So often, when you ask a couple, that has been married for a long time, what the key to a successful relationship is, they will say: Compromise. Compromise is often treated like the sacred cow of relationships. But it’s time for this outdated idea to come to an end. It’s time for people to change their definition of what a successful relationship is. And to see that if you want a relationship that feels good, compromise is to be intentionally avoided.
When many of us are young, we do not feel accommodated and considered by our parents. We feel like our parents are unfair, uncooperative, rigid and unempathetic. They make unilateral decisions. We feel like they are not genuinely considering and changing and adapting to what we believe is actually in our best interests. But the fact that they are this way, means that in order to fit in with the family, get our own needs met and avoid serious consequences, we need to develop codependent strategies (which are really covert narcissistic strategies) in order to adapt to them. We are trained that this is what it is to be good and right and loving. This experience gives rise to two things that ruins our chances at a happy adult relationship:
- A wounding around not being considered, not being accommodated for, not being cooperated with and inflexibility in general. And therefore, a desperate need for the opposite experience.
- The idea that what relationship and love is, is compromise… What they had to do for the people they loved and what they now expect in return from the people that they love.
To compromise is to settle a dispute/conflict or reach agreement 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. You cannot do these things without experiencing pain. By definition, it isn’t actually a win-win scenario. People simply mistake it for one. Therefore, what you are doing when you compromise is finding alignment with another person by saying “I’ll take a little pain and you take a little pain”.
You may be able to maintain a long-term relationship this way. But it will be a long-term relationship that is painful. And it is high time that people stop defining relationship success only according to longevity, regardless of how happy or unhappy, fulfilled or unfulfilled, both people are in the relationship.
But here’s the biggest problem: Often, people with this trauma around consideration and accommodation don’t actually register how much damage compromise is doing to them because compromise (both when they do it for others and especially when others do it for them), registers as both healing and as love. This means that they don’t feel the appropriate level of hurt in the experience of concession because they already associate pain with love. They associate their own willingness to concede so as to be in pain as a loving act that makes them feel good about themselves. And they associate other people’s willingness to concede so as to be in pain as a demonstration of love as well as a confirmation of that person’s goodness. They expect people around them to compromise, if those people do in fact love them. This is one of many patterns that falls into the category of confusing pain with love. To understand more about this pattern, watch my video titled: The “Suffer So I Can Feel Loved” Relationship Dynamic.
The other biggest problem is that a person who believes in compromise, must and will subconsciously gravitate towards incompatible relationships. Compatibility is when two things (even if they are different) are able to occur or exist together in alignment without problems and without conflict. In a relationship, it means that well matched characteristics allow for both people to naturally co-exist when combined together and in harmony. Harmony isn’t difficult to create with people that are compatible to us. Harmony is impossible to create with people that are incompatible to us, when we keep trying to force them or ourselves to change so as to make it compatible. For this reason, compromise, as dysfunctional as it is, is the sacred, moral good because it is what has to happen in order to keep an incompatible relationship.
When compromise was established as the way to make a relationship work, compatibility was not the social concern when it came to relationships. For example, marriages were about keeping two people together, no matter whether they were compatible or not. Marriages were established for other reasons and the couple had to make it work and make it work forever. To do this with an incompatible partner (which so many of them were) you had to be willing to concede and take a little pain (or a lot of pain) to make it last. Therefore, compromise is what you teach someone if you want them to stay in an incompatible relationship and make it last.
One of the best stories I have ever heard to illustrate why compromise is a problem, is the story of a married couple. The husband has brown shoes and black shoes. He likes the black shoes and hates the brown shoes. His wife likes the brown shoes and hates the black shoes. So, they meet halfway. He decides to go out wearing one brown shoe and one black shoe. The compromise turned out to be a worse outcome than him wearing the black shoes or the brown shoes.
A person who is looking for that feeling of adaptation, flexibility, change, concession, accommodation and compromise, especially if someone is willing to be in pain in order to do that for them, cannot find this experience within a compatible relationship. No matter whether it is a partnership or friendship or work relationship, a relationship has to in fact be an incompatible relationship for one or both parties to enjoy the experience of someone having to and being willing to concede and compromise, even if it hurts to do so, in order to demonstrate their love and commitment.
For a relationship to genuinely be a good one, both parties involved must be looking for the win-win scenario. To learn more about this, watch my video titled: The Zero Sum Game in Relationships (What is A Zero Sum Game and How To End One). But a win-win scenario is a scenario that is a genuine “yes” for both parties. Not an “I’m willing to concede and be in a degree of pain for your sake, and expect the same from you in return” scenario. You know when you’ve come up with a win-win when both parties feel like they’ve come up with a good deal and not like they had to give up something important to meet some middle point where no one is happy. And the way to ensure that will reliably happen, is to realize and accept just how important compatibility is in relationships. You must seek out compatibility and establish relationship arrangements that are actually compatible. To understand more about this, watch my video titled: Incompatibility, a Harsh Reality in Relationships. So often, people slip into compromise as their strategy for maintaining a relationship because they don’t want to face the incompatibility in their relationship… because of what facing it would mean.
Compromise is actually a sacrifice. To compromise is a recipe for resentment. When someone makes a sacrifice in a relationship, they consciously or subconsciously expect a payback or reward for it later. It becomes an “I did this for you back then, so you need to do this for me now” scenario. And if that payback or reward doesn’t materialize, they will be resentful. Resentment in a relationship is a corrosive force. This means, compromise is a ticking emotional time bomb.
It is a guarantee that when you compromise, you will remember having done it. And the next time you get into a disagreement, you will either bring up having done it as leverage (to hold over the other person’s head) in order to get the other person to compromise this time. Or you will compromise again and end up feeling like a doormat that everyone takes advantage of and steps all over.
When we compromise, we are not actually being loving. When we ask for compromise, we are not actually being loving. When others compromise for us, we are not actually being loved. Compatibility and the lack thereof, implies that there are some things where flexibility can exist and some things in where flexibility cannot exist.
When we compromise, we have not actually found a genuine win-win scenario. We have decided that a bad deal is better than no deal. And I’m going to tell you something. No matter what compromise someone makes, it will always be measured against their ideal scenario and it will always come up short. We compromise to stay safe. And this means, in compromise, we are driven by fear of what we want to avoid, not by what we actually want. Settling does not lead you to a happy life. Sacrifice does not lead you to a happy life. To learn more about this, watch my video titled: Self Sacrifice, The Most Self-Centered Thing In The World.
Compromise can also easily lead to us bait and switching other people. When a person compromises, they often agree to make a concession in the moment. But fail to comprehend what the actuality of implementing that concession will be like; especially what it will feel like. We are likely to discover that the emotional consequences of living with that concession is much worse than what we imagined. The solution we agreed to is actually impossible to uphold. And so, eventually, we have to choose to either be in emotional hell for the sake of integrity. Or lose our integrity and go back on our agreement.
When it comes to this conversation about relationships, it isn’t what you do for a relationship that matters, it’s how you feel about what you do for a relationship that really matters. A genuine win-win scenario leaves you with a good feeling. Compromise by definition, doesn’t leave you with a good feeling. Because when you give up something that is important to you, you feel that internal resistance. You feel that internal protest. If you bulldoze that feeling and go through with the compromise, you will end up in ever increasing degrees of pain. And so, compromise in a relationship, cannot and does not add up to a feel-good relationship. In fact, compromise is the enemy of harmony. Compromise is the enemy of happiness. And compromise is the enemy of actual agreement.