Relationships and Compromise

Meg writes, “People will tell you the key to any successful relationship is compromise.” This is illustrated by alternating who chooses the movie, which is perhaps the most common example of relationship compromise.

This common belief disheartens me.

Let me address the minor aspect, the movie thing. Should couples feel compelled to see every movie together? Seeing a film alone is not a signal of the end of your love — it’s just a reflection of different tastes. In fact, it can be very liberating. I imagine that goading someone to see a film they’re uninterested in can only lead to a kind of seething contempt. But maybe that’s just me.

On the larger issue of compromise, well, yes, I can see compromise as being very important in relationships where people are thrown together by circumstance — work, politics, air travel, etc. To make the most of the situation, there will likely need to be give and take.

But love? That’s a relationship of choice. Why choose to be in a relationship where you have to compromise? While searching Google for “relationship compromise” mostly returns writing that supports the notion that compromise is a key to success, I found one insightful article that purports the opposite. The author of “Is Relationship really about compromise” argues that compromise “has no place in a relationship built on love, truth and respect.”

Compromise in relationship means to choose to be someone you would not naturally be, for the sake of the relationship. It is giving up being who you really are in the hope of guaranteeing the love of another. Compromise is based on the fear that unless we are somebody different to who we would naturally be, we risk losing love. All we are really risking is losing ourselves.

Contrary to a very popular belief that compromise supports love; the truth is compromise erodes love. When you compromise yourself for the sake of the relationship, very quickly resentment is experienced, not love. Love and resentment are mutually exclusive. They don’t live in the same house; they don’t even live in the same suburb!

I find that statement remarkably affirming.

I think it’s telling that when it comes to friendships, people don’t really compromise. If friends have to extensively maneuver in order to find common ground, they will inevitably drift apart. It doesn’t make sense to hang out with people who won’t let you be yourself. Does it make sense to deny aspects of yourself for the sake of love?

(I suspect Meg never thought her statement would engender such an earnest response. But it’s one of those Things I Believe, and it kinda triggered a chord.)

37 thoughts on “Relationships and Compromise

  1. Two off the cuff responses:
    a) Sometimes love makes you put your ego on the shelf – I think that’s what most people are referring to when they bring up the whole relationship/compromise thing.
    b) In the quoted material, at least, the author of that essay seems like someone who not only has an over-abundance of ego, but also a sizable fear of change. Relationships change people. Any relationship that doesn’t force change and growth in the individuals concerned probably isn’t worth the time spent.

  2. No Compromise

    Compromise is antithetical to love? Peterme notes that Meg believes that “…the key to any successful relationship is compromise.” and…

  3. PM: “Why choose to be in a relationship where you have to compromise?”

    Because Utopia ins’t really there.

    PM: “It doesn’t make sense to hang out with people who won’t let you be yourself”

    I sort of agree but… quoth peterme: this common belief disheartens me. Relationship = us, not you. And, aren’t we always (re)inventing ourselves? Why wouldn’t you be able to integrate the “agreeable” attibute as part of what you believe to be “yourself”. In this world, you have to constantly plant seeds so that later you’ll be able to reap the fruits.

  4. How boring would relationship without compromise be? Might as well remain by myself. Compromise leads to growth. I don’t want to be the same person in twenty years that I am now. And I don’t want to be in the same relationship with my wife that I am in now.

    But I do want to be with my wife twenty years from now. And that most definitely takes compromise.

    On the movie question, all answers are good. We see some by ourselves. Some we want to see together. Some we see just to be together. And sometimes we skip the movie altogether.

  5. I do not understand thees “friendships don’t require compromise” theeng you are talkink about. Good friends are the one you have tons of things in common with and you don’t mind smoodging on the little annoyances that dealing with other people bring.

    There are always little compromises when dealing with other people. There are compromises on communication styles and what you’re in the mood to eat, and how long you’re willing to hang out at the computer store/make-up counter/etc.

    It terms of love relationships, you pick your battles. You hate that stupid, stupid chair, but he loves it so it stays. She can’t fall asleep without the tv on, but the noise drives you crazy so you buy some ear plugs for you or headphones for her. You find out that he’s extremely jealous and wants you to call him whenever you go out–maybe that’s not ok. She always does what her mother says she should even though her mother hates you–maybe that’s not ok either.

