People the world over are completely confused about compromise. They don’t know when they should compromise and when they shouldn’t compromise in a relationship. They want to know where that line is between it being ok to compromise and it being not ok to compromise. And being this confused about compromise causes people to dive head first into dysfunction in their lives; most especially in their relationships. For this reason, I’m going to clear up this confusion for you. I’m going to break down the concept of compromise and help you to define when you should and shouldn’t compromise in your relationships.
To compromise is to settle a dispute/conflict or reach agreement/alignment by way of mutual concession. And remember that to concede is to yield, give up or give away something you value.
The problem with conversations about compromise is that when people use the word compromise, they are often talking about two different things. One person sees compromise as being about the big things that really matter. So, they are talking about those things. When people say that compromise is important and they hold this definition of compromise, it is just another way of saying “it’s important to give up what is important to you sometimes and take some pain for the sake of the relationship.”
Another person sees compromise as the small stuff. Stuff that doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t represent something the person deeply values. So, they are talking about those things. When people say that compromise is important and they hold this definition of compromise, it’s is just another way of saying “It’s important to let the other person have their way when something matters less to you than it does to them.”
Compromise is by definition to yield, give up or give away something you value. If you value something, it is important to you. It is a big thing. And it matters. Otherwise, you couldn’t really call it a compromise.
The real problem is that we have one word, compromise, to describe two different things. And this is why it is so hard to figure out where the line should be relative to when you should and when you shouldn’t compromise. Because of this, the first thing you should do, is to make the two different things, two different words. The first word being compromise. Which we have already defined. And the second word being workability. When something is workable, it is flexible, negotiable, pliable and adaptable. It can be influenced, molded or changed so that it produces the desired effect or the desired results. When a person is being workable, they are settling a dispute/conflict or reaching agreement/alignment by way of flexibility by adaptability. By finding a win-win. Or by letting the other person have their way because doing so does not conflict with something they deeply value.
I’m going to make a bold statement here. For a relationship to be harmonious, mutually pleasing and successful, we need to be workable. We will find ourselves changing certain things, adapting to certain things and developing flexibility in certain ways. But contrary to popular advice, you must never compromise. The truth is, you can’t actually do it, even if you think you can. A person can’t give up something that they truly value (and thus that really matters to them) without experiencing pain that eventually causes personal decline and disharmony in the relationship. It is ironic that when we say that someone or something is compromised, we mean that it has become vulnerable, weakened or is functioning less effectively, because that is exactly what happens when we compromise. At the heart of compromise is the idea of giving yourself up in some way. Whether it is your standards or your beliefs or your needs or your desires or your convictions or your truths or what is right for you or what is important to you etc. And when you do this, not only do you compromise yourself in ways that are detrimental to your wellbeing, you will not stay on good terms with the person you do this for.
Compromise is a form of self-sacrifice. A basic definition of self-sacrifice is the giving up of one’s own best interests for the sake of someone or something else’s. But this is where we run into a problem right here. It is not actually possible to give up your own best interests. People only think it is. Therefore, there is actually no such thing as self-sacrifice. And self-sacrifice is an inherently narcissistic act. To learn more about this rather provocative claim, watch my video titled: Self Sacrifice, The Most Self-Centered Thing in the World. Compromise is about settling for less and accepting something that doesn’t fully satisfy one or either person.
A compromise feels bad because compromise insinuates that you don’t want to do it. When people compromise, even if it takes years to surface, it will lead to things like using it against them later, resentment, dissatisfaction in the relationship, passive aggressive behavior, unmet needs, manipulation, physical illness, mental illness, constant emotional tension in the relationship and the whole host of unhealthy coping mechanisms people employ to deal with that, tit for tat or give and take mentality in relationships, disappointment, missed opportunities for personal growth, fatigue and lack of energy/vitality, emotional blackmail, behaving in inconsistent ways, loss of integrity, loss of a sense of self and healthy identity, a breakdown of communication, loss of important relationships and people in our life, the feeling of lostness in life, dissatisfaction with one’s life, the feeling of being undervalued, low self-esteem, feeling empty, loss of passion, loss of self-respect, loss of authenticity, egoic superiority that comes with seeing oneself as the better person, failure to reach the full potential of your relationships and of your life, victim control dramas, lack of intimacy in a relationship and the feeling of being alone in a relationship, losing sight of what is important and all the pain that comes with incompatibility. Compromise is often just a way to avoid conflict or reach a quick resolution, rather than addressing the deeper issues at hand. So, it acts as a big smokescreen for incompatibilities that two people do not want to face. On top of this, you will find that most relationships that are based on compromise, end up being one-sided in that as if a relationship of tit for tat or give and take wasn’t bad enough, there is no give and take. More often than not, one partner ends up being the sole collaborator in the relationship by constantly being the one to compromise.
Workability, is not about giving up something important to you. It implies feeling good about a decision that is being made. It is about finding a solution that meets both your needs and desires as well as the other person’s needs and desires. As opposed to compromise, it is when both partners work together towards a common goal or solution while taking into account each other’s needs and desires. It’s about finding a way that both people’s needs and goals can be met without having to give up something important to them. Workability is based on open communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to work together to find solutions that are satisfactory to both people. And to do this, you may need to be flexible and adaptable and even change in ways that don’t feel like you are sacrificing part of yourself. Workability should be about the smaller things. But beware, small is determined by how important it is or isn’t to you specifically. By whether it causes pain or not. And what is small to one person, may be very big to another.
