Tag Archives: managing conflict in marriage

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 Stockvault.net by Radu Mihai Onofrei

Don’t Share Marriage Blips with Family

We’re coming up on a busy Memorial weekend, when so many of us spend time with family and close friends. It’s a great time to reconnect. Unfortunately you’ll also hear plenty of griping about spouses. Don’t join in the fray.

Particularly when a marriage is on the rocks, but also when you’ve just had a disagreement or conflict with your spouse, it’s natural to want to air your feelings with friends, parents, siblings or others close to you. But beware of this tendency, says Michele Weiner-Davis, marriage counselor and author of best-selling Divorce Busting® books and tools.

Imagine that you share with your family that you suspect your husband of an affair, or you think your wife drinks too much. Or you confide in close friends that you have a lousy sex life, and that your husband isn’t concerned for your needs. When you share these details, Weiner-Davis says those close to you will take your side and may even encourage a divorce. They are only hearing your side, and they may think they have your best interests in mind. If and when you and your spouse choose to work on your marriage, and even make great strides or changes, guess who won’t forget all the bad stuff you shared?

“Their loyalty to you blinds them from seeing or understanding the context in which the marital problems have developed over time,” says Weiner-Davis. They likely won’t consider how your actions may have contributed to the problem.

Then when you change your mind about your marriage, and decide you love him or her after all, you may face resistance from those close to you about wanting to reconcile. Despite significant improvements in your marriage, you may have created a community that can’t truly support your marriage. They may even be vocally opposed to it.

“Once a cheater/liar, always a cheater/liar,” or “You’re being brainwashed to stay,” may be the spoken or unspoken words of your allies, says Weiner-Davis. She says situations like this are not uncommon in her marital counseling, and she provides some specific examples in her article “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Your Family.” Sometimes, a family never comes around to supporting a marriage after they learn of transgressions they believe are unforgivable.

Weiner-Davis says if you sense your family members or friends are becoming biased toward you, “it’s wise to limit complaints about your marriage and consult with a therapist instead. (Make sure you hire a marriage-friendly therapist.) Believe you can improve your marriage, and work to do so. Weiner-Davis says “the vast majority of divorces in this country are unnecessary, because most relationship problems are solvable.” She would know, since the couples she counsels are often on the brink of divorce. (I’ll share a story next week by a friend who saved her marriage from disaster.)

I love the quote she shares by David Ben-Gurion, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”

Whether you are married or single, in a strong or troubled marriage, when you hear other people complaining about their spouse, think about at least being neutral, at best being a support to the marriage. As long as you don’t feel there is abuse going on, be an encouragement for reconciliation. Be supportive, and seek solutions.

Have you made the mistake of sharing something about your marriage that you wished you could take back? I have. I learned pretty early in my marriage to keep marital arguments private. Generally in a day or two, I’ve forgotten about them anyway. If I really do want advice or listening ear, I try to choose someone who’s more neutral and pro-marriage. How about you, do you have someone who gets to hear all your marriage secrets?