    You compromise on the little things. The big things you think and talk about and decide if compromise compromises who you are. Those are the things that article was talking about. Not the “if you go to movie X, I’ll go to movie Y because I don’t like going to movies alone” things. Compromise means you know strongly who you are and aren’t afraid of losing yourself in the details.

  6. I do not understand thees “friendships don’t require compromise” theeng you are talkink about. Good friends are the one you have tons of things in common with and you don’t mind smoodging on the little annoyances that dealing with other people bring.

    There are always little compromises when dealing with other people. There are compromises on communication styles and what you’re in the mood to eat, and how long you’re willing to hang out at the computer store/make-up counter/etc.

    It terms of love relationships, you pick your battles. You hate that stupid, stupid chair, but he loves it so it stays. She can’t fall asleep without the tv on, but the noise drives you crazy so you buy some ear plugs for you or headphones for her. You find out that he’s extremely jealous and wants you to call him whenever you go out–maybe that’s not ok. She always does what her mother says she should even though her mother hates you–maybe that’s not ok either.

    You compromise on the little things. The big things you think and talk about and decide if compromise compromises who you are. Those are the things that article was talking about. Not the “if you go to movie X, I’ll go to movie Y because I don’t like going to movies alone” things. Compromise means you know strongly who you are and aren’t afraid of losing yourself in the details.

  7. sorry about that. I got a wacky server error.

  8. Do I love yourself more than I love the other person or vice versa? If I love myself less, sooner or later I’ll be in the role of a victim, “compromising” with what I really want.

    Do I want to see *this* movie more than I want to see *a movie with my lover/friend*? If I am honest with myself, there is no compromise. If I am coming from love, I’ll find a way to communicate my choices to the other person in a loving, not needy nor manipulative way.

    Most of us come from neediness, righteousness, fear or ego at least some of the time. This, naturally, brings suffering to our relationships with ourselves and others.

    Cheers
    – Andre

  9. Hi Peter,

    I guess part of maintaining a successful relationship is determining for yourself what you are and are not willing to compromise over. I suspect that there is a lot of compromise between couples on a daily basis, as part of the negotiation of learning to be with and live any other human being. In this we aim to choose what is best for the relationship over what is our own personal preference. There are also areas of no compromise – we cannot compromise our core values – values of honesty, integrity, responsibility – or we lose ourselves. And then there is that big grey area in between. The older I get, the less willing I am able to compromise on the in between areas. I cannot stand TV noise or flickering images in the background so I could not be with someone who had to go to sleep to TV. I am not willing to compromise on that and therefore I’ve knocked out all the potential mates who have a TV habit. I also don’t believe that I should be made subject to environments (or movies) that make me extremely uncomfortable if given a choice. Nor would I subject someone I love to something that made them extremely uncomfortable. I’m perfectly happy to go see a movie on my own, thank God. Some people believe that couples need to do everything together. I rather do many things independently and then have us share our discoveries and adventures.

    On the flip side of no compromise I think is the hidden desire in most of us that our partner will want to do do something with or for us just simply because he or she knows it will make us happy. And that giving something up to make each other happy doesn’t even feel like a compromise because it’s a loving gesture and love engenders love.

    Hugs to you Peter!

  10. Funny. I just had a conversation about a related topic with my ladyfriend today.

    I think I feel the same about this subject as I do about compromise on teams in the workplace. For the small things, I’m happy to give the other person a lot of room, esteeming the happiness of the relationship/team to be more important than whether say, I want pancakes for breakfast. But for the big things, compromise is the easier and less desirable path. Usually it is better to work longer and harder, innovating third and fourth and fifth answers until you arrive at enthusiastic consensus. Can be a pain, because usually this involves getting at the issues behind the issue. But that makes everything better in the long run.

    So far we haven’t run into any big things (we’re still new together), but I find myself kind of looking forward to it!

  11. Notes to self:

    1. Attend next user experience conference where Peter speaks.

    2. Do not attend any relationship conferences where Peter speaks ;)

    No, really, I think I get where you are coming from, but it seems (and maybe I am reading you too literally here) that the only way to have a no-compromise relationship is to date your clone. Maybe the movie choice was just a poor example but seeing a movie I am not super interested in really causes me to feel *no* resentment.