I know I said in the beginning of this video that I was going to tell you when you should and shouldn’t compromise. But the truth is, the reason why no one can tell you when you should be workable and when you shouldn’t (because it is compromise) is because there are no SHOULDS when it comes to workability and therefore compromise. It’s based on one person’s boundaries versus another’s. I’ll give you an example, a person who is an outdoor enthusiast might be in a relationship with someone who prefers indoor activities to outdoor activities. This person might be able to be workable about that. They may be able to decrease the amount of time they spend doing outdoor activities and also do it alone, so that they are spending their time with their partner doing indoor activities. Or they may find a win-win by doing an outdoor activity on one day of the weekend and an indoor activity on the other. But another person in the exact same scenario may find that doing outdoor activities and having a partner who wants to do it with them is so important that they cannot be flexible on that, without compromising themselves. And so, this person cannot be workable about it, because that would be compromise.
To give you another example, it may be no big deal for one person to attend church on Sundays, or even to let their partner and children do so without them. They could be workable about that. But for another person, say someone who has trauma with religion or who has very strong beliefs against religion, they would not be able to do this without it being a compromise.
To give you another example, one person would not care if their partner entirely got their way on how to decorate the house. After all, aesthetics doesn’t really matter to them. So, they could be workable enough to just let their partner decorate the house however they wanted. But another person might feel like they were living in someone else’s house if this happened. And since the feeling of proprietorship is so important to them, they could not be as workable about it and would have to do something like co-decorate or agree upon places each of them gets to decorate on their own.
To use a metaphor, some things about us and about our life are unworkable, like solid steel. And need to be for the sake of our wellbeing. And other things are workable, like modeling clay. And need to be for the sake of our wellbeing. And because every person is different and every person’s values and therefore priorities are different, no one can set a hard fast rule for all people on what should or shouldn’t be like steel or like modeling clay. When people argue that they can, all they are really doing is trying to get you to agree to their core values (what is important to them).
When two people stand by what is genuinely important to them, what is flushed to the surface is areas of workability and areas of incompatibility. If you want to learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: Incompatibility, a Harsh Reality in Relationships.
But when it comes to facing your personal priorities and values, what is really hard to face is the shame around it. We are taught that some priorities and values are good and right and others are bad and wrong. If we feel we have sacrificed, we often feel that we have given something up because we could not choose that thing we gave up or prioritize that thing we gave up and feel good about ourselves at the same time. We have to face our shame about choosing what we are giving up or have given up instead. If you want to dive deeper into this topic of compromise, I suggest you watch two of my videos. The first titled: Why You Should Never Make Compromises in a Relationship. And the second is titled: Do You Base Your Relationships on Compromise or Compatibility?
No matter how workable you are and how well you avoid compromising, you are likely to find yourself in situations in relationships where there is unworkability on the other side of the relationship equation. When this happens, you will need to consciously choose your consequences. What I mean by this is: We may be faced with having to choose for something we really want, but at a cost. For example, we may be in a relationship where the person we love gets into a serious injury. This is a situation that we would never have chosen and that does not align with our desires. But we might decide that loyalty is super important to us and so is maintaining the connection we have to the person we care about. That is something we value and want. And as a result, we may decide to take care of them. Doing so is likely to come with difficulty and pain. So, making that choice comes with certain consequences, both positive and negative. And we would have to decide if we can choose those consequences. You need to be willing to decide that (fill in the blank) is worth the consequence or potential consequence. If it is, you are still acting in alignment with your values, and so it can’t be called compromise. And when you do this, you can only be empowered by facing, accepting and dealing with the consequence that you have chosen. The question is: Is the cost something that you can live with, because of what it gets you, without that causing you to feel like you have compromised yourself and without it causing disharmony in the relationship? If you would like to learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: Why You Should Consciously Choose Consequences.
Be workable all you can in a relationship, but do not compromise. When you don’t know whether you can be workable about something or when something is going to take you into the territory of compromise, ask yourself whether doing so would cause you to feel resentful. Whether you would expect something in return. Whether you could feel good and right about it long term or whether it will eat at you. Whether it feels like you’re giving something very important to you up or away. Whether you will use it against them later. Whether you are settling for less or are lowering your standards. Whether it would be in alignment with a way you want to change and grow or not. Whether you would be happy with your own child or whoever you love the most in your life making the same decision or doing the same thing? Whether you are being true to yourself and your beliefs or not. Whether you can maintain self-respect or not. Whether you feel safe or not. Whether it compromises your integrity or not. Whether this is simply to establish confluence and avoid conflict, making it a way of avoiding deeper incompatibilities. Whether it will ultimately make you feel less close and aligned with the other person over time. Whether you would be giving up one of your needs. Whether you would have to cope with it and in what ways. Whether it would cost you a relationship with someone important in your life. Whether it would make you dissatisfied with your life and life choices. And whether you are only doing it to feel like a good person or the better person. You need to know your why behind what you are deciding or doing.
Compromise and workability are two very different things. Compromise undermines your values. It corrodes your life. It ruins relationships. Workability preserves your values. It enhances your life. And it strengthens relationships.