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How Much Should You Compromise in a Relationship – 10 Relationship Experts Share Their Priceless Insights

How Much Should You Compromise in a Relationship

“Learn the wisdom of compromise, for it is better to bend a little than to break.”

~ Jane Wells

Jane Wells Learn the Wisdom of Compromise Quote
Ashleigh Peterson

Every relationship is comprised of two individuals coming together- with different backgrounds, wants, needs, and beliefs- it’s as if two different worlds come together. 

No wonder relationships are so difficult. 

How do you know how much to give and how to ask for what you need? How do you know when your giving too much and in an unhealthy relationship?

First step is to clarify your own wants and needs in a relationship. 

It’s very difficult for someone else to give you what you need when you don’t even know what that is. Beginning in childhood, we learn ways to get attention and love- which may require that we sacrifice too much of ourselves to feel connected with another. 

It is very helpful to set some time aside to check in with yourself and make a list of what is important to you in a relationship, 

what you want to give your partner, and what you believe a healthy balance in relationships look like (e.g. how much time do you believe you should spend with friends and family, how much time should be devoted to work, what hobbies are important to you, how do you split chores, bills etc.). 

It is also important to check in with yourself about important values and beliefs that shape who you are and how you want to live your life. 

It is a very intentional process to come up with this list, and it’s not always easy. 

While this activity may sound selfish, it really is not meant to be. Instead, it’s a list that provides a base- something to refer to when you feel out of balance in your life or in your relationship.

This is where compromise comes in, by knowing what you need in a relationship to be fulfilled and knowing what you can give without feeling drained, you can feel balanced and your relationship is much more secure with a give and take system. 

So the next step is to share it with your partner. 

Maybe your partner will take the time to come up with a similar list. Then, set a time to discuss these. You may be thinking that when you’ve had this discussion or tried to ask for what you have needed in the past, it ended up in frustration, conflict and arguments. 

By setting a time intentionally to discuss this, it helps to have an honest conversation and connect on another level- recognizing what realistic expectations are. 

Connecting in a way that allows both of you to feel heard, validated, understood, respected. 

It also creates a “baseline” for times when things feel off, or you are fighting a lot with your partner, you can start to think- which need of yours is not being met? Or what is your partner trying to communicate or ask for? 

It allows for compromise to be open and natural- a necessary part of healthy relationships.

Ashleigh Peterson, MA, LMFT, LAC – www.familysolutionscounselingco.com

Judy Hansen

In every relationship, whether a friendship, romantic one or between family members, there are times when both sides disagree on a course of action and tempers flare and arguments explode.

Often, the advice in those situations is that some kind of a compromise needs to be reached. 

This usually means arguing about the different opinions and sometimes writing out pros and cons. 

The one with the most pros wins the argument and gets their way.

However, this often means that the one with the loudest voice and the most reasoned argument gains victory, but not necessarily because it was the best choice. The one with the quieter voice, the one who still had opinions but struggled to find words, would be defeated. In the end, both parties would lose, because one felt crushed while the other had a hollow victory.

A better solution in those instances, is to have what Dr. Heitler in Power of Two wrote, is to have a win-win waltz. 

Taking a sheet of paper, both parties write their view at the top, side by side. In this way, neither is “under” the other. Beneath this, each person writes his or her concerns about the problem, taking turns. No solution yet, just concerns. For example, say one wanted to vacation in Hawaii, the other on a cruise ship. 

Each one would then express their concerns regarding the other’s opinion, but without judgment, such as, “I am concerned that Hawaii will be too hot for me,” or “I am concerned that I will get sick on the cruise ship” and so on.

When the list of concerns is exhausted, then begin with solutions to the problem. 

Here is where creativity is important, and a sense of fun, outside the box thinking. After a myriad of solutions are discussed and written down, the two parties choose the top three, and then narrow it down further. 

When the final solution is chosen, then one more question need to be asked: 

“Are there any other concerns?” 

Often, there is a concern within the solution that needs to be addressed. This helps tie up any loose ends.

This way of finding solutions to problems invites listening, creativity, and assures both sides get to express their views. 

A good way to know if the relationship is headed for trouble is when one or the other is unwilling to negotiate, discuss or look at creative solutions. If such is the case, it might be a good time to seek counseling or exit the relationship.

Judy Hansen, MA – www.youbelongcounseling.com

Becky Bringewatt

There isn’t a “right” amount of compromise in any relationship, only the amount that works for you and for that relationship. 

A large part of being in relationship with someone else is stretching yourself and growing together. We stretch to meet our partner, and sometimes give more than we thought we could. So how do you know what the right amount is for you?

I think the most important question to ask yourself is if you are compromising your integrity. 

