The Line that Separates Compromise from Compromising Ourselves
Compromise is one of those necessary elements at the core of any healthy relationship.
Whether we’re talking about resolving an actual conflict, or something less confrontational like making joint decisions, compromise is the thing that makes room for a true sense of balance and equity in a partnership. Without it, things feel skewed. The relationship might start to reflect one person’s priorities, values, and desires more than the other’s, while quiet resentment can start to bubble below the surface.
Compromise keeps the power struggle at bay, and maintains a healthy equilibrium.
Naturally sensitive folks like you and me are hardwired for empathy, compassion, and helping – all of which are key pieces of the compromise equation. But as we all know, navigating the waters of compromise while maintaining a sense of balance and avoiding resentment isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.
There are times we can start to wonder whether a situation that calls for compromise is asking too much of us.
Have you ever been faced with a dilemma where you’re being asked to compromise – to change, or give something up, or maybe even take something on – in a way that feels somehow in conflict with your core beliefs, needs, or sense of self?
When it comes to compromising in our relationships, the lines can get blurry. It can be hard to make out the line that separates the necessary, healthy, ‘normal’ kinds of concessions we can expect to make in relationships from a more intrusive, unbalanced type.
Where is the line that separates ‘healthy compromise’ from ‘compromising ourselves’?
There’s a word I’ve come to love recently, both for its poetic meaning and its many applications: consonance.
The dictionary defines it as, “agreement or compatibility between opinions or actions.” In other words, finding harmony between what we believe, and what we do. Connecting the dots between how we think and feel, and how we behave.
The other thing I love about this word? It is literally the opposite of dissonance. I was first introduced to the word ‘dissonance’ – and specifically, the idea of cognitive dissonance – by a wonderful therapist a few years ago. Cognitive dissonance, I learned, is that uncomfortable twinge we feel when we experience inconsistencies or contradictions between what we think or believe, and what we do.
Have you ever told yourself you were on board with someone else’s ideas or plan, because you didn’t want to ‘cause trouble’ or ‘rock the boat’ – even if it was in conflict with your needs or values in some way? Ever tried to change your own mind or beliefs, to try and justify a decision you might not be totally comfortable with?
Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort you probably felt in those situations that told you, whether you were ready to hear it or not, that something was out of alignment.
Consonance, to me, means living in a way where the things we do, say, and share with the world line up with what we think, believe, and feel in our core. It feels like harmony.
So what does it mean, then, when compromising in a relationship means asking ourselves to ignore whatever internal alarms are going off, so that we can meet the needs of our partner? What happens when being flexible for the sake of someone we love starts to feel less like healthy give-and-take, and more like stepping into a role someone else is asking us to play?
The truth is, the type of compromise that starts to evoke panic, storms of self-doubt, or even a crisis of conscience is worth questioning. Because while it can feel heroic or meaningful to make big sacrifices for someone we love, it’s also worth considering whether making those sacrifices will cause us to miss an opportunity.
Sometimes the task of saying ‘no’ when we need to carries hidden opportunities: to deepen our roots, grow as a person, and build self-trust.
In those moments when we flee from conflict and bury the inconvenient truths about the things we want and need in order to accommodate someone else, we miss the chance to make a meaningful connection between our decisions, and our strongly-held beliefs.
And the truth is, those are the types of decisions – the ones that align so deeply with our internally-held beliefs and values, even when they scare us a little (or a lot) – that have the potential to build unshakable self-trust. Trust that we can do hard things; trust that we have opinions that matter; trust that our voice is worth being heard.
So in those moments where we’re being asked to compromise in a significant way, we need to ask ourselves (possibly over and over again):
With this decision, am I moving closer or further away from the truest version of myself?
Odds are, your gut will chime in right away with an answer, even if it might not be the one you wanted or expected to hear. However, if that question feels too big, try running it through a different filter.
Look at the prospective compromise from a few different angles, and be wary of any that ask you to:
Ignore your intuition, in order to preserve harmony in the relationship
Rely on the hope that eventually, you’ll feel ok with this choice (even if it’s not sitting well now)
Allow someone else’s priorities to be an architect of your life
Talk yourself out of the things your gut is doing its best to tell you
A challenge for you
The next time a close relationship calls for a compromise, take a moment to pause, and deeply consider which choice your core is calling on you to make.
What follows may be a challenging or uncomfortable conversation with yourself and/or someone you love – but what an empowering opportunity to leverage the beautiful, powerful blend of the strength in your convictions and the softness in your compassionate wisdom to speak honestly and unapologetically about a thing that carries real weight for you.
And when you do, notice how it feels to give real weight and voice to your needs, desires, or beliefs. Did it ground you? Scare you? Did your voice shake? Did you feel pride?
Notice it, all of it. And I’d even encourage you to write it down, to help you process the experience and remember how it felt, particularly the next time you find yourself in a similarly challenging situation.
Situations that call from compromise will continue to show up across our relationships – sometimes we’ll need to bend, and other times we’ll need to dig deep to find our roots and hold our ground. But in any case, it’s important to remember that something somewhere inside us knows when we’re being asked to give too much. Our job is to pay attention, to honor that voice, and to remember that love alone is not reason enough to make every concession that asked of us.