Learning how to compromise in a way that feel more like cooperation makes all the difference.
By Tanya Finks — Updated on Mar 28, 2023
Photo: Chermiti Mohamed from Pexels via Canva
The good news is divorce rates are dropping. The bad news is that polls suggest 6 out of 10 couples are unhappy. Could you be one of them?
A wise person from years ago told me that if your marriage lasts beyond 10 years, it likely lasts forever because it takes the first 10 years to sort through the power struggle. Learning how and when to compromise effectively can be the difference between relationship survival and relationship bliss.
Fortunately, you can learn how to compromise without sacrificing your needs and in a way that turns your relationship from one of frustration into a source of comfort and happiness.
How to compromise in a relationship without sacrificing your needs
1. Be quiet and focus on yourself.
Believe it or not, the place to start is with yourself. Consider the adage, “To thine own self be true,” and you will have, in a nutshell, the way to begin.
If you are already in a relationship, I urge you to step back and take some time to focus on yourself. If you are not in a relationship, consider halting any possibilities until you have done your homework and centered yourself.
This is the stage of reflection. Do you meditate? Journal? Enjoy a long hot soak in the tub from time to time. All are good practices. If not, get quiet. Take time out of your routine.
Can you get away for a week? A weekend? An afternoon in the park? Or even in your home or apartment, do you have a favorite nook or corner where you can get away from digital and electronic things and sit alone and just “be”?
I think you get the picture. This exercise is where you begin to care for yourself by clearing your mind and hunkering to your core. Your next goal is determining your needs in a relationship or related to a specific issue.
2. Identify your needs vs. wants.
Your next step is to identify your needs. What exactly do you need in a relationship? And here, I will make a big distinction — I am talking about your needs versus your wants. Here’s the difference.
Simply put, a need is something you will not and cannot compromise on. True, relationships are full of compromises, but if your needs are not being met, it’s going to feel yucky, resentment will build, and your self-esteem will suffer. Not a good place for you to be, and certainly not a good environment for a relationship.
Sometimes we think it’s unnecessary if we don’t die without it. I encourage you to use a different barometer. Think about whether or not you will be frustrated without it. Are you at your best when you’re in a state of frustration? Probably not. When you’re at your best, your relationship is better for both of you. So, for our purposes, a need is something you’ll be frustrated without.
Identifying your needs may seem daunting, but that’s where quiet time helps.
Here are some examples of relationship needs to consider (these may or may not apply to you):
I need to communicate with you clearly, honestly, and often.I need to be heard. I need you to listen to me.I need affection like hugging, hand-holding and kissing.I need sex.I need you to accept my feelings.I need to be in love with you.I need you to “get” that I need time to myself.I need us to share the same religion.I need a sober partner.
These are just a few examples of needs to prod you into thinking about your own.
Now let’s look at your wants or nice-to-haves — the things that you can do without and can therefore compromise on:
I want to take a vacation every year.I want to live in (name the town).I want to entertain often.I want to share the household chores.
Items on either of these lists might belong on the other list for you. The point is you need to distinguish the difference for yourself.
3. Consider your partner’s needs and nice-to-haves.
Relationships are a two-way street, so it’s important to consider your partner’s needs and nice-to-haves. Communication is key. Ask your partner to do the same as you have your needs inventory. They don’t need to be written down, although I recommend doing so. Then have a conversation.
Where do your needs sync up? Where are they compatible? Complementary? How do your needs compare with their nice-to-haves? And vice versa.
It’s possible this conversation could get emotional. If so, step back, breathe, and suggest you reconvene when everyone is calm, cool, and collected. In other words, don’t react — act!
4. Focus on cooperation rather than compromise.
Effective compromise is possible. Done well; it may actually feel like you’ve both gotten the better end of the deal. You’ve shared your needs. You have separated your relationship needs from your wants — those things that would be nice, but you could live without them without sacrificing your happiness.
Working with quality information, you each might be able to give each other what you need without it even feeling like a compromise.
I learned these concepts from Alison Armstrong, creator of the Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women workshop. Her work gave me a new understanding of men and a much deeper understanding of myself as a woman. At the end of one of her workshops, I felt like I was seeing men for the first time ever. A whole new world opened up.
This approach to compromise was so eye-opening for me. My relationship with my ex-husband had been extremely difficult. There were a number of significant challenges, but not getting my needs met was definitely tops on the list.
When I met my current partner, we were neither prepared for an exclusive commitment for various reasons. But we had great companionship and chemistry and decided to explore a sexual partnership. Based on what I’d learned from Alison Armstrong, we started by figuring out what we would need to be successful in this kind of partnership.
We each made separate lists of what the partnership would look like if we had it all our way. As we discussed our lists, we learned our needs were compatible. Things on my deal-breaker list were nice-to-haves for him, but it was never an issue because we could agree on the most important areas.
In truth, it felt more like cooperation than compromise. Now, nine years later, we have a rich, fulfilling, thriving partnership. Learning to compromise effectively early on might have a fair amount to do with that.
Give it a try! What issue are you and your partner currently navigating? It might be a recurring issue because you’ve not yet found an effective compromise.
Distinguish your needs from your wants, talk it through, and see if you can’t create an agreement where you’re both getting the better end of the deal.
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Tanya Finks is a dating and relationship coach who helps people date intentionally, build collaborative romantic partnerships, and foster fulfilling physical intimacy.