In today’s world, people operate from two different paradigms in their relationships. Either they build their relationships on the foundation of compromise. Or they build their relationships on the foundation of compatibility.
To compromise is to settle a dispute/conflict or reach agreement or alignment by way of mutual concession. Remember that to concede is to yield, give up or give away something you value. To compromise, by definition, is to accept something that is lower than is desirable. In any relationship, there will be times when for example you say: “I want to eat at a Mexican restaurant” and the other person says “I want to eat at a Chinese restaurant” and you agree to going to Chinese, because in that moment, what genuinely matters more than what you eat is that the other person feels happy or because in that moment, you’re really hungry and what you eat is not really that important to you. But these kinds of every day concessions aren’t really compromise because in that moment, relative to things like this, you are not giving up something of value and you are not accepting something that is undesirable. You will not feel pain when you do this.
When we build our relationship on the foundation of compromise, we believe that it is loving to concede relative to the big things. Things where we are accepting lower than desired and we are giving away something of value. You will feel pain when you do this. But you will think that the pain of compromise is how you know you love them. And you will think that the pain they feel as a result of compromising is them loving you. And often, if people are particularly conflict averse, they will give in and expect others to give in like this for the sake of maintaining harmony in the relationship.
When you build a relationship on the foundation of and around the belief in compromise, you believe that while it’s great to have compatibility, love and will power can make most relationships work. This means that when it comes to the big things (such as what other people might consider serious incompatibilities) you truly believe that if a person loves you and in order for them to be right and good, they must give in to some degree and take a little pain for the sake of the relationship and your happiness. And you expect the same thing from yourself as well. There is a lot of give and take in your relationships. You may believe in meeting other people halfway. And you genuinely believe that compromise is necessary for a healthy partnership, rather than having your own singular happiness at heart. You believe in mutual sacrifice.
Compatibility on the other hand is when two things are able to exist or occur together in a state of harmony and without conflict. If two things are compatible, their co-existence is beneficial and ads to the wellbeing of each of them. Whereas incompatibility is when two things cannot exist or occur together without creating conflict and without being a detriment to one or to both of them. Compatibility is not about sameness. Sameness could spell compatibility or incompatibility. Compatibility is about creating the right arrangements with people and putting people in the right place in your life according to their boundaries (personal feelings, thoughts, desires, needs, behavior, truths etc) and your boundaries (personal feelings, thoughts, desires, needs, behavior, truths etc). Compromise is about agreement and alignment being reached by finding a win-win scenario for both parties, where neither must give something of value away or take pain for the other’s sake.
When you build your relationships on the foundation of compatibility, you don’t believe in giving in when it comes to anything in a relationship that will cause you to feel resentment, frustration or pain; or that will compromise your sense of personal wellbeing. You don’t believe in mutual sacrifice. You don’t believe that balance in a relationship is about meeting half way. Instead, you believe that loving someone means making sure they are not in pain. And them loving you means making sure that you are not in pain, even if that means that you cannot be with a person in a certain relationship arrangement because of it. Therefore, you also don’t believe in having your own singular happiness at heart. But you don’t believe in sacrificing your singular happiness for the sake of the other person’s happiness either. And you believe that in order for a person to be right and good, they must be willing to look at the incompatibilities that are causing pain and be willing to find a different, more compatible arrangement for you both. You believe in symbiosis rather than give and take.
When people build their relationships in two different paradigms and base their relationships on two different foundations, it spells disaster. The disaster of one person’s relationship paradigm being based in compromise and the other’s being based in compatibility, can be seen in conflicts in every kind of relationship. Two siblings might base their relationships in these two separate paradigms. So might two partners, two friends, two colleagues etc. And it leads to a very similar pattern every time. It leads to one person feeling like they are in a relationship with someone who only cares about themselves (because that person expects them to accommodate and sacrifice and be in pain and oppose their own best interests for their sake). And the other person feeling like they are in a relationship with someone who only cares about themselves (because they are totally unwilling to meet them halfway or concede and have to have it their way and are willing to end the relationship instead of give in a little).
For the sake of enhancing your understanding, I’m going to give you an example. Tom and Melissa had been dating for three months. They have now entered into a committed relationship. Melissa bases her relationships in compromise. Tom bases his relationships in compatibility. But neither of them knows it consciously. There is trouble in paradise as you would say. Melissa and Tom are having issues because Tom is a flirt with a very rich social life. At every opportunity, he meets up with his friends and attends social events. When he enters the room, he is the center of attention and he is smiling and laughing and chatting everyone up. He is in entertainment mode. Melissa feels she may as well not even exist. Melissa is much more introverted. She wants a partner that wants to be with her one on one. She doesn’t want Tom to look at, much less talk to any other women. She is happiest when Tom is with her at her home, with her dog and just having quiet, intimate time together. Because of this, the resentment and frustration between them is growing.