    I would agree that compromising your core values for a relationship is misguided.

  12. IMHO, a true relationship – a relationship worth talking about – is more about co-evolution than about politics. Compromise is a slippery term, should better choose smth more or less monosemantic. If we mean manoeuvring, then, for sure, it is not what we expect from deep, sincere relationship, not because of losing one’s self, but precisely because of the opposite: a hypocrisy. But if we call compromise one’s willingness to change, to lose one’s boundaries, to evolve, – well, that’s what true love is about, isn’t it?

  13. Without compromise you would never have been born.

  14. I am not nearly as eloquent as some of the people here. I simply agree. OK, I agreed in more words than that on my website. Click my name to see what I had to say today.

  15. Hi, Peter! My instinctive reaction to your post was… well, I don’t need to restate what the above smart folks said about personal evolution and Big Things vs. Details. (Also, I’m glad you were born!) Upon thinking some more, though, I realized that I, too, disagree that “relationships are compromise.” Relationships are the experience of commonality and difference, and compromise is only one side of the coin. Having been in the most important relationship of my life for almost twelve years now, I’m learning what we can share and also all the ways in which I am and will likely remain alone. I find that I can derive strength from the solitude as I do from the relationship. Thus, the limit I constantly run up against is not my ability to compromise. Rather, it’s time to be alone and together. Anyhow, thanks for starting the conversation.

  16. I think “compromise” doesn’t fit well with the example.

    A “compromise” solution would be more like always seeing movies that neither person *didn’t* want to see, ending up with a gray middle zone.

    Taking turns picking someone you love, for the other to experience with you, seems very different.

    Bah, not that I would know…

  17. “Compromise” is another loaded word. Loaded because it has so many meanings, both positive and negative. Compromise can mean cooperation, or it can mean copping out and settling for something less than you know you should.

    I, for one, absolutely refuse to compromise. Does anybody willingly compromise themself?
    But I do try to cooperate in all relationships. And thejnh there are those sad times when I will give in and yield to a more powerful force.

    So–let’s get back to school and define our terms.

  18. Hi Peter,

    This must be what no compromise is like: Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About.

    - mike

  19. Compromise isn’t keeping score — “OK, you win this one,” it’s being flexible, open to new ideas and experiences while also being true to yourself — the latter part is key. I don’t make compromises that hurt myself (a movie selection hardly counts as “hurt”, in my mental model), but I do occasionally, in my marriage as well as in my professional life, make compromises that push me slightly out of my comfort zone and into ‘uncharted territory’. That is one way to grow and mature.

    When it comes to movies, just go see the ones you want and let your partner/friend see the rest on their own or with other friends. Life, and especially marriage, aren’t supposed to turn into endless lists of obligations. “I should do X, but want to do Y.” Sure, the obligations are there, but we humans seem to generate further obligations just out of sheer boredom. “She’ll be angry if I don’t see X with her.” Well, so be it. That can’t be real anger, unless X is something you’ve promised her (an obligation you entered into willingly).

    Relationships, in my mind, only succeed when they actively nurture the bond between people AND actively encourage those people to grow and pursue their own interests/passions/lives. We can’t only focus on one or the other and expect both parties to feel equally positive about the relationship.

  20. As I am just about to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary I can say I think Kimberly and Elise make good points.

    There are big issues and littler issues. If you’ve examined your life a bit, you know your big issues and you look for a mate who comes close those things. There should be little compromise on those big issues. And people should be in relationships that meet those needs.

    But there is something important about taking responsibility for knowing what these big things are in your life in the first place. Many don’t and this gets them into trouble in relationships.

    Compromise is knowing the difference between big and little and giving in liberally on the little. Ultimately, it becomes a win-win for both of you. And you find yourself on the receiving end of the compromise more and more.

  21. I’ve known a lot of men who feel threatened by having to make compromises. Well, no wonder if you think that compromising means changing your identity!
    Yet, by compromising you are NOT giving in or becomming someone else – you’re just finding a middle ground in which you can continue to feel and act like yourself. So there, PeterMe. Go ahead and compromise. Sometimes it is even fun:-)

  22. late musings gleaned from the evening’s conversational fodder, blog readings, etc.

