Making Compromises

It seems difficult to be in a relationship or to participate in society without making compromises. Our differing beliefs, needs and values have to be sorted out if we are to exist together. You’ve built a life that “accommodates” your needs and doesn’t push you where you don’t want to go.

You’ve made compromises to get to where you are, and challenging those means upsetting the apple cart, and you are reluctant to do that. The word is – accommodation.

It is a common mis-perception that we need to compromise in order to have a friendship or a relationship or to “get along” in society. It is that shared myth that allows us to have what passes for a relationship or a friendship without having to be really open and honest. It allows us to avoid taking the risk of being really open and then being rejected.

But there is a problem with accommodation (compromise). It doesn’t really work. Now I’m playing a bit with words, but I want you to see a point I’m trying to make. There is a big difference between collaborating: the action of working with someone to produce or create something – a mutually held goal; and compromise: the consent of principles by mutual concession. I find the latter to be unacceptable.

First, you must never compromise your morals or convictions, whatever they may be. And by definition, compromise demands a concession of your principles to the other person’s ego. And even if you both come halfway, It still does not lead to general fulfillment, only to a shared level of frustration. It dissatisfies everyone. And there will always be residual resentment. “I don’t really want to go there but in order to keep the peace . . .”

You don’t get to do life on compromised terms because God doesn’t accept compromises. She insists on compliance to Universal Truth. And because of that, the trade-off you made is eventually going to come around to bite you. Now, you can decide to change what you believe, but that is a different matter.

What’s powerful about collaboration is that there is no ego involved. The focus remains on the task. The issue is “What do we need to do to achieve this shared goal.”

Let’s take an example: one great source of marital difficulty is the business of menopause. I want to acknowledge that menopause for many women is absolute hell! So what happens when you bring your needs to your partner?

In a collaborative relationship the goal will be (mutual comfort). You’ll be met with compassion. You agree to get a small fan in the bedroom that won’t affect him much and is really helpful to you when you are experiencing hot flashes. No biggie. He sleeps better knowing that it’s better for you.

But, if he is stuck in his ego, and perhaps holds resentments from other issues, the fan becomes an obstacle. When he objects, what is really getting in the way? In that same light, when he can’t deal with your mood swings or irritability, what is really happening?

Your needs and moods have conflicted with his ego needs. You are upsetting his routine, his comfort zone, and that threatens him. By changing the rules, you are like the gays who want to marry or Black people who want equal rights, only now you’re bringing change into the home.

A compromise would be to put a fan it in the doorway to the bedroom. The result is that you don’t really get the help you need, he is only marginally disturbed – and you both feel resentment. That’s the problem with compromise.

You want drive 50 mph down the street. The city says, “Kids sometimes play there and people often walk their dogs so it’s best that you only do 25. And then it punishes you when you do not obey (if you get caught). (Hear the gnashing of teeth as the ego comes up against it’s arch rival – authority.) But, you might want to consider what makes you need to go 50 in the first place?

Most adults did not get their emotional needs met when they were children. Those unmet needs don’t go away as you grow up. They percolate into your adult life today and powerfully affect everything you do, especially when you’re involved a touchy (read – ego based) negotiation. “Why can’t I get what I want?” “Pay attention to my wants.” Those unsatisfied needs (rarely spoken of) turn situations into problems. They make resolution difficult because neither of you are not dealing with what is really going on. Your little girl wants her difficulties to be acknowledged and his six year old is crying for validation. No one is really talking about hot flashes.

If Jews want to celebrate the sabbath on Saturday, or gays want to marry, or someone wants to have an abortion, or Muslims want to pray five times a day, let them! It is really none of your business! If Colin Kaepernick wants to take a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality, whether or not you agree with him, that’s his right as a citizen!

But when his behavior challenges an unresolved issue you are carrying around – like when you dodged the draft – then holy hell is going to descend, only it will be wrapped in the flag of patriotism. When we interject our personal unresolved issues into someone else’s life choices, things fall apart. Suddenly Kaepernick becomes disloyal to the country, Watch the fundamentalist ministers or Family Values politicians who get caught with their zippers down. Their outward righteousness masks their inner drives.

What we interject into these situations is our discomfort with someone believing something other that we do. It is our insecurity. In the first place, most pepole do not know who they are or what they really believe. Society, religions and our families all want to tie us into their beliefs and encourage us to accept theirs without really exploring our own. We often parrot those beliefs without thinking much about it.

But since they are not really “your beliefs,” you end up building a life on sand. And conscious of it or not, you feel vulnerable. And you resist digging into those beliefs because that would upset the whole belief structure upon which your life has been built. Your extended family, work relatioinships, friendships etc. are often based on those shared beliefs. But what if they are not really your beliefs? What if gays, Blacks or feminists are right? Or what if the Catholic Church or your fundamentalist Christian preacher is wrong? What then?

And as a society we have been terribly wrong about some very important issues! Let’s start with slavery and genocide against the Native Americans and then move on to prohibition, women’s voting rights, segregation or today, Black lives matter and gun control, just as examples. Then consider the wars in Viet Nam and Iraq or trickle down economics, the 2008 housing crisis, universal health care, gay rights, global warming – the list goes on – and history is going to show that we were on the “wrong” side on each of these issues.


It’s not likely you are going to change the government, although we all must keep trying, but there are some things you can do within your own circle that will help to make life easier for you and for those around you:

First and foremost: Irrespective of the specifics, the challenge in every situation is to move to greater compassion. As Gay Hendricks teaches, “All any situation needs is more love.” That means to be respectful. To get any sort of resolution, you need to be respectful of the other person’s point-of-view, even if you disagree with it.

Second: Be aware of your own motivations. What’s driving your beliefs? Are they really yours? Unacknowledged emotions can be a major roadblock to problem resolution. When we feel threatened, we will often fight over an issue that’s not even really important.

Third: You must have open communication. In the beginning, ask for what you want and then LISTEN to what the other person has to say.

Fourth: Think about explaining your feelings – especially your anger – instead of just expressing them.

Fifth: See things from the other’s point-of-view. You might be committed to what you want, but you need to see what the other person needs as well. The other may be as committed to their point-of-view as you are to yours. If you can see how they are FEELING and why they are FEELING that way, you’ll be more likely to find a resolution.

Another technique: Use open-ended questions and statements. That gives you a better sense of what the other person wants. It is also important that they feel like they are being heard. Ask questions like: “Why do you feel that way about X?” and “How can we do this better?” For statements, say things like “Help me understand more about . . . “

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