Art of Compromise

J.P. Mertens, LPCCBlog, CouplesLeave a Comment

Art of Compromise

Many couples struggle to resolve their issues because they do not understand the art of compromise. Negotiation is possible when you are willing to work with your partner to address your challenges and opportunities together. Amazing solutions come when you both are willing to work together to develop, commit, and fulfill joined resolutions.

For compromise to work, couples must be open to the opinions and thoughts of their partner. You do not have to agree with everything they say or believe, but you must be at least open to their position.  If you find yourself sitting with your arms folded and shaking your head when your partner tries to talk about a challenge with you, your discussion will probably not go anywhere. Once you are ready to accept influence from your partner, finding a solution you both can live with is not complicated. Often compromise is just a matter of talking out your differences and preferences in an open manner. Dr. John Gottman (relationship psychologist) attests that you can only be influential if you accept influence. Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something. The important thing is feeling understood, respected, and honored in your resolutions.

Steps to Healthy Compromise:

1. Express Non-Compromising Values

There are values that we hold as individuals that we are not willing to compromise in interpersonal relationships. For instance, religious or political beliefs or values are usually not compromised by many people. Even lifestyle choices are often not compromised. Overall, couples can meet in the middle on most issues (like what color carpet to get in the living room).  

Here is an activity to help you determine non-compromisable versus compromisable issues (from Gottman Method):

First > Draw two ovals, one within the other. The one on the inside is your Inflexible Area and the one on the outside is your Flexible Area.

Second > Think of the inside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values you absolutely cannot compromise on, and the outside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values that you feel more flexible with in this area. Make two lists.

Third > Discuss the following questions with your partner that feels most comfortable and natural for the two of you:

  • Can you help me to understand why your “inflexible” needs or values are so important to you?
  • What are your primary feelings here?
  • What feelings and goals do we have in common? How might these goals be accomplished?
  • Help me to understand your flexible areas. Let’s investigate which ones we have in common.
  • How can I help you to meet your primary needs?

2. Present Ideal Solutions

Each partner should have the opportunity to describe their ideal or best option solution for the issue in question. If those ideal solutions are a perfect match, go with the matching solution. Since we do not live in a perfect world, usually ideal solutions are not the same between partners.  

3. Seek to Understand

When ideas are shared, be respectful of your partner to seriously consider their thoughts and feelings. Each partner should feel valued and heard as they share their ideas. Take the time to fully understand each other’s ideas by repeating back to your partner what you heard them say to ensure clarity of thoughts. This enables you to be fully heard and empowers your partner to share any discrepancies in your understanding of their thoughts. 

4. Reveal Options

It is helpful for couples to work together to brainstorm as many doable solutions as possible to resolve the issue or opportunity. At this point, no idea is a bad idea. It is like laying cards out on a table to be able to consider as many options as possible.

5. Discuss Top Options

From the list of possible options, narrow the list down to the top 2-4 options that are most likely and doable solutions. Individuals will have to begin to take steps toward their partner to sacrifice part of their ideal solution to meet their partner in the middle.  It is important for couples to agree together on the final options to move further in the process.

6. Conduct Research

Gather as much information as possible by investigating each option. It is easier for couples to compromise when they have as much information as possible to make an educated decision. For instance, if a couple is deciding whether to fix the old minivan or buy a different vehicle, it would be wise to do the research to consider the cost implications for both options.

7. Decide Together

Couples can work together to come to the final solution in a way that empowers both parties to feel pleased about the final decision. It is not perfect for an individual, but it is good for both. Decisions can be executed with confidence when both parties are working together in agreement.

8. Pray Wholeheartedly

When couples seek out the wisdom of God in major decisions, he speaks his wisdom into the situation. “If any of you lacks wisdom, they should ask God, who gives generously without finding fault, and it will be given them” (James 1:5, NIV). Seek God’s direction to invite him to reveal his will on your issues.

9. Move Forward Together (Don’t Look Back)

Arm in Arm, confidently advance forward in the decision that you made as a couple together. Renumeration (doubting and over thinking) will take the thrill and joy away from working together to resolve an issue or opportunity. Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes famously burned his ships upon arriving in the New World, so his soldiers had no easy way out and had to focus on victory. Celebrate your decision and victory together!

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