  • Are you being asked to do things you normally wouldn’t do? 
  • Do you look back at decisions you’ve made and feel badly about what you did? 
  • Are the things you’re being asked to do wrong for you? 

Listen to your intuition, that tiny quiet voice that often gets drowned out by all the other things in our lives. 

If you’re being asked to do things out of your comfort zone, it could be a stretch, even an uncomfortable one, but it could be that you’re agreeing to do things you shouldn’t do.

If you’re like most women, you give a lot – all the time. 

And you probably ask for very little in return. If the balance gets too unequal we can get resentful. So ask yourself if you’re giving more than you can reasonably give. In a strong relationship, there will be room to renegotiate any agreement. Also, think of what you need, and figure out how to ask for that. 

Compromise should never go in only one direction.

The word compromise itself always makes me think of a situation in which both people will get some of what they want, but neither person will get everything. 

So ask yourself if your compromises are true compromises or if you really are giving in to make things easier. 

Not stating your needs because you don’t want to make the other person upset by your decisions or needs is always too much of a compromise.

Becky Bringewatt, MA, LPC, NCC – www.mantiscounselingandcoaching.com

Constance Clancy

Relationships have their challenges and learning to compromise can be healthy for a couple. 

The key is to have healthy compromises so both partners feel a sense of balance as opposed to one sided which only leads to anger and resentment. 

If your partner is the one who is making the compromise, it can be thoughtful to bring something to the table to show you are being genuine and that you appreciate your partners willingness to compromise. 

This will add more balance and fairness between the couple and will provide some sharing that will soften the challenges of the more significant compromises. 

The small compromises are not threatening to our core needs and wants and can soften around the edges.

There may be certain non-negotiating that won’t be compromised with either partner, and this is ok. Have this discussion and be up front on what you are willing to compromise. 

Talk about what your compromises mean to both of you, who it is most important to and why. 

It is possible to do this without making it seem as though you are giving up parts of yourself or doing something that will strain the relationship. Be cognizant not to give up too much of yourself through compromise as this can begin to alter your true essence of who you really are.

When a compromise is necessary, try negotiating in a way where both of you will be satisfied with the outcome. 

If you are at an impasse with negotiating, discuss the possibility of bringing in someone who can be objective such as a counselor or coach and provide guidance in making it a growth experience for the couple.

Constance Clancy, Ed.D. – www.drconstanceclancy.com

Amy Sherman

Do not be a martyr, sacrificing yourself of behalf of your new love. Take care of yourself, above all else, to ensure you maintain your health and well-being, because you are that important.

You should never feel guilty about focusing attention on yourself and your personal needs. 

Continuously nurture yourself by following your daily routines. If eating out often, for example, does not make you feel comfortable (for health or weight reasons), but it is something he prefers, don’t sabotage yourself to please him. That is the opposite of empowerment. 

Consider your health and self-image. 

The best thing to do is be flexible whenever possible, but always maintain the values that are very important to you.

While compromise is an important quality in successful communication skills, never compromise who you are for the sake of anyone else. 

Keep your integrity and the standards that you live by, so you won’t feel put upon or diminished by a new partner. Honor yourself by thinking independently and enjoying your own perceptions and opinions. Live authentically, speaking and acting from your own convictions and values.

Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, “No one can make you feel inferior, without your consent.” 

Those are powerful words. An empowered woman knows that the most important relationship in her life is with herself. To find someone you like is great, but to like yourself is even greater. 

To respect others with admiration and love is important, but is more vital to believe in yourself and all the good in life that you deserve.

None of this should be confused with being “selfish,” thoughtless or uncaring with your relationship partner, family or others. 

It doesn’t give you license to mistreat or be insensitive to anyone. The message above is about honoring yourself fully, but to be respectful of the people you have in your life.

Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com

Randi Gunther

When love is new, most every partner in an intimate relationship strives to give their significant lover whatever he or she might desire. 

As they please their significant others, they feel beloved in return and the relationship blossoms as a result of that all-trusting connection. 

As the relationship matures, some of that prime-time, all-focused energy necessarily returns to other priorities and reciprocal giving is no longer automatic. 

That gentle slope of lessened generosity is often unnoticed until one or the other partner begins to feel taken advantage of and needs to re-write what has now become a less valuable deal.

If that happens soon in a relationship because the partners have been authentic and open from the start, it is much easier for them to renegotiate what each needs and how to compromise with what they have to offer. 

Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case. 

More often, one of the partners has begun over-giving in hopes the other will eventually come around. They’ve essentially been putting psychological money in a non-existent bank, expecting to collect the interest when the time comes. 

When they finally ask for what they feel is owed, the other partner is likely to be distressed at the emotional credit card debt he or she never signed up for.