Tom sees this as a serious incompatibility. He has tried several times to suggest different arrangements so they can reach a win-win. For example, he has thought about reserving two days of the week to be with her at home one on one, which isn’t a sacrifice for him because he would like that. Any more than that however, and he would start to resent her. He has thought about getting her a e-course on how to overcome social anxiety. He has thought of every possible way to make her experience when she is socializing with his friends and networking more fun for her. He has thought about having an open relationship so that she can have an introverted man who will stay with her at home, but they can still meet each other’s needs and benefit from each other’s romantic company. But Melissa told him that this is not an option. She would simply end the relationship with him for that other man. And now, Tom is at the point where he has told Melissa that they might not be right for each other as partners at all and may need to just be friends. Tom feels like Melissa wants him to prove how much he loves her by choosing to give up what make him happy for what makes her happy. The fact that she would feel pleasure as a result of him giving up something important to him makes Tom distrust her and question whether she is a good woman or emotionally dangerous.
Melissa can hardly believe what she is hearing. She feels like she might just be waking up to the fact that she is in love with a narcissist. She sees Tom as totally inflexible. She yells at him that he is a ‘my way or the highway’ kind of person and that he will never be able to have relationships because of it. She thinks that Tom continues to show a lack of flexibility and an uncompromising nature. She does not understand why it is so hard to just meet in the middle. Her idea is that she will accept the idea of him going out half of the week if he promises not to flirt or talk to other women. And the other half of the week, he can be home one on one with her. And what makes Melissa furious is that unlike Tom, she has already made all kinds of compromises to make him happy. She left her dog at home alone on several occasions to go out to some social gathering or other with him. She made food for him a bunch of times when she didn’t feel like it, so that he would feel satisfied. She didn’t see her family on Christmas because she gave into going to his parent’s place instead. To her, this is feeling like a one-way relationship where the universe revolves around Tom and where everyone else is expected to concede, but he never will. Besides, Melissa believes that a good man does not flirt with or talk to other women or fail to pay attention to their own girlfriend at social get togethers. She firmly believes that he needs to heal out of this behavior.
Tom and Melissa are operating from two totally different relationship paradigms. Tom has no idea that Melissa is compromising in the relationship so often. He doesn’t actually expect that and he wouldn’t actually be ok with it if he knew she was doing this. In his mind, he is trusting that if she says yes to something, it is because she is genuinely happy with the decision she is making, otherwise, she would not go along with it. Melissa has no idea that Tom does not even believe in compromise. He will not give up anything that is important to him. He will not do anything that might cause him to resent her. And this is why he is being like he is being. In her mind, it is obvious that compromise is what makes a relationship work. And if she knew that he didn’t see this and therefore planned to never compromise, she would second guess their entire relationship. One thing is for certain, it is a waste of time arguing over the specifics of the conflict they are having around their social lives when the real issue is that they don’t even operate from the same relationship paradigm and therefore, are looking in two totally different directions for the solution.
Often in conflicts that have their roots in this dynamic, you will find that someone who is operating from the relationship paradigm of compromise will come across like a codependent and someone who is operating from the relationship paradigm of compatibility will come across like a narcissist, regardless of whether this is actually the reality or not. It’s important to separate out these relational styles from these two relationship paradigms. A person could very well be either and adhere to either relationship paradigm and a person could very well be neither and still adhere to one or the other relationship paradigm.
If you are curious to learn what I think about compromise and compatibility in relationships, you might want to watch two of my videos. The first titled: Why You Should Never Make Compromises in a Relationship. And the second titled: Incompatibility, a Harsh Reality in Relationships.
If it seems like you are in any kind of relationship with a person who is operating from a different relationship paradigm, set aside the conversation about the specific conflict you are having. And instead, switch the attention to a conversation around the fact that you are operating from two different paradigms. One of you believes in compromise and the other doesn’t and so you are pulling in different directions for a solution, thereby only enhancing the feeling of unworkability on both sides. It is time to examine and question your own relationship paradigm as well as the other person’s so as to consciously arrive at a relationship paradigm you can stand for, hopefully together. It is so important to get into the same relationship paradigm with your partner. If you don’t, every argument you have with them will be fruitless because you don’t even agree upon the way to go about having a successful relationship in the first place. You will be unknowingly fighting for two different outcomes. All this being said, can you recognize which relationship paradigm you operate from?