    But the ability to give and receive in a meaningful way, to grow with someone, and to merge sensibilities, to allow one’s own personal evolution to coincide with and support another’s personal evolution are all central aspects to a lasting, strong, rew…

  23. And then 10 years later, you have children, a household, careers, and you just need to make it work. The art is finding the joy in the compromise – eliminating the feeling of sacrifice, and appreciating the great goodness that comes from it. Easier said than done sometimes.

  24. The attitude that you should ideally not have to compromise any part of yourself for others is very American and rather entitled. Not exactly very buddhist! People should not have to compromise their core values in relationships so much that it hurts them. But expecting that you should not have to compromise with someone you love is unrealistic – they wouldn’t be human if they didn’t have different thoughts and desires than you. Do you compromise with your siblings and parents? yes – because you love them even when they drive you crazy. And try having kids. You can’t get mad at a screaming baby because they’re interfering with some of your other core values. Somehow something selfless takes over instead. I wish our world leaders and more people in our culture would adopt such a selfless attitude, instead of persuing a pipe dream of perfect self-actualization.

  25. Don’t know if anyone’s still checking out these comments, but I have to say I’ve never understood the “compromise” thing. I think the very first commenter is correct–what they really mean by that word, hopefully, is losing some ego. That is a much more accurate description of getting along well. My husband and I work together and spend pretty much every moment together. We like each other more than any other person (which is why we’re married I suppose), but when conflicts do arise, we just ask ourselves how big of a deal it is to us. Compromise, to me, signifies doing something you’d rather not. That should never enter into the picture.

  26. I’ve been with my husband 4 years now, and I went into our relationship with love and with the understanding that love means compromise. I supported him through a career change with love and knowing that I must compromise my goals (which were to travel) in the short term so we can build a life together. He promised we’d travel, but as time goes on and circumstances change, I’m discovering travel is moving further and further down his list of priorities. He’s a good man and loves me very much, but it seems he isn’t prepared to compromise his plans – even though I’ve done so with mine. We’re working things out, of course, but it’s interesting how people disassociate compromise from love. To me, a good partnership means they’re one of the same thing.

  27. I’ve been with my husband 4 years now, and I went into our relationship with love and with the understanding that love means compromise. I supported him through a career change with love and knowing that I must compromise my goals (which were to travel) in the short term so we can build a life together. He promised we’d travel, but as time goes on and circumstances change, I’m discovering travel is moving further and further down his list of priorities. He’s a good man and loves me very much, but it seems he isn’t prepared to compromise his plans – even though I’ve done so with mine. We’re working things out, of course, but it’s interesting how people disassociate compromise from love. To me, a good partnership means they’re one of the same thing.

  28. I believe that relationships should not be based on compromise. When we are talking about changing, evolving, growing….that is not compromise….that is changing, evolving and growing. This is something we do for ourselves throughout our lives to learn who we are and accept ourselves and learn to love ourselves. We are able to do this alone or with someone else. If we are truly changing, evolving and growing the way our heart tells us then no compromise is needed because if the other person is not changing, evolving or growing within their heart then the relationship needs to end and will. I think society becomes too caught up in finding “the one” and “till death do you part”. People should welcome new experiences with other people and learn to “let go” when that time has come. I think when we have reached a level of growth that suits us then we can truly learn to love another unconditionally without compromise and that is what true love of ourselves is all about.

  29. No Compromise

    Compromise is antithetical to love? Peterme notes that Meg believes that “…the key to any successful relationship is compromise.” (she’s…

  30. I think those of you who wish to say comprimise is changing of your self which you should not be forced to do at all are SELFISH. Love is about caring for someone regardless of if they loose a job, choose to follow a religion in a way you may not identify with, or have a difference of opinion about something. Love and Compromise are the same, if you couldn’t comprimise you would never decide on what to eat or where to go or weather or not that dress makes you look fat.

    Everyone comprimises, everyday. Have you ever wanted to just roll over and go back to sleep in the morning and not goto work? How about if your lover is interested in making you coffee and spending the morning in bed and wants you to call in sick? Instead, lets say, you decide to sleep 5 more minutes and get up and go? Or maybe you spend 15 minutes with each other cudling and kissing and talking and then you get ready.