No one wants to “sell out” to get what they need in a relationship, but it is impossible to always be able to put that commitment to work. There are behaviors and feelings we get automatically in an intimate relationship (for which, by the way, we should always be grateful), those that we need to negotiate, and those that are highly unlikely to happen. 

Most of us would love to have that above board, clearly delineated, and easily agreed upon. 

It would be ideal for romantic partners to be able to communicate clearly and to be comfortable with the results, whatever they were, or to just understand that the relationship can’t give them what they need and to move on.

Human beings are just not built that way. They are eternal love-optimists, often continuing to pursue highly improbable goals no matter how often they don’t pan out. 

What keeps a person from selling out is their honest appraisal of who they are, what they need, and what they can give in a love relationship. 

If they understand that they must compromise some of their basic core personal self to get what they need in a particular relationship, they do not expect their partners to accumulate IOU’s for those gifts. The issue is how much, before a person begins to feel martyred, resentful, or bitter.

Many of my patients who have participated in these one-sided relationships ask me, 

“Why do I hold on when there is no indication of him/her changing or appreciating what I’m giving/sacrificing in the relationship? Why can’t I just let go and move on?

The answer, of course, is the human hunger for attachment. 

We can only be controlled by what we want that another could give us, or what we might lose were we to leave the relationship. Many of our attachments come from unfinished or traumatized interactions from our past where we are desperately trying to use the present to heal what has hurt us before. 

Sometimes the person we’re with has many of the characteristics we don’t want to let go of, but the price is high and we just keep trying to find ways to pay it. 

We may be suffering from a kind of love addiction, where the thought of withdrawal feels more painful than the price we are already paying. Giving more than we are getting back can eventually result in our emotional self-blackmail and the shame that may go with it.

Please refer to my article in Psychology Today Blogs, “Selling Out – Compromising Integrity in Intimate Relationships.” Hopefully, the advice within it will help.

Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com

Ileana Hinojosa

Compromise can be healthy if it is balanced and fair. Fair compromise means that the outcome is a win-win for both you and your partner. 

Technically you and your partner are a team and compromise is part of team building. Compromise needs to be fair for you to feel fulfilled. It is also very important to never compromise yourself or your values in a way that violates your integrity. 

If it is not fair, then you can become resentful if you are the one comprising more often that your partner.

You should feel safe enough to address any issue with your partner regarding compromise. 

Ask questions about the issue of compromise and how it is impacting your relationship. 

  • What does healthy compromise look like for you? 
  • What are your needs and how much are you willing to give in support of your partner’s needs? 
  • Do your needs get met in balanced way? 
  • Is the compromise at the expense of your needs? 

A healthy partner will be open to your feelings and respond with empathy and concern. 

A healthy partner will ask about your needs and whether your needs are being met. Look at the relationship and ask yourself how willing your partner is to compromise.

Compromise can come in different forms. 

You can compromise about going to a movie or what you are going to eat for dinner. You can compromise about your furniture, but there are other things you want to mindful of compromising. 

Some things are harder to compromise than others depending on what is at stake for each of you. Compromise can be economic in nature or about something more intimate like sex. 

Be mindful not to compromise your integrity or violate your values in ways that are harmful to you of your self-esteem.

Be mindful that something isn’t being presented as compromise when it really isn’t. Something may be presented as a choice and it is anything but that. 

Don’t feel guilty about calling him out when your choice to compromise is taken away. 

An example might be that your partner asks you where you want to go to dinner, but he then decides for the both of you. 

When anything is one side and continues that way; it can get old quickly. If you both want to win as a team, then you are both going to have to contribute to a compromise in a balanced and healthy way.

If the compromise is one sided and your partner continues to ignore your needs, it might be time to end relationship. 

If you feel frustrated or resentful, do a gut check and reevaluate if the compromise in the relationship is balanced and fair. If this continues to be a pattern, you might want to reassess the relationship and end it before you find yourself compromising more than you should.

Ileana Hinojosa, MLA, LMFT – www.themindfullife.net

Sally LeBoy

Every relationship requires compromise. 

It’s just not possible for two people to agree on everything. Compromise is a process that really requires open and honest communication. 

You can’t reach a useful compromise unless both parties understand each other’s positions. 

There are very few issues that can’t be resolved through compromise, although there are a few. Whether or not to have children stands out as an issue that would be hard to resolve through compromise. While you can’t have half a kid, you can compromise about how many to have.

I think a distinction that must be made is between compromise and avoidance. 

If you agree to something because you are afraid of a fight, you will not be happy with the compromise. Of course nobody is completely happy with a compromise because usually each person is giving up something that they want. But you have to be able to live with the compromise without feeling resentful.

Resentment occurs when you make compromises that are really not OK with you. 

These are often compromises that require you to give up a part of your self-definition. You are pressured into a position of agreeing to something that violates your principles. 

