Marriage is Not About Compromise

If I could give you one piece of advice it would be this: always have a go-to karaoke song.

If I could give you a second piece of advice it would be: stop saying marriage is about compromise.

Calvin from the legendary comic strip Calvin and Hobbes said, “a good compromise leaves everybody mad.” There are several variations of this quote. Larry David said, “a good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied.” It’s commonly known that compromise means you both lose.

Can you imagine someone saying, “marriage is about both parties being dissatisfied.” If people did say that maybe they would stop questioning why the divorce rate is so high, actually it might make them wonder why the divorce rate isn’t higher.

In graduate school, my professor for couples class told us that she hated the word compromise. At the time I didn’t understand it. I had heard it a million times; marriage is about compromise. How could it not be?

One person wants yellow walls, and the other wants blue, Green it is. One person wants to leave the party at ten the other at Eight. Easy, nine problem solved. Next question. Big dog vs. a little dog, Australian Shepherd. Boom compromise. Puppy acquired. Marriage saved.

Except, no one likes green. Both leave the party unhappy. And the Australian Shepherd, well, the dog is adorable, but you get the idea. Compromise leaves both parties dissatisfied.

How do you compromise when you can’t meet in the middle?

What if one person wants a pet and the other doesn’t. When one person wants to live in the city, while the other wants to live in the suburbs, how do you compromise when one person is sure to lose?

Compromise leads to I’ll do this if you do that. Which can quickly turn into you didn’t do this so why should I have to do that. That’s the problem with compromise.

Compromise keeps score.

When we think about our relationship in terms of compromise, it encourages a scoreboard. Keeping score keeps you on separate teams and takes your perspective away from what is essential — each other.

Lose the scoreboard.

Marriage is about support and understanding. Doesn’t that sound better? Doesn’t that feel better? Like being wrapped around in a warm blanket, instead of a damp towel.

A great example of understanding and support is the 56-year marriage of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Marty Ginsburg. Ruth supported her husband while he worked to become a partner at a New York Law firm. Marty did the same years later when Ruth started the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. Here is what Marty had to say about their relationship, “I have been supportive of my wife since the beginning of time, and she has been supportive of me. It’s not sacrifice; it’s family.”

They understood the importance of support, and Ruth summed up the importance of understanding.

“If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.”

Support and understanding.

Support can sound and look like a compromise. But how we talk and think about things matters. Having a compromising mindset leads to looking for areas where your partner can give things up, and it can build resentment over sacrifices you feel like you have made.

Compromise is conditional. Support is not.

Compromise feels like a sacrifice. Support feels like teamwork.

Compromise keeps score. Understanding sees the bigger picture.

Compromise asks for change. Understanding values your partner for who they are.

Compromise asks how do I get what I want. Support and understanding ask’s what can I do for my partner.

Compromise measures each other’s goals to see whose are more important. Understanding shares your life ambitions and where you need support.

Say it with me now. Marriage is not about compromise.

So how do we move away from a compromising mindset to that of understanding and support?

Change how you think about things and recognize the higher priority.

When it comes to the color of the walls, you might want to paint the walls yellow, but you know what you should want more than that? Your partner being comfortable and happy with where they are living. Adjust your thinking, supporting your partner should not feel like a compromise or a sacrifice.

Understand and celebrate each other’s differences.

If one person likes to leave parties early and the other likes to stay out late, don’t compromise and both leave dissatisfied. Understand your partner has different needs and wants. Take separate cars and encourage your partner to go when they are ready. Appreciate your partner for who they are instead of trying to get them to be more like you.

Change how you talk about things.

How we talk about things matters, and little adjustments can make significant differences. Saying things like, “I’ll do this if you do that” creates an ultimatum. Saying “I’ll do this, could you take care of that?” creates a choice.

Stay on the same team.

Sharing your feelings keeps you both on the same team. Instead of pointing out all of the things you think your partner isn’t doing, share your feelings instead. Letting your partner know that you feel overwhelmed and need more support allows your partner to be part of the solution instead of being told they are the problem.

It takes time.

The idea that marriage is about compromise has created a mindset that has negatively impacted marriages. If you find yourself in a relationship based around compromise instead of support and understanding, it is crucial to understand that changing an ingrained belief doesn’t happen overnight. Talk with your partner about the changes you are hoping to make. If they are supportive and understanding about it, well then you are already on the right track. Because that is what marriage is about.