    Could you imagine what would happen if your lover provided you with a suprise dinner, but you at the last minute had purchased tickets to a football game with your friends and neglected to tell her ahead of time and just left her food to sit and get cold and be wasted? How would you feel if you did all that planning and the one you loved decided that their enjoyment of a football game is more important than your dinner because thats what they like and because thats how they are they shouldn’t change? or how bout coming home and having dinner and then going to the game (but wait, that would be a compromise)?

    There are so many examples. I think that compromise is essential to any relationship. Don’t get me wrong, don’t misunderstand what I say to mean that you should allow you partner or lover to make unrealistic requests of you or take advantage of you or expect you to compromise on something that could harm you personaly. There are limits, but for most day to day living, compromising on the small things will general have nothing but a positive effect on your day to day relationship and generaly will make you both happier, strengthen your relationship and help you become more mature people when you know that you together made a decision to do something rather than each of you just going and doing your own thing all by your self and fighting over it later when one of you complains that the night you were to spend together was ruined by your inability to compromise with one another.

    I am no psychologist, but like everyone else I thought it important to state my own opinion.

  31. If a person you’ve known for a long time is unwilling to compromise on arrangements for a
    luncheon and then insists after four email correspondences to still have it her way,
    then there’s something very wrong with this picture. Just how many times does a person have
    to say – I’ll meet you in town for a couple of
    hours but not all afternoon like we used to do?! Well it happened to me and she’s not emailing me anymore because she’s either holding
    out for “her way” or not. Personally, I’m be-
    ginning to wonder about this uncompromising
    situation and wondering why she kept saying “you
    know I don’t go out to eat”. I don’t even want
    to go out to lunch if she’s not going to join me having lunch! Beginning to wonder if she doesn’t want to pay this time ’cause I did last
    time and no she didn’t eat much but she did drink alright – big ones! LOL Anyway it’s been
    a little disturbing but I’m beginning to get used to the idea. I do know that she’s made some new friends and that’s ok with me but why
    slide aside your old friend? I think this uncompromising attitude is part of that. Anyway,
    I personally feel that if anyone (friend or not)
    is unwilling to compromise on something so unim-
    portant its a sign that somethings in the wind.
    Obviously what I thought and wanted didn’t count, but I had valid reasons for wanting to do
    that. Bye and thanks for listening.

  32. wow petey, you totally missed the mark on that one. It is not compromise yourself, it’s compromise your wants. In a relationship, compromise has to do with self sacrifice. That is, going fishing with your buddies one weekend, or, spending that weekend with your wife. Or, perhaps you hate the idea of having a flower patch in “your” front yard, but your wife really wants to liven it up, so instead of being a self-centered asshole, you agree to have her do that and even help her out. That my misinterperting fellow is compromise.
    ~Sam

  33. compromise ended my relationship. I was dating the love of my life who views “compromise” as “losing himself.” He would rather have nothing with me than all of the freedom in the world with himself.

  34. I think if you read the other artcle.. you people could relate about what he’s trying to say.
    I also share his opinion about relationship and compromises.
    As to the compromise leads to growth.. no I do not believe that.
    Like the article says… it’s about choice… what if you choose to be respectful, understanding, trusthworthy, loving etc etc..?
    You see, growth is about choice. Your choices leads to whoever you want to be or to whoever you are now. In relationship, growth is about understanding and respect… also love for all that. When/If you understand your partner truthfully… you wouldn’t even need to compromise anything becuase whatever it is you’re going to do… you do it becuase you want to and you love to. Not becuase you need to compromise.

    But despite my opinion, I agree that compromise is in every relationship. And also plays some important role in it. But it is NOT the heart of the relationship nor it is; what makes the relationship stable. Just like the movie aspect of compromises, you, sometimes just need to compromise to “avoid” conflicts and misnunderstanding specially when we’re talking about small things(Like movie selection or airline choices). But when it comes to big thing… compromise is just an easy escape route to solve the problem. The problem will never be solve if you keep compromising insted of talking and understanding it out.

    Just my 75 cents.. :P

  35. I disagree with your argument on this article…compromise should be a big thing in relationships because with out how can both people be happy. I don’t think its about changing yourself and who you are..its about making the person happy..it just depends on what it is..compromising is like you do something for one person and the other person does something for you…by doing this there will be no arguments…it about making eachother happy!