Compromise In Relationships: How To Get Along Without Losing Yourself

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Culturally we have a relationship model that doesn’t work.  Compromise and Sacrifice are the ways we have been told to try to fix the holes in the model.  

Neither work though.  This message from Sonia is an example of why.

Hi Rob,

I actually have one big problem in all my relationships: I always stand straight next to my beloved ones and I always support them but often I forget myself and in some relationships, I throw my own high principles overboard.

I always thought that in a relationship you need to do compromises. But we are living in a generation where nobody wants to take risks and if the relationship struggles at one or two points you are kind of getting dismissed and the next one is going to be chosen.

So I am struggling with two points here:

How can I make compromises without losing myself? 

And when do I need to make clear that there is a mismatch between compromises I have done and the other one didn’t do any of those that are highly important to me?

And the other point I have is: what can I do to not feel replaceable at any time?


Compromise Is The band aid to a failed relationship model

You’re not alone in this frustration, Sonia. 

It’s the way we’ve all been taught relationships.  Compromise is seen as being an essential element for successful relationships.

Yet let’s explore compromise.  Compromise means both people give up something in order to maintain the harmony of the relationship. 

So if both compromise, neither is happy, but the relationship survives.  It’s a broken model that is reliant on the belief that a relationship is more important than the two individuals in it.

First, let’s start by giving some context to the problem. 

In order to understand and fully solve a problem, we have to understand the dynamics and the history that led to the problem. 

As Einstein said, we have to rise to a level of thinking above the level we created it.

Our society has changed dramatically... our Relationship model hasn't!

Relationships for the history of our society have been an economic unit. 

They survived because we needed each other.  The two great forces of history, the government and religion, pushed us towards ‘family values’ because it was good for society.

Today our survival is no longer under threat.  Today, we are no longer satisfied with survival from our relationships.  

We want emotional fulfilment.  So many lessons we have been given from the past, is broken for our current relationship goals.

The building blocks of a relationship are the two individuals in it.  The health of a relationship is dependent on how happy they are.

Compromise is the quick fix

Compromise is the quick fix from the flawed fariytale model.

When the promise of happily ever after fell short and the reality was a relationship that led to misery ever after, the practical advice was to compromise.

When the hope that you might just have the winning lottery ticket that would lead to a fulfilling and happy relationship was dashed, then people were shamed for the aspirations they were given before they married.

I can imagine the world-weary elder saying it, “Don’t be so stupid as to believe life is a fairytale!  Relationships are about sacrifice and compromise”

the dynamics of dating

Let’s look more closely at the idea though.

When we are dating, most people maximise.  They want the best partner they can get, without paying too high a price.  So the best in this context usually means a combination of looks, personality, resources and so on.

This means we’re looking at people and classes them into a hierarchy.  Much of the excitement Daters feel at a new relationship is the feeling that they are winning a partner they didn’t think they could ever get.

Equally, the heartbreak of a breakup is believing they have lost something they can never recapture.

In the early days of dating, we show the best of ourselves because we aren’t sure we will be accepted as we are.  

In other words, the pressure romantic suitors put themselves under comes from a feeling of unworthiness.  And so they want to stretch and become better to win the prize.

Over time they find out what others will accept and settle to that level.  One of my eight foundational principles is that people will give the minimum you will accept.

In a happy healthy relationship, couples gradually acclimatize and support each other.  They become used to each other, so they can relax without having to stretch all the time.

However, when someone is unconditionally loving and willing to sacrifice in a relationship, they are teaching their partner that they can drop to a lower level without fear.

Following the principle that we give the minimum that is accepted, you have now demoted yourself from being supportive, to serving them.

The hope is that they will value your service and reciprocate.  There’s two problems with this.

The first is that the reality is that we see people who serve us, as being our servants.  They have lowered their status, shown us they will accept whatever and so we mentally downgrade them.

Servants are a commodity and so they can easily be replaced.  Also, it makes their partner feel that they could do better and so they are looking at finding a stretch or support upgrade.

The second problem is that you have made a contract that isn’t clean and clear.

