The strongest relationships are the ones in which both partners can be themselves. Intending to change the other person or dramatically changing yourself to fit someone else’s ideals dooms couples to failure.
When two people have beliefs or habits that differ too much, it creates friction. For example, if one partner is devoutly religious and the other is an all-out atheist, it might be difficult for the couple to find common ground on the way that the universe functions. When a neat-freak has to put up with the habits of a slob, there will be arguments. Opposites may attract, but they don’t always have staying power.
Having two people from completely different worlds can be problematic, but even couples who have a lot in common need to make trade-offs sometimes. It’s not as though two partners need to be exactly alike, after all. Any healthy relationship involves compromise.
Unresolved small differences can cause huge problems.
Our partners are not our clones. If you stay with anyone long enough, you’re going to have disagreements. You can compromise to work through some conflicts, but when the problem illuminates a difference in core values, the dispute becomes personal. Couples may criticize or blame one another for not thinking or behaving in the same way.
If two individuals’ core values are completely misaligned, communication will be nearly impossible. Both may try to constantly prove themselves right and conflicts will be common. Values and beliefs are one’s preference. It’s difficult to change one’s core values because there’s no right or wrong in terms of core values. Of course, not every core value needs to overlap, but there needs to be some, and it needs to be shared. You can read more about the importance of shared values in my other article Why A Shared Life Is Not Enough to Maintain A Relationship
Small disagreements can also highlight breakdowns in communication. I had two friends who attended marriage counselling. One of the major gripes in their marriage was over the dishes. The wife hated having dishes in the sink. Her husband didn’t mind them, and he often told her that he would do the dishes. She became frustrated when he wasn’t operating on her timeline, and she’d do them anyway. She thought he was being spiteful, but he was really just lackadaisical about the chore.
She viewed his nonchalant attitude about the dishes as a personal attack. If they hadn’t gone to counselling, that small breach in communication would have continued to create tension.
When a couple has a disagreement, it is important to have time to communicate about it. In some cases, compromise is not possible. In other cases, the argument was based on a flawed understanding of the situation. Either way, these problems will worsen the relationship if they aren’t addressed.
Most people tackle differences in a way that makes their love lives worse.
People handle differences between each other in plenty of ways. Yet they don’t realize the way they try to tackle differences is worsening their relationship and their love lives.
Some are unwilling to give anything up.
Some people think that if you have to compromise, then the couple is a poor match. They may unconsciously demand that the other person fulfil requirements by asking them to do a certain thing like initiating a dating idea every time.
If the partner can never meet the lofty standards put in place by their significant other, they’ll become exhausted, frustrated, and sad. The significant other who has placed the demands will be constantly disappointed by their partner’s inability to meet their expectations.
Imagine what could happen if one member of a couple places a high value on fashion while the other one can barely match their socks. They might have disagreements about going out. The fashion-forward partner may decide that their less-stylish partner needs to improve their style because it’s embarrassing to go out with someone who looks sloppy.
Instead of compromising by choosing less-formal outings or trying to help the less-stylish partner, the fashionable partner mistakes this lack of style for a lack of care about their relationship. The less-stylish partner, however, feels like it’s impossible to look like a magazine photo. These two will have a hard time making their relationship work.
Some compromise more than their partner does.
When people start a relationship, they may be willing to make some sacrifices because they genuinely like the other person and want to be liked.1 One person may attempt to minimize difference with his or her partner by giving up their own interests.
There is some compromise in this, but because one person gives up more than the other, the relationship is out of balance. Eventually, the person who gives up too much will be exhausted and unhappy.
I had a friend who was newly in love and made a lot of sacrifices to be with her boyfriend. She loved all types of music, and her boyfriend was a musician. The only problem was, he was very opinionated about the bands that he liked. When she talked about a band that he didn’t like, he would pick on her. Instead of standing up for herself, her response was simply to smile, nod, and never talk about how she felt about bands that she knew he disapproved of.
Choice in music may seem like a minor thing, but in a relationship that centred around music, this was a huge sacrifice for my friend to make. The boyfriend didn’t have to give up anything that he enjoyed in this exchange. Needless to say, they didn’t work out.
Some sacrifice way more than they should.
Compromising on core values and beliefs is another recipe for frustration and exhaustion. You can give up small things in the name of love, but if your core values are at stake, this might be a bad match.2
You’ll see this behaviour when one person thinks that they need to change themselves in order to live up to the other person’s standards. In this case, one or both parties may have the mistaken belief that there should be no differences between them. Making a partner happy at the expense of one’s own happiness only worsens the relationship. In the end, at least one partner is not able to do the things that they value the most. Read more here about How “Love Is All About Sacrifice” Ruins Our Love Lives
Compromise only when it makes both happier and better.
There’s no such thing as a universal style of compromise because every couple is different. At the same time, successful compromises do share some common characteristics.
Talk about expectations and negotiate up.
Bad habits and things that have become normalized in a relationship can be challenging to address. It’s tough to know when to let it go and when to speak up. Discuss expectations, boundaries, and ways that you can support one another so that the compromise doesn’t feel like a personal attack.
It is possible to create a win-win situation from a disagreement. Work together so that you are both gaining something you want. Making a change doesn’t seem as daunting if you don’t feel like you’re losing out.
Both partners should give something up.
When a couple is working well together, each partner may have to adjust something that they do so that it fits with their partner’s lifestyle. Instead of having one person sacrifice everything, each person gives a little to create harmony.3 If you ask your partner to make a change, be ready to make some changes for yourself.
But making adjustments don’t have to feel like a sacrifice. When partners ask for an appropriate amount of change, neither feels like the shift creates a major imposition. Both are still willing to make changes to strengthen their partnership.
Be aware that core values can’t be negotiated.
Having a respectful disagreement is healthy, but expecting someone to alter their beliefs to stay together is not. These things are difficult to change because they make people who they are. Partners can learn to respect and accept differences, but they can’t force change.
Let differences pull you closer to your partner.
It’s nearly impossible to find two people who do everything in exactly the same way. Being somewhat different from your partner can make your relationship more fun and exciting. You might get the chance to look at things in a new way, or experience things you wouldn’t have tried on your own.
Compromise is a natural part of putting two distinct human beings together. It can be a celebration of our uniqueness. As long as both partners are willing to make adjustments or give things up for the sake of a better relationship, then the process of negotiation will only make you stronger.
You don’t have to give up who you are to be in a relationship, but you can work with your partner to bring out the best in one another.