Turns Out That Compromise Isn't the Key to a Happy Relationship After All
"Good relationships are all about compromise." "If you want a great relationship, learn to compromise." "A healthy relationship means compromise."
Some variation of "compromise more" is probably the most common, universally accepted piece of relationship advice—the idea being that if you learn to meet your partner halfway, you'll both be happy. But as a relationship and intimacy expert who has been guiding couples for 20 years, I don't think that advice is actually true. Here's why:
1. Compromise can make you lose touch with what matters to you.
The result of frequent compromise is that you become accustomed to accommodating your partner's desires, and in the process, lose track of what you really want. I once worked with a couple, Joanne and Mike. When they started dating, she loved spicy food—her favorite restaurants were mom-and-pop Mexican places with jalapeños hanging from the ceiling, and she loved dousing her dinner in the hottest hot sauce. Mike, on the other hand, preferred Italian food and avoided spicy cuisines. Since Joanne could find dishes she could eat at the restaurants Mike chose, they ended up going to his favorite spots pretty exclusively.
Initially, Joanne was fine with that because she knew it was important to compromise, and the Italian food was good enough. However, over time, and after other similar compromises, Joanne noticed that she was no longer clear about what she wanted. When buying shoes, for example, or picking a book in a bookstore, the decision-making process took longer than they used to.
In our work together, she realized that by putting aside her own desires for the sake of her marriage, she had become uncertain about what she really wanted. One of my early recommendations was that the couple start going out for spicy food again from time to time. Sure enough, once they were going to the restaurants she chose, and she was reconnected with her own desires, she was much more clear about what she wanted in other areas of her life too.
2. Compromise can kill your passion for each other.
When we compromise in one area of a relationship, we end up compromising in other areas too. When Joanne and Mike first came to see me, it was because their sex life had become bland and infrequent. In learning to compromise in order to have a harmonious relationship, they had both learned to set aside their own desires—a strategy that kept conflict to a minimum but didn't inspire much passion—and they couldn't shake that dynamic when it came to the bedroom.
A nourishing, emotionally connected relationship requires vulnerability and honesty about your desires, as well as a shared understanding that both partners' needs are important. When we compromise, we accept "good enough." But if you want to have a glorious, connected, fun, sexy relationship, there is no place for "good enough" in your interactions with your spouse.
3. Creativity and compromise do not coexist.
Once you and your partner let go of compromise and instead commit to what each of you wants with one another, the creative juices start to flow.
For example, if Joanne and Mike hadn't been so oriented toward compromise, maybe they would have thought to each get takeout from the restaurant of their choosing and then have a picnic in the park together. This could have allowed each of them to eat the food they loved without compromise—and they would get to have a fantastic dinner together as well.
The way to build a juicy, nourishing relationship is to let go of compromise and instead focus on what each partner desires, then look for creative ways to satisfy both desires simultaneously. With practice, the creative solutions come surprisingly easily.
Alexandra Stockwell is a physician turned relationship coach. The views expressed herein are hers. She believes that people who enjoy juicy marriages have better relationships with everyone in their lives. She has coached more than 1,500 men and women on their journey to live vibrant, meaningful lives and trains other coaches to do the same. For more information, visit her website.