The Dark Side of Compromise in a Relationship (And What to Do Instead)

Compromise has long been regarded as a key tool for resolving conflicts and reaching agreements in relationships. However, while compromise in a relationship can sometimes lead to mutually acceptable outcomes, it can also have significant downsides. When partners compromise, they often have to give up something that is important to them, leading to feelings of dissatisfaction and resentment in the long run. Additionally, compromise may not necessarily address the underlying needs and desires of each partner and may not result in the most creative or mutually beneficial solutions. In this blog post, I  explore why compromise is not always the best approach in relationships and why collaboration, a more proactive and collaborative approach, may lead to more satisfying outcomes.

Had you asked me at the beginning of the year if compromise was an admirable quality, I would have proudly shouted from the rooftops that not only was it admirable, but it was also necessary when dealing with difficult people. I would have told you that “someone has to be the bigger person,” and when you know better, you’re required to do better. But now, to be completely honest; I’m calling bullshit on my own advice. The idea of collaboration vs compromise was first introduced to me by Chris Voss in his book “Never Split the Difference,” which completely changed my viewpoint on compromise. While the book is about negotiation, there are so many profound takeaways that I recommend it to anyone wanting to get more out of their relationships and learn about effective communication. In fact, what it taught me was that compromise is really, really dangerous if not done consciously. Allow me to elaborate. 

Compromise in a Relationship

Compromise in relationships can be defined as a situation where one or both partners give up something they want or believe in, in order to reach a mutually acceptable solution or outcome. It is a way of resolving conflicts and finding common ground through negotiation and often sacrificing one’s own desires or preferences. While compromise can sometimes be a helpful tool in relationships, it can also have its downsides, as it may lead to resentment, unmet needs, and a lack of satisfaction in the long run.

Collaboration in a Relationship

Collaboration in relationships is an approach where both partners work together towards a common goal or solution while taking into account each other’s needs and desires. Unlike compromise, collaboration involves actively seeking out win-win solutions where both partners’ needs and goals can be met without having to give up something important to them. This approach values open communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to work together to find solutions that are satisfactory to both partners. Collaboration can lead to deeper levels of trust and understanding in a relationship and can help build a stronger foundation for future growth and shared success.

Explanation of the difference between compromise and collaboration

While compromise and collaboration may seem similar, there are significant differences between the two approaches in relationships that are going to make light bulbs go off in your head.

Compromise involves both or often just one partner giving up something in order to reach a solution that is mutually acceptable. The important thing to remember about this approach is that it requires that each partner (or just one) makes a sacrifice to meet in the middle. For example,

Collaboration, on the other hand, involves working together to find a solution that meets both partners’ needs and desires. This approach emphasizes finding a win-win solution where both partners can get what they want without having to give up something important to them.

In essence, collaboration is more proactive and involves seeking out creative and mutually beneficial solutions, whereas compromise can sometimes involve settling for less or accepting something that doesn’t fully satisfy either partner. This is dangerous because when we get into the habit of compromising on our values and needs, it can lead to us losing sight of what is important to us. Not to mention, compromise only works when there is reciprocation and there is a mutual give and take. It has to go both ways. Unfortunately, most relationships end up being one-sided, and there is often one partner who ends up being the primary collaborator. Collaboration, on the other hand, leads to a deeper understanding of one another because there is inquiry as to what benefits both parties, thus strengthening the relationship. Collaboration is more relationship-focused, as it prioritizes finding solutions together.

Example of both approaches at play in a relationship

Let’s say that two friends, Anna and Ben, are planning a road trip together. Anna wants to take a scenic route that will take longer, but she thinks it will be more enjoyable. Ben, on the other hand, wants to take the quickest route possible so they can get to their destination faster.

If Anna and Ben decide to compromise, they might agree to take a route that is not the longest or the shortest but somewhere in between. They might also agree to make some stops along the way to enjoy the scenery.

If Anna and Ben decide to collaborate, they might take some time to explore both of their preferences and find a solution that works for both of them. For example, they might decide to take the scenic route on the way to their destination and then take the quicker route on the way back.

The key difference between compromise and collaboration is that compromise involves each person giving up something to reach a mutually acceptable solution, while collaboration involves finding a solution that meets both people’s needs and desires.

The Downside to Compromise in a Relationship

Compromise in a relationship can sometimes lead to resentment, especially if one person is doing more compromising than the other.

