The healing powers of compromise are often touted by counselors and psychologists as a balm to relationships. The sad truth is, whenever you compromise you aren’t getting what you want, because you are delaying your gratification in favor of “acting like an adult,” and putting your relationship before your current desires. That would be OK if it were really good for your relationship. The question is: Is it, or does it breed resentment?
Intellectually, it appears to be a selfless, mature choice; but, emotionally, the little child inside who wanted what he wanted when he wanted it (not next week, or on next year’s vacation) is angry.
You may not be consciously aware of your resentment because anger isn’t pretty and tends to get suppressed. In the short run, a little suppressed anger is no big deal, but when it accrues over years, it can become an impediment to a loving, intimate bond. This is especially true if one person is doing most of the compromising. Eventually, the anger will break through, or come out as passive-aggressive behavior (like: forgetting to get those special concert tickets, accidentally breaking your favorite plate, or speaking so quietly you have to strain to hear every word).
For clarity’s sake, here is an example of a classic compromise. It’s Saturday night and both of you want to go out to dinner. You crave Thai food and your partner has a yen for Indian. There is no way you will agree, so you say, “OK, let’s have Indian tonight and Thai next time.” The problem is, you really wanted Thai. Maybe you were dreaming of a particular dish, the restaurant’s ambience, or the lower price. It doesn’t matter. You were disappointed. If you had compromised, you might have each gotten take-out and eaten what you wanted in front of a movie at home. It wouldn’t have been exactly what either of you had envisioned, but both of you would have had most of what you wanted. Any lingering disappointment would have been shared. Instead of a win-lose compromise, you would have a mostly win-win.
There are some people who will maintain that they simply don’t care. It’s all the same to them. If that’s true, great; but, if they are really sitting on a landfill of built-up resentment, it will eventually come out. Yet another good reason to be as honest with yourself as possible. The more in touch you are with what you feel, the less likely it will come out in some unexpected way surprising you and your partner.
There are also people who are able to focus on the long-term gain versus the short-term inconvenience or annoyance; but, there are very few who can do it year after year without stockpiling negative feelings.
Next time you are at an impasse over some decision, big or small, try thinking outside the box. Ask: “How can we both get what we want?” With a little effort and some practice you will have a new template for solving many interpersonal issues.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Compromise or Cooperate? January 26, 2010