You have an expectation that what you belief and do will be reciprocated.  The other person doesn’t know this and you will judge their character on something you haven’t expressly contracted.  This is going to lead to conflict, directly or indirectly. 

re-examining the broken model

So if compromise and sacrifice aren’t the answer, how do we ever agree when we want different things?

Of course, you could absolutely refuse to compromise on anything ever and be a complete Diva who then becomes too much hassle.  Clearly, this isn’t the solution.

So what do we do?

It starts by examining your relationship model.  It’s broken.  It doesn’t work and your relationships won’t work until you change it.

happiness > The Relationship

The key principle at the root of the flawed relationship framework is this;

The goal is always happiness.  Not the relationship.

The goal of everyone’s life is to be happy.  Every decision and choice is to achieve that.

A relationship is not necessary.  The pressure that people feel to be in a relationship is because society needed people to be in a relationship.

If you genuinely don’t need to be in a relationship, then you have an advantage. 

It’s a lot easier to be happy as a Monk meditating for three hours, than being out in the world with all the stress and challenges of jobs, relationships and kids etc.

However, most people do need a relationship.  It’s something deeply instinctual to want to share your life with someone.  Most people who swear off relationships are reacting to the stress of a flawed model vs necessarily preferring singledom.

Now when you operate from this principle, a relationship has to enhance your life.  

If it makes you less happy, then the relationship is detracting from your life.

This means you start to have higher standards about what you will and won’t accept.

What this means is that your partners have to be better.  

And of course, this works both ways.  So, you have to be a better person and partner.  

This is how a relationship enhances you.  It supports and stretches you.

A great relationship doesn’t demand you change.  But it will change you.

In other words, you do not sacrifice or change your principles to accommodate someone else.  Yet, you are inspired and supported to evolve to higher levels.

Integrity is seen in action

Let’s look at what seems to have been happening in your relationship patterns.  

This isn’t to be critical.  I have a fundamental belief that given the exact same genes, shared experiences, knowledge and skills that we would all do the same.  I think of people being much like mobile phones.  We have hardware (genetics), an operating system (culturally learned beliefs and values) and apps (skills).  

You have been getting into relationships with people who are attracted to you.  They liked who you were for your looks, personality and principles

Then over time, what they saw was that you weren’t really living up to what you promised.  You would sacrifice your principles for their being pleased with you.

In other words, it’s like someone pretending to be taller, more respectable or whatever.  They then feel like they were attracted to the image you portrayed and the reality doesn’t match up.

when two become one

A relationship is difficult because it combines the views, wants and likes of two people.  When you live with someone and your financial security is tied up in their decisions that’s a source of conflict.

The essence of what makes relationships complex is that you have two people with their own views and visions sharing a future.  Imagine tying two dogs together on each end of a lead and watching them run in different directions.  

When you don’t explicitly confront the differences and consciously work out where you’re going, that is what you’ve done.

slay the dragon

The missing step that has been skipped over from the fairytale framework is slaying the dragon.

Slaying the dragon is the ordeal every Prince and Princess go through.  Whether it’s lifting the evil witch’s curse or actually slaying a dragon.  

The ordeal is the metaphor for what you have to do, to create a shared vision.

We argue about money, sex, children and so on because we are different.  We aren’t going to become clones and agree on everything.  We have to find a way of working together through our differences.

It is in this process that we uncover and reveal ourselves at deeper levels.  This is where we get the deep understanding of who we and our partner really are.

Compromise and sacrifice are usually the shortcut of this.  

If you have done the work to understand each other and agree that for example, I’m going to work and support you to follow your dream because I believe this is worth doing, then that is a noble act.  It’s one that can make your partner feel loved and valued.

However, if you just compromise without any discussion, it makes you devalued and your partner feel more important than you.

Compromise should only be done explicitly, with deep understanding, clear expectations and where it doesn’t diminish your happiness or level of respect of your partner.

At times we all have to sacrifice.  We have to give up hobbytime for work.  We have to spend less to save for something bigger.

But the one thing we can never sacrifice is who we are.  For when we sacrifice who we are, we become less. 

When we lose who we are, what do we have left?

Start Here


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