People often agree to these compromises out of fear of conflict or even a loss of the relationship. If you are in a relationship in which you are afraid of your partner for any reason, you need to really think about whether this person is a healthy choice for you.

Some partners are very controlling; they make it very unpleasant to voice your thoughts or needs. 

Insecure people look at differences as an indication that there is something wrong with the relationship, so they put pressure on the partner to acquiesce. 

Out of fear, the partner pretends to agree. These are toxic relationships. When agreement is valued over authenticity, people lose their sense of self. No relationship is worth that.

Good relationships promote the growth of all family members. 

That requires self-definition, tolerance for differences and the ability to sometimes give in. 

If you are the only one giving in, you might want to consider that you are afraid of conflict and are buying the peace at the expense of your authentic sense of self. 

Healthy fighting, in which each person can say what they think and what they want, ultimately makes for closer relationships.

Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com

Cynthia Pickett

Learning to coexist with another person is no easy feat! 

For the most part our buttons are routinely pushed bringing our emotional baggage closer and closer to the surface, which never feels comfortable. Then we have another person whom we have to consider. 

At times that consideration feels warm and intimate and other times it feels constricting. In today’s society many couples are under the assumption that compromise is what makes a relationship work. 

All to often we think we are cooperating with our partner by compromising but we are actually loosing a piece of ourselves.

There are some compromises that are usually acceptable depending on the frequency and the mutual give and take. These are things like “I want Mexican, you want Italian so lets go for American” kind of stuff. When compromises involve other people, what to wear, social activities, vacations, etc. they become much trickier to navigate. 

Usually compromise is really disguised control and will ultimately suffocate the individuals and the relationship as a whole. 

When we compromise are we settling on a friendship, life long dream, a value, a desire, a belief, and ideal? Settling is never ok! We lose a piece of ourselves when we settle or allow our movement to be restricted. 

If someone insists that you alter your behavior, friends, style, or movement because they are uncomfortable you are in a very unhealthy relationship. 

Compromise should never be done to make your partner feel better or more secure. That is control and they are attempting to put their emotional work on you.

Freedom is the key to a successful relationship. 

Free to be who you are and explore and do all the things you want. You shouldn’t have to consider your partner’s likes and dislikes in order to live your life how you choose to live it. The partnership of working together comes with things that are done together. Examples are, which restaurant to go to, moving (when and where), child rearing, some household decorating, etc. 

In all cases of compromise should not limit or restrict your movement, your beliefs, personal style, freedom, ideals, friendships. 

You should be able to be who you were before getting into the relationship during the relationship. This notion that once we settle down we will have to give up people or things that we loved is not compromise but control. Control is always damaging to the person being controlled and the relationship as a whole.

Cynthia Pickett, LCSW, LADC – www.cynthiapickett.com

Dr. Deborah Cox

Compromise means softening.

Compromise takes us out of resistance and into acceptance. We let go of something. We stop arguing. We relax. We adjust. It takes enormous strength and it rewards us with wisdom……

……unless it doesn’t.

Sometimes compromise means we’re shutting our eyes to what is there. Sometimes compromise means we’re in denial about the hard truth of a situation. Sometimes compromise robs us of our values.

So, how do I know which is which? 

I listen to my higher self. And this takes time and intention. Sometimes it takes days, weeks, months to know whether I’m shrinking back in fear or letting go in love. My power tool? Writing.

This exercise helps me clarify when to let go, be quiet, soften – and when to keep the issue front and center. Although my feelings always deserve attention, I decide whether or not to press the point with my partner. 

I learned this method from Julia Cameron, who wrote, “The Artist’s Way.”

  1. Get out my journal, my favorite pen, a cup of coffee. Start on a fresh page.
  2. Start by rambling on the page. Let it all out. Rant and rave. Stomp my feet. Say all the things I should not say to my partner……..He is so immature!!!! I can’t believe he doesn’t see this!!!!
  3. Take a few deep breaths.
  4. Start another fresh page. Write “Q.” Then ask the question I need to ask. What should I do with these feelings? Should I keep asking him to take better care of himself? Should I tell him how afraid I am for his health?
  5. Leave the question in front of me for a few minutes. Take more deep breaths. Listen for an answer.
  6. Write “A.” When words begin to bubble up in my brain, write them down. This is my answer. Tell him you love him and want him to be healthy. Then stop talking. He already knows. He’s a smart guy. Put your frustration on the page. Tell Sally. Take care of your own health……

This exercise sometimes leads me the opposite way, especially if it involves parenting, immediate risk, or my own boundaries. 

No absolute rule guides me, only the voice of my higher self, helping me navigate the territory of my relationship.

Dr. Deborah Cox – www.deborahlcox.com

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