Kirsten on Compromise in Relationships

Sunni's picture

In a very good post on quitting (the comments on it so far are good, too), Kirsten incidentally offers this bit on compromise:

By compromising again and again ... we ended up with lives that were tolerable but nothing close to what either of us really wanted.

Oh boy, can I relate ... and many thoughts and questions spring to mind as a result, but I’ve a lot of things to do today, so it’ll have to wait for another time.

On compromise

A certain amount of compromise is necessary to live with another human being. They key is not to compromise who you are in order to get along with another in a relationship.

While I understand that Kirsten's example of the plates are symbolic of deeper problems in her relationship, it reminds me of the need to "not sweat the small stuff." If I was with a person whom I deeply respected and loved being with, the plates would not matter not one whit to me. I prefer solid color plates. If my girlfriend preferred floral, I'd get the floral. As long as they hold food and come clean relatively easily, I'm cool with them. They are simply not important.

On the other hand, I was once with a girl that wanted to turn my life completely upside down. She wanted to control who my friends were, how I spent my time, and just about every other aspect of my life. I will never give another human being that kind of control over me again. Ever. I'd rather be single than compromise who I am in order to be in a relationship.

“Small stuff”

I grok your points, Presto. I’m not yet able to delve into the issues here as deeply as I’d like, so I’ll just make an observation based on my experience. Sometimes something can be “small stuff” to one person, but very important to the other. Or it can become important—I think the familiar toilet-seat scenario is an illustration of this. Or, once one begins compromising, it can become a habit, eventually eating into one’s core without one realizing it until the damage has been done. It’s because of these possibilities, plus the chemical wooziness that all too often accompanies new love, that I think Kirsten’s thought serves as a good check.

Respect for one another

Sometimes something can be “small stuff” to one person, but very important to the other. Or it can become important—I think the familiar toilet-seat scenario is an illustration of this.

To me, this falls under the heading of respect for the other person in your relationship. A thing may not be important to you; you may not even understand why it's important. But if it's important to the person whom you care about, then it's important. Taking the toilet-seat scenario as an example, most guys don't understand why leaving the seat up is a big deal to girls. (For the record, I always put the seat down.) But if it's a big deal to your significant other, then out of respect make sure that it's down!

Or, once one begins compromising, it can become a habit, eventually eating into one’s core without one realizing it until the damage has been done. It’s because of these possibilities, plus the chemical wooziness that all too often accompanies new love, that I think Kirsten’s thought serves as a good check.

That is the risk of compromise. You must always make sure that you are not compromising things that are important to you., because your feelings are important as well. You also must make sure that the "small stuff" compromises are not always one-way. If you are the one who is always compromising, even on that unimportant "small stuff", then your relationship probably has bigger problems.

Hmmmmmm ...

I need to think on what you’ve said, Presto. I’ll try to revisit this issue soon.

More to say

I've got more to say on this subject, but I'll say it offline.

I think for me what is hard

I think for me what is hard is figuring out exactly what is the small stuff to me versus the all-important Who I Am stuff, and then separately figuring out what is the other person's small stuff and what is their Who They Are stuff. One good thing that has developed for me over the years after many, many screwups is at least an awareness that there is a difference between those two things, and a heightened sensitivity for at least considering something that ostensibly seems small is really big.

It wasn't just the plates. It was thing after thing after thing and not just material things but issues and ideas and words and thoughts and feelings. In retrospect, it seems like it should not have been any surprise that we grew increasingly frustrated with each other as we built this life that neither of us wanted.

That is the challenge

I think for me what is hard is figuring out exactly what is the small stuff to me versus the all-important Who I Am stuff, and then separately figuring out what is the other person's small stuff and what is their Who They Are stuff. One good thing that has developed for me over the years after many, many screwups is at least an awareness that there is a difference between those two things, and a heightened sensitivity for at least considering something that ostensibly seems small is really big.

That is the challenge, isn't it? I think finding out what you and your partner regard as important, and how to resolve those differences is one of the biggest challenges in relationships.

It wasn't just the plates.

That is why I described them as being symbolic of bigger problems. Sometimes something little, like the plates, actually represent something much more important in a relationship. In your case, it sounds like you and your husband were really too different to be able to successfully mesh your lives together. The plates that neither of you liked were symbolic of that. The life that you built together was not suitable for either of you. I'm glad that you realized that, and I hope that both of you have (or are able to) build lives that are much more suitable for each of you.

Life view

I learned (the hard way) that people must share a general life view in order to be able to work out a stable and lasting relationship. Sometimes it is hard to see where your life views differ because you might share some specific values and goals, so it is well worth the time to discuss this in depth and not take anything for granted.

The possibilities are broad, but I've encountered a number of people I really liked and cared for, but which were incompatible because their core view of life differed too much. One classic example is the pessimist/optimist. This is also a good reason why people from two totally different cultures or religions, much less one with no religion, have such a hard time maintaining a relationship.

They just don't see the world from the same place, and sometimes not even close.

Unfortunately, love is not enough most of the time.

Compatibility

I agree with you that love is not always enough. You must have a basic compatibility to make a relationship work. One of the most common problems I have seen in marriages is the difference in religion. What I have seen often are problems that result from one spouse not having the same interest in religion as the other. For one, church is central to life. For the other, church is peripheral at best. This is a prescription for problems. Similarly, an atheist should not marry a hardcore evangelical. It's a prescription for problems.

Political differences are not as common, but for the group of folks that hang out here, I could see that being a problem. An activist anarchist would have problems being involved with a statist Republican or Democrat.

I learned (the hard way) that people must share a general life view in order to be able to work out a stable and lasting relationship. Sometimes it is hard to see where your life views differ because you might share some specific values and goals, so it is well worth the time to discuss this in depth and not take anything for granted.

I couldn't agree more with this statement. If you're considering building a life with someone, this is very important.