but you should never be responsible for the whole relationship. I believe the same rule applies to compromise. Compromising should be a meeting in the middle, working towards the shared vision you have for your lives and relationship.

Although I believe this and would tell all my friends to do this I know it is not quite that straightforward. Dave and I have been through many tough times in our relationships because the compromise has not been 50/50. Research has actually found that women are more likely to compromise when making decisions with men. I think women are still trying to brush off the remnants of a society where they were expected to do as they were told by their husbands, including compromise on everything they might have wanted. Unfortunately, I believe this means men also see compromise differently. And often, for a quiet life, or because we think it is required to be desirable to our partners, we just compromise.

How to compromise

So how does 50/50 compromise work in real life? Here are some elements I believe have to be in place in order to achieve a complete 50% split.

  1. Know what you want from life

Do you know what you want to achieve in your life? Do you regularly review it to check you are still on track and it is still what you want? I am talking about the big picture stuff. The things, that when you make it to 90 years old you can look back and know you achieved what you wanted from life. There are so many ways to do this. You could create a vision board, write down what is important to you, make lists. When doing this make sure this is exactly what you want, not what you think you should want, or something that you have been socialised into believing. Completing this exercise gives you a guide path when you do have to compromise on something.

2. Know what’s important to you

When you look at the vision you have created for yourself in your life see what themes emerge. Can you identify those values that mean the most to you? Once you have those ideas and values in place rank them. Which is the most important for you? For example, maybe family is a key theme for you. So within that is living close to your extended family more important than having a big family home? Would you sacrifice fast tracking your career to have more time at home with your children? Completing this exercise will allow you to see what you would be more or less willing to compromise on. It helps you identify the deal breakers. Bonus points if your partner is willing to also do this exercise and the one above. Both knowing what you want out of life will go a long way to make this process smoother.

3. Identify what your partner wants

Simply ask them what would be their ideal outcome. Give them time to think about it if they don’t know. Don’t pass judgement on it, even if it is completely unfeasible to achieve. Once they have told you what it is, gently ask them about the bits that you are unsure of. The aim of this exercise is to develop a complete picture of what is it they want to happen without any assumptions being made. This exercise needs to be done when you have time and without strong emotions. Dave and I like to take the dog for a walk and have these kind of conversations.

As above tell them what your ideal outcome would be. Give your partner chance to ask questions, try to keep strong emotions out of the discussion and take your time to think about what they are asking. Refer back to your vision and values during this process to help guide you on identifying this.

4. Discuss what the middle ground is

Once you have both identified your best outcomes, get your best problem solving hats on and discuss it together. It might be that their ideal outcome is exactly the same as yours and you can just do that, knowing you have agreed on it together. It might be they are happy to go along with your ideal outcome (I tend to find, from experience, this is the case as it is the more realistic one, but maybe that is because Dave likes to think big and I am more detailed orientated!). If neither of the above is the case, ask them what they would be willing to compromise on. Tell them what you are willing to compromise on. Offer possible alternative solutions, let them create possible solutions. For this to really work you both have to let go of the idea that your ideal outcome is the correct one.

Once a middle ground has been agreed try it out. Don’t feel though, because the decision has been made it can’t be unmade. Take time to reflect if it is working, check in that your partner is happy with it. All humans grow, develop and change.

I believe the key to having these conversations is making sure they are not emotionally charged. If there is a topic you have argued a lot about in the past, that you know will create a lot of strong emotions, try and ensure you are both in the best place possible before having the conversation. Maybe ask to schedule a time at the weekend to have the discussion; don’t spring it on your partner as they walk through the door from work. Discuss it with your friends before you have the conversation to get all the emotions out of your system first. I offer one-off coaching sessions for this very scenario — a space for you to get everything off your chest, using all the negative, emotive language that is bubbling up inside of you until it has run out of steam, to then look at a more constructive way to have the conversation.

This list of steps can be used in any relationship. Maybe you are being asked to change your role at work. The process is the same; identify what it is you want from your career, which elements are deal breakers, what your ideal outcome would be, what they’re proposing the new role would be (their ideal outcome) and then try and negotiate a middle ground. Maybe your aging parents are asking you to help them more. Same again; identify what it is you want, what the deal breakers are, ideal outcomes and middle ground. You could even go through this exercise with your children, helping them develop robust communication and negotiation skills for their future relationships.

When not to compromise

I believe if the above steps are successfully followed you can navigate through relationships without ever feeling a need to not compromise. But there are some scenarios when this will be the case. Don’t compromise on the goals and values you identified in step 2 above. You deserve what you want in your life and no one can tell you differently. Compromising is not about just doing what the other person wants. If you have a tendency to compromise a lot for an easy life, break the habit. Don’t let your partner emotionally blackmail you into making compromise, or pressure you into making a decision if it is a compromise that will drastically change your life. I’m not suggesting deferring all decisions but it is ok to take a bit of time and space to think something through before you respond. If you have had the discussion and negotiated a compromise don’t let someone else change your mind. Previous compromises cannot be used to force new ones. I will hold my hands up and admit to doing this one and it is not nice behaviour.

What do you think about compromise in relationships? How do you do it?

Originally published at www.idealbalancecoaching.co.uk on October 20, 2016.