Few weeks ago, my partner had to go for a work trip on a Caribbean Island. Yes, it is part of his job. I understand this and usually I am flexible. What I didn’t like this time, thought was that the trip was planned for a day longer than it had to be. He would have many meetings there and he was calculating an extra day to recover from his jetlag and to have half a day extra to rest and enjoy the beach. Sounds reasonable, right?
Well, I didn’t like it. At all! Taking care of our toddler by myself for 5 days, while working and being busy with my business was already a lot. I didn’t want to do this for a day longer than necessary. (I see you single moms! I truly do). I had really hard times accepting the extra time he (and his team) was planning for the trip. I got angry and I said “No! I don’t agree!”.
With my reaction, I have put him in a difficult position: he needed to accept my veto and negotiate new travel dates with his team (which would cause quite some complications) or he would follow the original plan to travel with the rest, but he would bring a conflict in our relationship.
I was feeling bad for the situation he was in, but for me, the one extra day was too big of a deal, and I didn’t want to just swallow it. For me it was clear that I was not OK with his travel dates. Making a compromise would make me explode…
Let me tell you a little bit about the compromises and then I will go back to finish my story.
You will hear many (smart) people talk about how being in a relationship means that you need to make compromises. I hate this idea. I totally don’t agree with it.
When I talk about compromises, I DON’T MEAN the scenario where:
Sometimes you do things purely to make your partner happy. This could be your own initiative or could be that he has asked you for it. For example, cooking his favourite meal, giving him a feet massage, joining him to wash the car etc. You don’t always feel like doing this or it doesn’t bring you particular joy, but:
- It doesn’t cost you much time/effort/other resource.
- It is not in conflict with your values or desires.
- You know that it will make him happy. He will like it. He will feel loved, and he will appreciate your action.
- You want to do this for him.
- When he asks you something that is in direct conflict with your beliefs, values, feelings, needs or desires.
- It’s more than just not feeling like doing something (out of laziness or because there is something else you want to do more).
- When his question/request/expectation feels like stepping on something important for you, even if it seems irrational.
- When you feel that you are giving him what he wants, is too much for you. When you feel that it is beyond what you are comfortable with, beyond what you are willing to give/do.
Why doing a compromise harms your relationship?
Because by making a compromise, you are betraying your own truth. This hurts and it leaves a trace in you and in the relationship. You start keeping a count. The balance in the relationship gets shaken.
- You might start feeling superior because you have sacrificed something important for you for him or for the relationship
- You might start expecting similar sacrifice on his end (often without him even knowing it or agreeing to it)
- Resentment builds up and you might close down thinking “I am doing so much more than him”. Read this as “I am sacrificing more than him”.
What is a better approach than a compromise: make a deal
We give different value on things. So even if for him what he is asking from you seem small, if you feel that he is asking you to sacrifice something, this is your truth, and you need to make sure that you protect it. Reject his request, explain as best you can how you feel and why you cannot do what he is asking you for. Or make a deal with him.
So, how did the story of my partner’s work trip end? I said to him “You are going away for 5 days, is a big ask and having an extra day feels like too much for me to accept. I want to be compensated/rewarded for this effort. I want you to buy from there for me an expensive jewellery”. He agreed and we had a deal = peace.
Why this works?
Because if I make the compromise = the sacrifice, I expect him to make a sacrifice as well. I would expect him to let go of something important for him or to “suffer” like I do. Instead of bringing these dynamics in our relationship and punish him by closing down, I actually put my real feelings on the table – “I want you to put effort and sacrifice time and money to compensate me for my sacrifice.” Then we are even. I don’t feel superior to him. I don’t expect him to suffer. I am doing something for him, and I am giving him a cue what to do, to “earn” it back to me.
There is transparency and honesty.
So, my advice is, every time you feel that you need to make a compromise, instead of betraying your truth, sell it! Ask for something in return, something which will make you feel like this is a fair deal.
Another small example from my relationship to illustrate it:
In our first year together, Rogier asked me to join him for a 15 km run. I didn’t like to run. I still don’t. I was not excited by the idea, but for him, this was important. So, we made a deal – For weeks I will prepare with him, and we will do together the 15 km competition, BUT after that, he will join me for a 2-day couples’ workshop abroad. We both got out of our comfort zone for the other one and this helped us grow as a couple.
This works like a charm, as long as you stand behind what is important for you and as long as you find strength to stay honest.
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