When you first meet someone, compromise is effortless. It’s a six week (or maybe three month) Vulcan mind meld. But fast forward a few years, you’re living together, maybe you’re married, and you realize that compromise might not be romantic, but it is necessary.
So in honor of this day of love, I figured I’d offer some tips on the art and science of compromise.
1) Accept that compromise is a healthy part of relationships.
Some people think that disagreement is, by its nature, problematic. I think that being with someone who often has differences of opinion can be invigorating. Things don’t get stale when they stay surprising.
But if you are very different from your partner–even if you started out similar and then grew to be different–then you’ve got some work to do. Having a positive view about doing that work, recognizing its potential rewards, can help a lot.
2) Do it together.
As in, one person should not be giving in all the time. That is not compromise. And if you find that you’re the one always giving in, it’s likely to breed resentment over time.
So it’s important that both parties recognize the value of compromise and negotiation, and that it is a joint undertaking. Verbalize this: “We really need to work on how we settle disagreements. We need to get better at compromising.”
3) If the word “negotiation” strikes fear into your heart, you might need to work on your own assertiveness skills first.
Some people grew up in houses where disagreements meant conflict, and there were no negotiations. Or maybe “negotiation” meant outright war. Or “negotiation” conjures thoughts of asking your boss for a raise.
But negotiation is a key part of how to reach compromise. It involves knowing yourself and why you value the things that you do.
4) Once you know what you want and why you want it, articulate that in a way that’s respectful of your partner.
Yes, I’m talking about I-statements. It may seem cliched, but they are important. They’re a way of owning your own feelings and not putting them onto the other person in a blaming way.
And once you know the aspects of something that are important to you, you’ll know where the room is to compromise.
For example, if you’ve gotten really stuck on celebrating Valentine’s Day at a certain expensive restaurant and your partner doesn’t want to spend that much money, then you can look inside yourself and think what’s so important about that particular restaurant. If you just feel like it has great ambiance, then maybe your partner could look around for great ambiance and cheaper food prices and make alternate suggestions. Sometimes we get wedded to one way of doing things, when others could actually be substituted and still make us happy.
5) Make sure there’s not some deeper issues that’s impeding the compromise.
In the example above, what if it’s not really about that particular restaurant but about you feeling like your partner doesn’t really value you? If that’s what’s going on for you underneath, it’s going to make it difficult to reach any sort of compromise. You want him to prove he loves you by paying for that restaurant, period.
So before attempting to negotiate a specific disagreement, make sure it’s really about that, specifically. If it’s about something else, you need to talk about that first.
If you keep reaching impasses when you try to compromise, the odds are good that something else is going on in your relationship (emotional disconnection, unmet emotional needs, power struggle, etc.) Deal with these first, or you’ll forever be sweating the small stuff.
Happy Valentine’s Day, all!
Boxing gloves image available from Shutterstock.