The art of compromise

16 June 2020

You want to go to the cinema. But you and your partner have different tastes in movies.

One of you wants to see an action film; the other a romantic comedy. There are no films showing that you might both like to see.

You talk about it for a while, and it’s clear you’re not going to come to an easy agreement. In the end, one of you gives up and says: ‘We’ll go see the romantic comedy’. The other person is happy, but the first one is secretly a bit resentful that they had to give in.

Now… that might not seem like a particularly big deal, but there’s a pattern that, when applied to something more serious or important, could be problematic.The couple might feel that one of them giving in and the other getting their way is a form of ‘compromise’. After all, one of them has ‘compromised’ what they wanted – arguably for the greater good of the relationship. And there might be a vague feeling that, maybe next time, they’ll go to see the film that the first person wants to see.

But what’s missing from this interaction is proper communication. Both partners are just voicing their opposing views, but not really listening to what each other has to say. The focus is on the situation, not on each other’s feelings. While they have been able to reach a solution of sorts, it’s left one of them slightly annoyed, and perhaps ready to bring the whole thing up again later on.

Why is communicating important when it comes to compromise?

If you both communicate openly about a conflict, then you’re both more likely to be able to reach a compromise that is understood fully by everyone involved and, as such, less likely to cause problems further down the line.

Instead of simply suppressing your objections, try to talk about them openly. This doesn’t mean digging your heels in and refusing to give any ground, but rather being candid and honest about what you’re finding difficult. In turn, it will be important that your partner feels able to do the same and that you’re able to listen too.

When you’re both talking openly about how you feel about a problem, you’re more likely to be able to move towards a decision that is truly fair. By talking it over, you can make a decision that takes into account what’s important to both of you.

It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll reach an agreement — after all, if there’s no movie you both want to watch, one of you may have to watch one you don’t! However, it does mean you’re much less likely to feel put out or disregarded. So often, disagreements are less about the practical facts than they are about one or both people feeling they’re not being given the emotional attention or respect they deserve.

On a practical level — yes, sometimes ‘meeting in the middle’ or ‘taking turns’ can be good ideas. And being able to do this is certainly better than not reaching any decision at all.

But these practical methods shouldn’t overshadow what’s really important: that you both feel heard and understood. That’s the meaning of true compromise: an agreement that feels inclusive and fair.

How we communicate or make decisions in relationships often form into patterns. The same patterns get repeated – which makes it all the more important we get the pattern right.


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