Compromise may require one or both partners to give up something that is important to them, which can create feelings of disappointment or frustration, especially if the partner feels like they had to sacrifice more than the other partner. Over time, this can create feelings of resentment and lead to missed opportunities for growth and deeper connection in the relationship

Secondly, compromise may not necessarily address the underlying needs and desires of each partner. In some cases, compromise may simply be a way to avoid conflict or reach a quick resolution rather than addressing the deeper issues at hand. This is akin to “being the bigger person” for the sake of peace, which over time can lead to partners never feeling fully satisfied or heard, leading to ongoing tension or conflict.

In short, while compromise may sometimes be necessary in relationships, it is important to recognize that it is not always the best solution. By prioritizing open communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to work together to find solutions that benefit both partners, couples can avoid the downsides of compromise and instead build stronger, more satisfying relationships through collaboration.

How compromise can backfire in a relationship

  • Giving up personal interests – A common compromise in relationships is for one partner to give up a personal interest or hobby to spend more time with their partner. While this may seem like a small sacrifice, it can lead to feelings of resentment if the partner feels like they are giving up something important to them. Additionally, it can put pressure on the relationship if one partner feels like they are solely responsible for the other’s happiness.
  • Compromising values – In some cases, couples may compromise on their personal values to maintain the relationship. For example, one partner may agree to give up drinking or smoking for the sake of the relationship. While this may seem like a noble compromise, it can backfire if the partner feels like they are sacrificing a core part of their identity or if the compromise is not sustainable in the long run.
  • Compromising on communication – Communication is a crucial component of any healthy relationship, but couples may compromise on their communication style to avoid conflict or maintain peace within the household. For example, one partner may avoid bringing up difficult topics or expressing their true feelings to avoid upsetting their partner. This can be dangerous in a relationship because there is no healthy expression of self which will always result in a lack of intimacy.
  • Compromising on boundaries – Boundaries are an important part of any relationship, and couples may fall into the habit of compromising on their personal boundaries to maintain the relationship. If one partner consistently gives in and compromises too much on their boundaries, they may start to feel resentful and undervalued in the relationship.

In all of these examples, compromise in a relationship can lead to negative consequences if it is not done in a way that prioritizes open communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to find solutions that benefit both partners. Therefore, seeking out collaborative solutions that meet the needs and desires of both partners is a better alternative.

Tips for building a stronger relationship without compromising

  • Focus on communication – Open and honest communication is essential for building a strong relationship. And yes, that means that you’ve got to be honest, even if it’s difficult. Make a commitment to talking regularly and openly with your partner, and work on developing strong listening skills so you can truly understand each other’s perspectives without getting upset.
  • Understand your needs- When you understand your needs, it’s easier to communicate in a way that doesn’t blame other people. It’s your job to understand what you need and communicate them in a way that is respectful because we are all really bad at reading minds.
  • Respect each other’s boundaries – It’s important to respect each other’s personal boundaries, even if they differ from your own. Take the time to talk about what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not, and work together to find solutions that respect both partners.
  • Prioritize collaboration – Instead of compromising, prioritize collaboration in your relationship. This means working together to find solutions that meet both partners’ needs, rather than one partner having to give up something important to them.
  • Practice active listening – Listening actively means paying attention to what your partner is saying without interrupting or getting defensive. It also involves reflecting back on what you heard to make sure you understand their perspective.
  • Challenge your assumptions – We all have preconceived ideas about what a relationship should look like. It’s important to challenge these assumptions and be open to different ways of doing things.
  • Stay curious – Approach your relationship with a sense of curiosity and wonder. Ask your partner questions about their life and their experiences, and be open to learning from them.
  • Cultivate empathy – Empathy means putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective. This can help you understand their needs and feelings and build a stronger emotional connection.
  • Be willing to compromise – While compromising should not be the sole focus of your relationship, it’s still an important part of working together. Be willing to make small compromises when necessary, as long as they don’t go against your values or needs.

By practicing these tips, you can build a relationship that is flexible, open-minded, and based on mutual respect and understanding. These are all significant foundational pieces to building healthy relationships-not just romantic ones. Remember that being open-minded and flexible does not mean sacrificing your own needs or values, but rather finding a way to work together that benefits both partners. And if you are ever in a relationship where you find it difficult to implement these foundational pieces or always find yourself compromising because the other party isn’t willing to collaborate with you, it might be a good indication of a bigger problem that may require help.

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