The Importance of Compromise


For some couples, being right is much more important than coming to an understanding or solving a problem. What may start out as a small disagreement can turn ugly if neither partner is able to validate the side of the other, even if only partially. This behavior can also increase as relationships or marriages go longer in duration. Compromise may be especially important and also particularly difficult after an episode of infidelity.

I recall a Steven Covey video in which he asked for volunteers from the audience to arm wrestle. Each time one person “won” they got a point. Volunteers would do their best to beat the other, maybe earning a point or two over a minute. Then a couple came down and decided they would each let the other win as much as possible. Rather than fighting each other, they alternated letting the other win and racked up all kinds of points. The point is not to always give in, but to find ways where you can both win. If one partner is the only one giving in, that is usually an unhealthy pattern that leads to resentment.

For many couples in this situation, the only solution they know is to fight until they get sick of it or the next fight pops up. This is not a positive or happy way to go through a relationship. The healthiest relationships see empathy from both partners. Even if you don’t agree with your partner, perhaps you can find some common ground. Even if you believe your partner did something wrong, perhaps you did something to help cause the issue or could have done a better job of discussing it. Some couples are just naturally competitive but may need to find the right time and place to show the competitive urges. Some couples come to therapy with the primary goal of having the therapist validate that they are right and their partner is wrong. See the page on professional couples regarding how those who are used to getting what they want at work may struggle when they don’t get what they want at home. Couples’ communication is also greatly improved through compromise. For those who are engaged, learning how to compromise in advance can be an important part of premarital therapy.

Some couples just really struggle with seeing another side of a discussion. This can present problems in multiple areas of life. While they take time to learn and especially to master, there are communication strategies that can make conversations more civil.