How to compromise, part 2
In the last blog post, I talked about how to compromise. We reviewed the basics: to compromise, you first have to both feel heard and understood before you can problem solve. And to do that, you have to listen well, empathize, ask questions and be non-judgmental.
Then, you have to figure out how to honor what your partner is asking for, while also honoring yourself. It’s not easy! It takes effort, thought and patience, but it’s worth it. Instead of one person feeling steamrolled or like they gave in, you will both feel respected and at peace with whatever compromise you mutually agreed on if you take the time and effort to truly collaborate.
Sometimes, more structured strategies can be helpful as you’re working towards finding a compromise. Here’s a few ideas that could help (they’re adapted from other sources, which I’ll share below). These tools for compromise can also help you collaborate with your kids when they have strong, stubborn opinions that differ from yours.
- Step 1. Write down the problem/conflict.
- Step 2. Then write down, in a list, every possible idea you have for addressing this problem. No idea is too crazy. Both of you should come up with an equal amount of solutions. (If you’re doing this with your kids, the whole family can get involved). For example, you want to spend more time with your partner, but you both like doing different things and you’re struggling to figure out what to do together for fun. He wants to golf – write it down. You want to catch live music – write it down. Even wackier ideas come to mind, like skydiving together. Write that down too.
- Step 3. You both have veto power here. Cross off the list options that you are absolutely opposed to. There’s no way you’re ever going skydiving, for example. Or maybe you’d love to skydive, but you don’t see yourself rollerskating on 90s music night at the local skate rink. You can cross off the ideas that you absolutely hate.
- Step 4. What’s left are options you both feel OK about, even if you’re not extremely enthusiastic. From here, you can make a choice that works for both of you. Using our example, maybe there’s only 3 options left on the list once you’ve both used your veto power. You can choose from cross country skiing, playing board games and going to trivia night. You decide to play board games on Friday night. Boom! You have a compromise.
This strategy is adapted from a great book on parenting called How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk. But it works well for adult partners who are trying to find a solution to a solvable problem, too.
Each of you will need a piece of paper and pen. Keep in mind that you love your partner and want to support them while also honoring what you need.
- Step 1. At the top of the page, write down the conflict you are trying to find a compromise for so you’re both on the same page. Then, without looking at each other’s papers, draw a small circle inside of a much larger circle.
- Step 2. Inside the small circle, write down 2-3 non-negotiables. These are things you absolutely must have or cannot give up. Giving them up would be like giving up the bones of your own body. Only choose 2-3!
- Step 3. In the larger circle, write down areas you’re flexible on. Things you could give up, change, modify or accept.
- Step 4. Share your inflexible and flexible areas with your partner. Practice listening deeply with non-judgment and empathy. Give yourselves time to explore what this means and what you’re learning about each other from this process. Remember that understanding has to precede problem solving. Once you both feel that your flexible and inflexible areas are truly understood by the other person, move on to talking about possible solutions.
The above exercise is adapted from a Gottman Method structure for compromising on stuck issues.
As I said in post 1 about compromise, sometimes the best of intentions, hard work and strategies aren’t quite enough to resolve stuck issues. In that case, working with a couples therapist can be helpful. Feel free to reach out for a free consult to see if our working together is a good fit.