The Problem with Compromise in Marriage

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

True or False?  Marriage involves plenty of compromise.

Marriage therapist Corey Allen, PhD, explains in this insightful post why compromise isn’t helpful in your marriage. In fact, he says it can be causing a lot of damage in your relationship. This seems counter-intuitive to much of the advice we read and hear about, so I wanted to delve into this further.

The problem with compromise, says Allen, is that it involves both spouses to make concessions, and both parties go away feeling dissatisfied. In addition, there is usually an expected reciprocity when one party gives in. This leads to keeping score and unmet expectations, which we know can cause conflict.

“True compromise can only occur when two equally powerful people both clearly state their needs,” says Allen, adding that only then can they work on a mutually satisfactory solution. The solution may take some creativity or seeking an option that is not already on the table, but often both people can end up happier if they both keep their needs at the forefront.

My husband and I redecorated our family room this spring, and we both had strong feelings about what we wanted. It took months of shopping (which neither of us enjoyed) before we pieced together the elements we were both happy with. It may have been easier for one of us to compromise, but now that it’s done, we are both pleased that we each got what we wanted.

Sometimes the less outspoken spouse has a tendency to go along with what the other person wants. He or she doesn’t want to make waves, and finds it is easier to just give in on something. However, each instance of coming away unhappy can lead to a little bit more resentment and feeling of powerlessness.

 There are a few questions I still have about this issue, and I’m glad to hear Allen will be doing a follow-up post to further explain. There are several points I would make, and I’d really like to get more views on this:

  1. I do think that we still need to be very willing to hear one another out and give each other our influence and encouragement. Sometimes it really helps to hear the other’s reason for wanting something. We may change one another’s perspective before even solving the problem. How we discuss an issue has so much to do with the outcome.
  2. When we are in the midst of a conflict in which both spouses’ heels are dug in, I think sometimes—rarely—one person does need to “give in” or agree to disagree. I’ve interviewed mature couples who are able to do this and respect each other even more for it. It seems I may disagree with the experts on this. If something is not a deal breaker, and it’s gone unresolved after working hard, something’s got to give.
  3. Getting our needs met doesn’t mean we always get what we want. For instance, if one spouse wants a new boat and the other a new car, and there is limited money, we can’t get them both. We can’t use the marriage advice not to compromise as an excuse to be irresponsible and do what we want no matter the consequences.

Let’s hear your viewpoints on this. Do you compromise in your marriage? Do you feel your needs go unmet? Is one person likely to give in regularly? Do you think give and take is a bad or good thing?

Photo courtesy of by Radu Mihai Onofrei

6 responses to “The Problem with Compromise in Marriage

  1. Perhaps it is both. Each clearly communicating their needs/wants to the other then making a conscience decision to put those needs/wants ‘2nd’. Essentially being ‘mature’. It would also be important to communicate that choice & the reason/s behind it= transparency
    There’s my 1.5 cents…

    • I suppose we’d all do well to be more “mature” in relationships, but we can be awfully immature when we aren’t getting what we want. I agree with your 1.5 cents worth!

  2. Years ago it was explained to me that it should be negotiation rather than compromise. I don’t know, I guess the connotation of negotiation fits better, but sometimes it just seems like semantics to me. They are close to the same thing.
    Maybe negotiating protects each person’s side and wants a little better.

    I agree with you. Your first point seems to fit negotation and your second is important. Sometimes you won’t get what you want, if it isn’t a deal breaker, accept it. Hopefully your spouse does the same at sometimes. And as responsibilit goes, often neither person will get what they want. Needs are far more important than our self-entitled desires.

    Know when your spouse will not give in and how important it is to you. He likes camping and I like it too—okay, he actually loves camping and I like it. But I would love to go to Holden Village for vacation–a Lutheran retreat in the middle of the mountains. I still have hopes he will go again someday—he agreed to go for a few days on our honeymoon which was quite shocking. He tells me to go alone or with my Mom. I can do that, there are women’s weekends. But that’s not the same. I want to someday have family vacations (plural would be nice) there. And yet I like camping and I accept the reality. I am not giving up, but I am giving in. The difference is that I hope it may happen and yet accept that it may not.

  3. Thanks for the comment. Yes sometimes we need to do things to please our partner even if it’s not our most favorite thing to do. Good luck with your negotiation.

  4. 1) I think people can hear each other out in order to reach a solution that doesn’t involve caving. To me, this post is about honesty. Unabashed. Because caving is ultimately a dishonest approach, because it is not how you really feel.

    2) I agree that with relationships comes sacrifice. But the difference here to me is perhaps terminology – to me, giving in is giving up. When you sacrifice and do what is necessary to create a peaceful world around you and your spouse, that is strong and real. When you give in, you give up on meaningful dialogue and resentment can take hold.

    3) This post is also, in my opinion, dealing with more deep, personal, communication type issues versus whether to buy a car or a boat. Those types of decisions should be easy for the honest couple to make…maybe you don’t buy either…or maybe you create a plan to buy one and then the other later. Again, this isn’t caving. It’s honest decision-making.

    • I like this description: “When you sacrifice and do what is necessary to create a peaceful world around you and your spouse, that is strong and real. ” Thanks for your input.

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