“We’ve gotten pretty good at finding compromises when we disagree, but I’m beginning to think I’m losing myself and my desires in this process.”
“The more we try to compromise, the further I feel we are getting from each other.”
In our interviews with couples, we have often heard these or similar refrains. Do you find yourself frequently fighting over decisions with your partner? Do you feel that you have to compromise to get any kind of resolution? Compromise can be a helpful tool for couples to find a way through their disagreements and arguments, those experiences of discord which arise as a result of there being two individuals looking for one decision or a single solution to a problem.
Compromise. Give a little, get a little. It’s the lubricant of relationships, the WD-40 that gets you unstuck. But let’s look at the price ticket. Someone lost out. There’s a feeling of deprivation, of being shorted. If the relationship is equitable, there’s an expectation that a favor is due on some future occasion. “You owe me one!” And these favors have to be priced. Is fixing the car worth more than doing the tax returns?With compromise you're always giving something up in order to get something else #relationships Click To Tweet
This is the difficulty with compromise; that you are always giving something up in order to get something else. Over time, this can build up and create a sense that you are not really ever getting what you want, leading to resentments, estrangement and a decrease in willingness to compromise.
We practice a very different form of resolution which, rather than slowly eroding our sense of union, strengthens and supports us as a couple. We have a process, outlined in our newest book “How Two: Have a Successful Relationship,” which relies on creating new solutions. This process emphasizes finding (actually creating together) mutual solutions, solutions which did not previously exist. These decisions and answers to problem solving are not the individual answers that either of us bring to the discussion. They are rather the result of the style and art of communication we employ in working this out together.
There are a number of factors that are involved in this type of creative problem solving:
- Remember you’re on the same side.
That is, you’re together, you’re committed, you’re partners. You agree on certain things, whether they are external goals or mutual support.
- Show empathy.
You need to, however imperfectly, imagine how your partner sees the situation, and to do that, you have to let go of your ego, you have to stop looking at your own needs for a moment. Sociopaths and some mentally ill people are unable to do this, but the rest of us can, and it’s a skill that can be developed over time.
- Be open to other possibilities.
Surface wants are actually in service of deeper needs – security, hunger, variety. There are always alternatives that will fill those needs, and holding on to our first choice and insisting that it is the best and only solution is counterproductive.
- Have a sense of adventure.
Treat these exchanges as an exciting opportunity to get close to your partner. The more you practice this, the more you will naturally feel this way.
- Give this activity your full attention.
Make sure you are in a space where you can both focus fully on the issue. Make sure that you have enough time to allow answers to manifest without being interrupted.
- Remain in physical contact whenever possible.
This simple action will greatly increase your sense of looking for mutual solutions.
- Listen fully to each other.
This involves active listening, a practice of giving full attention to the speaker so their message is fully understood. This adds a mutuality to the exchange which supports creativity and a lack of defensiveness.
With these in place, you can make decisions and solve problems without either of you having compromised. Here’s a simple example.
Anne: I’d really like to see that Meryl Streep movie tonight.
Bert: Oh, it’s cold and drizzling, so I was imagining we would stay in and make love.
Anne: I was so swept away by the sex last night that I want it to stand by itself for a while. It feels almost sacrilegious not to leave a space for it.
Bert: I know what you mean about basking in the afterglow, and that’s why going outside on a cold night doesn’t appeal.
Anne: I really want to catch the movie before it leaves town. Perhaps we could go on Wednesday.
Bert: That would fit well with my schedule. But what about tonight?
Anne: Well, we could watch House of Cards.
Bert: Brr, too chilling a mood for this weather.
Anne: Oh, you’re looking for something cozy. How about popcorn, a glass of wine and Scrabble?
Bert: Ooh, we haven’t played that in ages. That sounds like fun!
Let’s look at why this worked so well.
- Each person said what they wanted directly.
- Each person responded to the other’s position: “It’s cold and drizzling.” “I want it to stand by itself for a while.”
- Each person offered alternatives that would also work for them, and that seemed like they would work for the other person as well: “We could watch House of Cards.”
- This process of exploration continued until they discovered something that worked for both of them: “Scrabble?” “That sounds like fun.”
The solution will almost always be different than either of the original ones. In this example, they created the new solution together and it worked for both of them. Neither had to give anything up.
Mutual solutions are those that have been created by the two of you together. They are not each of you giving up something. Instead, what has occurred is that you have both heard each other, and in a process of sharing, you have created something new that was actually not there before; a solution that fits both of your desires. This answer feels very exhilarating and is in many ways a birthing you two have shared. This process for making decisions and solving problems strengthens your union and leads to a great sense of peace and joy. Try this out the next time you are facing a decision, and you will be on the road to creating peace one relationship at a time!