Compromise is one of those terms you hear a lot when it comes to relationship advice. But just because compromise in a relationship is important, doesn’t mean it’s easy — or that we know how to do it.
Compromise is a skill every couple needs in their relationship repertoire. Sooner or later there will come a time when you or your partner will have to make a compromise, whether it’s deciding how to decorate your new home, which in-laws to spend the holidays with, or how to raise your children. Even day-to-day interactions — such as picking what movie to watch on date night — will require a certain amount of compromise.
Couples need to learn how to work as a team, but it’s easier said than done. So, we asked an expert how to compromise in a relationship. Keep reading for some expert advice.
“Compromise is crucial,” says Dr. Jacqui Gabb, a professor of sociology and intimacy at The Open University and Chief Relationships Officer at Paired.
“Compromise is being open to a partner rather than digging into a position, and understanding that this isn’t about giving way or winning, but about listening to a partner and hearing what they have to say,” she adds.
Knowing how to compromise is healthy for relationships to succeed because it shows you’re able to problem-solve together and approach life as a couple rather than an individual.
Compromise in a relationship means assessing your priorities and putting your relationship (or partner) first whenever you can. It’s when two partners shift their wants or desires for the good of their relationship.
Fundamentally, compromise means making small sacrifices and meeting in the middle so that you and your partner can reach an agreement you’re both comfortable with.
“It’s about acknowledging that an issue may be more important to one partner than the other and giving way once these reasons have been explained,” says Dr. Gabb.
At its core, compromise means valuing each other’s needs and opinions above the need to be “right” all the time. “Most importantly, compromise isn’t about power, with a winner and a loser,” adds Dr. Gabb.
An example of compromise in a relationship is getting a pet, says Dr. Gabb. “One partner may want a dog while the other thinks it’s impractical. The resistance to getting a pet may be based on available time and money or being allergic to animals. The desire for a pet may be because a partner grew up with pets in the household and associates this with home. Or it might be driven by a desire to settle down and make things serious,” she explains.
“Reaching a compromise is less about whether the couple gets a dog, but instead rests on listening to the reasons and feelings that sit behind the position. For example, it could be that getting a dog is not right for now but is pinned on a point over the next year or so when the couple's relationship and finances feel more stable for both parties.”
“Ideally an equal amount, but it’s unlikely to feel this way,” says Dr. Gabb. “We tend to think we give way far more than our partners. It’s not necessary to keep a running tally, but if one partner does feel it’s usually them who flexes, then it’s good to talk this through and maybe rebalance the scales if this is the case."
Relationships are all about give-and-take, but there is a stark difference between compromising and being in a one-sided relationship. Healthy compromise should come from both partners, so if one partner is doing most of the heavy lifting, it could lead to resentment and frustration, and damage the relationship in the long term.
“If one partner always cedes ground then it could be that they feel unable to get their voice heard or feel they have a lesser status in the relationship,” says Dr. Gabb.
Below, Dr. Gabb shares her do’s and don’ts for compromise in a relationship.
Start small. “Identify a topic that’s not precious and/or more aligned with one partner than another. This could be wanting to spend more quality time together, for example. Avoid deeply personal and life-changing topics such as starting a family or topics that are time-limited such as whose family should be invited for Christmas. Set aside time to talk through the pros and cons of the topic and practice saying how you feel about a topic. For some, this can be really hard, for example, if they have low self-esteem or have been in previous relationships where they felt unable to express themselves.”
Reframe your mindset. “Learn to see compromise as positive rather than something that means giving way to a partner’s wishes. It’s not a zero-sum game. Learning to be more open and giving way can enrich your life, so embrace it. It’s a relationship skill and so put time into learning how to compromise.”
Keep your boundaries in mind. “Your partner shouldn’t be expecting you to compromise on something that oversteps your boundaries. So if a partner feels their boundaries are being stretched then acknowledge this and ask for time to reflect upon the situation. Sometimes though, it can be positive to reflect upon our boundaries and where they’re set. It could be that they’re a result of a previous relationship dynamic or cultural norms that have not been questioned. Change can be healthy. Adaptation is a core feature of strong relationships.”
Have an open dialogue. “If a compromise is agreed upon as a result of relentless pressure or bullying behavior, it’s unhealthy. If a compromise is agreed upon through open dialogue, with each partner listening to the other’s point of view, then this is healthy.”
Revisit the subject. “If it feels uncomfortable once the dust has settled, revisit the decision. Compromises reached are not closed but should be open to further discussion.”