Relationships involve compromise, right? A mature partnership is a game of give and take. My short answer is this: in some ways yes, and in other ways no. If we want a healthy connection, we can’t always get our way. Mature relationships can’t thrive in narcissistic soil. It’s not all about us.
But relationships can’t flourish if we give up too much of ourselves — sacrificing our values, stifling our voice, or minimizing our own needs. Doing so could be a self-betrayal, leading to frustration or anger toward ourselves or others for sacrificing too much.
Compromising sounds noble…and sometimes it is. Our elected leaders could certainly use a hefty dose of it when formulating policies rather than clinging rigidly to their ideology, which leaves others feeling diminished, thereby creating divisiveness.
In our personal relationships, compromising has a dark side. It is a setup for resentment if our tendency to please others is on automatic pilot. Quickly dismissing our own wants to keep a relationship intact can lead to growing resentment, which can damage a relationship.
Intimacy thrives in a climate where we feel free to be ourselves — wanting what we want and expressing our desires without fear of rejection, retribution, or being shamed.
Expressing our desires doesn’t mean that we’ll always get our way. It doesn’t mean that if our partner loves us, they’ll accommodate us and neglect themselves. After all, they want to be happy too.
Dialogue and Communication
Considering an alternative to compromising raises the question of how can we be ourselves and have a healthy relationship? How do we navigate our varying needs with someone we care about?
The common solution to this quandary is to agree to compromise. We prefer Thai food, but our partner wants Italian. We want to visit a friend, but our partner wants to watch a movie together at home. How can we negotiate our differences so that we don’t become resentful?
The art of dialogue and communication is where the rubber meets the road in our important relationships. This is a dance of self-affirmation integrated with an empathic attunement toward others.
A prime nutrient for intimacy is being open, present, and emotionally available.
We have a responsibility to ourselves to express our feelings and wants in a respectful way. But soon thereafter, can we turn the tables and listen attentively to our partner or friend? Researcher John Gottman has found that relationships thrive when we allow ourselves to be influenced by each other.
Being affected by our partner is different from doing what we think is “fair” or “right,” which is not to say there’s no place for fairness. But it’s an entirely different matter when we prioritize communication over compromise. There’s a different “feel” to things when solutions arise through a sacred process of “taking in” the other person and arriving at some course of action that feels comfortable for both people.
Can we care enough to extend ourselves in a manner that conveys the message:
- I want to hear what’s important to you.
- I want to take your feelings and wants to heart.
- Because I care, I allow myself to be affected — and even changed by listening openly to what you are experiencing.
There’s a big difference between acquiescing and allowing ourselves to be genuinely touched by another’s experience. Intimacy requires opening ourselves to each other’s world.
If I care about you, I’ll be happy to give you what you want… if I can.
Finding sustenance in intimacy, I will find pleasure in bringing a smile to your face and joy to your heart. I will find meaning, fulfillment, and delight in expressing my love by supporting what you want — not because I value compromise, but because I value you.
I suspend what I want as I listen to you, but as I take it all in, I notice how it mixes with my own desires. I then honor myself by expressing my experience to you. If I never listen to what I want, I might succumb to a codependent pattern of giving up myself to please or placate you. But as Buddhist psychology teaches, if I cling too tightly to what I want, I may increase my own isolation and suffering.
The art of loving involves the give and take of listening openly and being touched by each other’s felt experience. Intimacy is a function of experiential sharing, not doing what we think we “should” do to keep the peace.
The next time your partner asks you to visit his or her in-laws or wants a weekend getaway, this may resonate for you. If so, great! If not, you can dialogue about it. Can you listen to what this would mean to your partner rather than react defensively?
Understanding your partner can deepen intimacy regardless of whatever decision is made.
They’re free to make a request; you’re free to notice what this brings up for you, whether an affirmative “yes” or a need for further dialogue. You are free to be you and respond from a place of caring for yourself and your partner. A dialogue based on mutual respect and caring can help you both feel more connected to yourselves and each other. And after all, isn’t that what we’re all really wanting?