How to compromise
Why is compromise so effing hard? You love your partner. Your partner loves you. You can share the remote and you can share household duties. But there are some conflicts you get stuck on. You’re butting heads no matter how much you talk (or yell) about it. What’s getting in the way of moving forward together? Why are you feeling so unheard?
When compromise is extremely difficult, there’s often some underlying stories, dreams, longings that need to be expressed, understood and accepted. In research from the Gottman Institute, 69% of couples issues are perpetual. That means 69% of couples’ problems have no solution!
The problems you have at the beginning of your relationship are the problems you’re going to be fighting about in 20 years. But this doesn’t have to be a continual source of angst and frustration. You can learn to live with, accept and respect each other’s differences.
Ok, how do you do that?
Here are three steps to feeling closer to each other, more heard, and less troubled by an ongoing conflict in the relationship.
Practice active listening.
Understanding needs to come before problem solving. In many cases, there is no solution anyway, but you’ll both feel better if you’re at least feeling understood. Here’s what gets in the way of active listening: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, contempt. You might remember those as the 4 Horsemen from a previous post. They’re damaging to communication and to relationships. Instead, summarize what you’re hearing from your partner, ask open-ended questions and be curious. Approach with an attitude of, “What is this?” versus, “What the HELL is this?” The word “practice” is key here. Active listening seems simple, but it can be pretty hard, especially when you’re heated about something that’s important to you. The more you practice this, the more natural it gets, and the stronger your bond becomes.
You probably see this issue very differently from your partner. You may even remember some events very differently. Try to see things from their perspective and empathize with how they must have felt, even if that’s not how you felt or how you saw the situation. Imagine that you’re both standing in an aquarium on opposite sides, and there’s a giant boulder in between you. On one side the boulder is painted blue; on the other, green. You and your partner can fight about the “true” color of the boulder all you want, but that’s just going to drive you nuts. Or, you can get curious about what the boulder looks like from their perspective, and accept that it’s different from your view. The more both partners do this for each other, the more trust is built in the relationship. Empathy builds on empathy. Let your partner know you understand their perspective and their feelings make sense.
Honor something in their dream or longing.
Listen for what’s really important to your partner. What’s underneath their ongoing struggle with being late? Why do they hate running ten minutes late to a party so much when to you it’s not a big deal at all? Maybe as a kid one of their parents was always late and they felt hurt and neglected. Maybe they’re worried about what other people will think of them if they’re late, and presenting themselves well is very important to them. What is the dream or longing that they’re expressing to you? And what can you honor in that? Maybe you can’t guarantee that you’ll always run perfectly on time. But you can offer to make an effort, or to set a phone alarm for a little earlier, or to pack the night before a vacation instead of the morning when you’re supposed to leave. There is always something you can honor in your partner’s request that also honors your needs as well. It can be tricky to find that smooth path forward but you can if you put time and effort into communicating effectively and with love.
These three steps probably sound very simple.
Sometimes they are, but sometimes you need a little more help navigating a sticky conflict. There’s certainly a lot more to this process, and if you’re struggling, working with a couples therapist can help you navigate those stuck issues or those fights that you just keep having. You can reach out for a free consult if you’re interested in working with me. I look forward to talking with you.