Tag Archive for compromise

Compromise: My Way or The Highway?

If you’re married, you have probably had this experience. You know…the one that occurs when you want one thing and your spouse wants another. You disagree on the best course of action, but you need to reach an agreement. And reaching an agreement will require compromise. And so, the discussion (or should I say debate?) begins. You and your spouse state your cases. You persuade. You list off the benefits of your side.

Underlying the whole discussion, however, is a small, nagging fear that if I stand firm, you might consider me selfish and become resentful. But, if I give in to meet your needs or comply with your ideas, you might take advantage of my kindness… and I will grow to resent. Plus, the whole issue of fairness flows like a riptide under these fears, threatening to pull us into frustration and anger. All in all, our effort at compromising becomes a lesson in political antagonism. But (and this is a big but) it does not have to be this way.

The whole tone of compromise can change when we shift our paradigm and stop thinking in terms of my needs and desires versus your needs and desires. The tone of compromise changes when we shift to recognize that the true struggle begins within each me and within you. It is not the struggle of “me versus thee” but the struggle within myself  to honor two needs I harbor in my heart that are of equal importance:

  • One, to satisfy my personal need or desire and
  • Two, to make my spouse happy.  After all, we all want our spouses to experience happiness in their relationship to us. Our love for our spouse pushes us to grow, to think beyond our own desires and consider another person’s desires.

By recognizing this internal struggle, we become better prepared to listen, to understand, and to discover a mutually satisfying solution. In other words, compromise is an opportunity to stand up for ourselves and our spouse rather than give in or persuade.

Gottman developed an exercise to aid couples in this process–the two ovals exercise. First, draw an oval on a piece of paper. Write what you must have in order to be true to your identity within this oval. What you write will vary depending on the topic at hand. However, one value you can always write in this first oval is the desire to bring your spouse happiness.

Next, draw a second oval around the first one. In this outer oval, write things related to the topic of discussion that you are flexible about. With these two ovals complete, you can approach the conversation with a deeper sharing of priorities, a clearer understanding of issues related to each one’s identity and security, and an explicit expression and recognition of each one’s desire to make the other happy. Compromise becomes an opportunity to know one another better and to seek a way to make one another happy. Instead of “my way or the highway” undergirding the talk of compromise, “how can we make one another happy while we meet our individual needs” becomes the foundation of the discussion. Now that is a compromise we can invest in!

When a Shirt is More Than a Shirt

It was old, no doubt. Some looked at it and saw holes and frayed sleeves, my wife included. She saw a rag, something to use while cleaning or, better yet, something to simply throw away. But I saw so much more. I saw comfort. I saw years of companionship (we’d been together since college). I saw an old friend. Yes, it was “just a shirt,” but we had been through a lot together. My wife saw an old, raggedy t-shirt that need thrown out and replaced. I saw a faithful companion to be respected and even cherished. Perhaps I saw too much (you be the judge). I don’t know. No matter. The fact remains, you’ve likely had a similar experience in your marriage—you saw one thing and your spouse saw another. Who’s right and who’s wrong? I don’t know. It’s a matter of opinion. You could get into a drag-down, all-out fight about it; but that only leads to frustration and distance in the relationship. Or, you can preserve the relationship by listening to your spouse and understanding their point of view.

Listen intently to understand the basis of their perspective. Strive to understand the validity of their belief. Dig deep to see the meaning it all holds for them. Their perspective may differ from your perspective because it rests on a foundation of different experiences and slightly different values. It may hold a meaning for your spouse that you had not considered…nor would you ever consider. It is no less true, but obviously different. When you listen, understand, and appreciate your spouse’s point of view, you validate them even as you “agree to disagree.” You draw closer together as a couple. You come to know your spouse better and gain greater intimacy with your spouse. All because you took time to realize that sometimes a “shirt is more than a shirt.”

Of course, I used a somewhat silly example (although I have had to defend a shirt or two during my marriage, have you?). However, the same holds true when it comes to more significant opinions like politics or childrearing practices, the perfect place for vacation or the perfect place to live. In such cases, the stakes are much higher than the stakes inherent in a disagreement over my comfortable and faithful shirt, but the response is similar. You need to listen intently and understand deeply in order to move toward an appreciation of your spouse’s point of view. Only when you understand so well that you can repeat their rationale back to them and they reply by saying, “Yes! Now you understand!” can you begin to find a compromise, a mutual agreement in which both spouses can find satisfaction. 

By the way, I gave up my shirt…over time. My wife allowed me a “grieving period” and bought me a new shirt very similar to the old one. I could wear both, one around the house and the other in public until I was ready to let go of my “faithful friend…oh, the sorrow.”  But she listened. She understood. I listened. I understood. We grew together…and I got a new shirt out of the deal!

Married to Burger King?

Remember the old Burger King commercials?  I used to sing their moto, “Have It Your Way…,” such a catchy tune.

Unfortunately, some people think they’re married to Burger King. They want to always “have it their way” in marriage, treating their spouse like Burger King. They want their “Burger King spouse” to accept their way and agree with it, or at least act as though they do. They always believe their way “is right” and will argue their point in an effort to make their “Burger King spouse” toes the line and complies with their way. They do this by insisting on “their way” with vigor and passion, often overwhelming their spouse with their energy. They persist in this persuasion until their “Burger King spouse” accepts their conclusion as the right conclusion. What they don’t admit to themselves is “their Burger King spouse” often does this just to end the conflict and not have to talk about it anymore. As soon as the “Burger King spouse” gives in, a wedge (not a pickle wedge or a lettuce wedge but a solid, distancing wedge) is forced between them. That wedge will grow and fester, hindering intimacy and even leading to more conflict in the future.

“Having it your way” doesn’t work in marriage because none of us are married to Burger King. (Well, accept maybe Mrs. Burger King.)  Our spouse has their own opinions, perspectives, and ideas. Maybe you “hold the lettuce” and she piles it on…or you “hold the pickles” while he asks for extra pickles. More significantly, maybe she wants a minivan and you want an SUV…or you want to spend some money on a few weekend vacations each year, but he wants to skip the weekend getaways and save all the money for retirement. I won’t list possible differences you and your spouse may hold. I’m sure you can think of a few on your own. The point is, when we insist on always being right, when we demand to “have it our way,” we push our spouse away. In the words of a more marriage friendly moto, “You can be right…or you can be in relationship.” “Being in relationship” requires that we accept our spouse’s point of view as valid, just like our point of view. It means we don’t demand to “have it our way,” but honor our differences by listening and compromising instead.  It means having the grace to “have it their way” now and again instead of “our way.” In short, you’re not married to Burger King so don’t expect to “have it your way” all the time.  Learn to listen, compromise, and turn toward one another in discovering a third alternative that can satisfy each of you. After all, isn’t it more important to have a satisfying marriage than to “have it your way.”