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Many relationship “experts” out there say that compromise is the key to a healthy relationship.
The idea of it seems unappealing and confining to me. Compromise feels incredibly limited—suggesting that both partners will be doing stuff they don’t want to, and relatively often.
When I was young, I didn’t think twice (or even once) about the idea and, quite frankly, my relationships were pretty unpleasant. These days, I would think twice about agreeing to this.
I now firmly believe that the purpose of any relationship and true partnership is to support each other in blossoming to our fullest potential, manifesting our dreams, and generating more than we could if we were single.
Compromise isn’t necessary for a healthy, satisfying, and joyful relationship. In fact, I don’t recommend it.
What?! How can that be?
You aren’t destined to compromise over and over just to be in a relationship. My guess is that when the experts suggest compromise as the basis of a good partnership it is because they are only seeing relationship through the lens of strategies, meaning what you ask others for and what they ask you to do.
But there is something deeper to be mindful of. Remember that everything you say and do, including what you offer others and what you ask others to do, is an attempt to meet a need.
Needs are universal to us all, and with just a bit of creative thinking we may find that all our needs can get met pretty easily. And when our relationship is based on meeting needs, ultimately there is no compromise.
Here’s a quick example:
I love going to the beach. When I go there, there are many needs I am hoping will be met. I find it restful and healing and beautiful, all of which are needs, by the way.
My partner doesn’t love the beach. He doesn’t find it restful or even all that interesting. If I ask him to go to the beach together, I am anticipating connection time with him—connection to the earth, beauty, rest, pleasure, and companionship.
Some of these needs are met when we go, however, many are not. Because my partner isn’t going to sit and stare at the waves, nap, or even be relaxed at the beach (he prefers to play volleyball, or watch volleyball, or almost anything else other than sitting on the beach), it’s likely that I’m not going to rest or even enjoy our time together.
In this situation, one might suggest that we compromise. Perhaps we go to the beach together for a short period of time and then I do something he likes. Rather than more needs getting met by this decision, it’s really the opposite. Neither of us fully enjoy either experience; we are just doing something the other person likes because we think we should.
It’s what couples do. But doing things because we should leads to resentment pretty quickly.
My thinking is this: why would I even bring him to the beach if he isn’t enjoying himself? I know plenty of people who enjoy the beach like I do, and if I go with them, all of our needs are met—without compromise (for him or me).
More importantly, if I say I care about someone, I do not want to insist they to do something they don’t want to do—presumably for me. Unless there’s a good reason for us to go together, beach time is something I most often figure out without my partner.
When considering needs, another possibility exists. My partner might have a day where he wants to support my health and chooses to hang out with me on the beach. He might find a book to read or something to listen to, meaning we could sit side by side meeting the needs of companionship and rest and beauty for me, and him meeting his needs of companionship and support for my well-being.
Do you see how there’s no compromise here? He wasn’t obligated to join me and I am not obligated to now go and do something he likes.
I do experience pleasure watching my partner do stuff he loves to do, so there are times when I say yes or even suggest that we do something he thinks is fun. Like throwing a football—he loves it. And I have a good time experiencing him coming up with different games, and laughing and running, even though I can’t imagine ever saying to someone else, “Hey, let’s go and throw a football!” This also happens when he wants support for other things, like organizing projects or computer stuff. I think carefully before I reply, being tuned into what needs my saying yes will meet.
Often people think this is “selfish.” Not true—it is self-centered. One of the core assumptions of nonviolent communication is that everyone’s needs matter equally. What self-centered means to me is knowing what your needs are so that you can easily and honestly negotiate with others, remembering that you want their needs met as well.
This is the difference between being selfish and being self-centered.
We like to believe we are doing something for someone else, which just isn’t true and quickly leads to resentment. What is true is we do things to meet our own needs, which might be to contribute to another person’s life by meeting their needs. Contribution and meaning are essential to our own happiness, so it works out perfectly.
It’s really delightful to interact with a person who is clear and direct when expressing their needs, and who I trust to know mine so we can easily navigate how both our needs get met. I experience it as having complete freedom to ask for what I want, trusting they will do the same.
It is almost the opposite of compromise. And it leaves me feeling more expansive, creative, and joyful.