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How Much Compromise Is Too Much in a Relationship?

If you feel like you're always conceding, then it may be time to do some recalibration. But this has to be done very, very carefully.

Compromise is as much a part of a relationship as making coffee and falling asleep while watching Netflix. One person says one thing, the other person says another. Ideally, you try to meet in the middle. Compromise is rarely fun but it’s necessary and important. 

Here’s the thing: We can talk about sharing, but deep down, we like to get what we want. We accept that we don’t and know that sometimes the split it fairly method works, sometimes we get more than we thought, and sometimes we get less. All are okay because we see the “bigger picture”. 

But then there’s the time when it’s not okay, when we feel that we’re getting the short end, not just once but seemingly every time. We wonder if things are skewed. We wonder if we’re giving in too much. And we wonder how to know when we’re compromising too much. 

The simple answer? “If you think you’re over-accommodating, you probably are,” says Peter Pearson, relationship expert and co-founder of The Couples Institute

But it’s really not that simple since what’s involved is the dynamic between you and your spouse, your respective histories, and your own self-worth. You know, the fun stuff everyone loves to examine and revisit. But it needs to be revisited, because while an answer of “Whatever you want” sounds generous, you’re pushing down what matters to you. The result is resentment and becoming a bystander in your life rather than getting things out in the open, possibly getting what you want, and having an exciting, loving partnership. 

Here’s how to start getting more of the latter. 

So, Are You Compromising Too Much? 

How do you figure out if you’re conceding too much? There’s no strict formula. It comes down to looking at two particular elements. 

One element is asking if it feels like you’re losing something essential with each decision, says Beth Kurland, clinical psychologist and author of The Transformative Power of 10 Minutes.  If your thoughts are muddled, pay attention to your body language. You might think you’re fine with the outcome, but cringing, not breathing fully, or tensing up is a sign to the contrary, one that you’re regularly ignoring. 

The other element is if there’s a discussion — always a positive indicator of teamwork — are your feelings being respected? It still might mean you get pennies on the dollar, but it’s easier to go along when you’ve had your say, Kurland says.

If those elements are rarely present, yes, you are the Conceeder. The reason why, and from which all others radiate, is low self-esteem, so you compensate in various ways. You don’t let people take care of you. You take care of them, because, “If I do, they will need me and not leave me,” Pearson says. You certainly don’t ask for anything because that would inconvenience others enough to say, “Forget this guy.” 

Pearson adds that if you believe, “I don’t deserve someone going out of their way for me,” you avoid conflict, making you most likely a horrible negotiator who caves too early or comes out too hard. The reason is the same: You don’t trust that anyone would value your side.

How to Talk About Compromise

Realizing the issue is a good first step, but you have to involve your partner. “This is a system problem,” Pearson notes. Your spouse may well love and support you, but you two have a routine. And if you’re feeling unheard, that routine is one in which you don’t speak up. If you autonomously decide to get tougher, no one is ready and the shift is jarring, threatening, and “very few will be doing a happy dance,” he says.

You want to open the discussion, like with most issues, by asking if your spouse has time to listen, followed by, “I’ve been struggling with something, which I’ve never mentioned.” You need to take away any implication that your partner should have just known what was wrong, Kurland says.

It’s also important to be specific when you talk, offering a reason why you over-compromise, which could be a variation on low self-worth, bad childhood, the myth of stoicism. You also want to narrow down the areas that are most important. Pearson suggests limiting it to two, so the solution is doable and “not about solving a general attitude,” he says. 

In all this, a crucial sentence to speak is, “I think it’s making me resentful and that doesn’t do me or you any good.” At some point, it’s also good to ask, “Is this a problem for you?” You might think you know how behavior plays out, but your partner might see something different. Either way, you can get buy-in and the solution is now a group effort. 

Putting a Plan into Place

Doing personal inventory is necessary, but this isn’t all-cognitive. Change only comes when you judge that what you want is bigger and more important than your fear. “Until then, you’ll continue to stay in the rut,” Pearson says. 

Regardless, pain is going to be involved, either the one you currently have by over-accommodating or what you’ll feel by doing something unfamiliar. But that new discomfort is what matters. “It’s the catalyst for change,” Pearson says.

Pain and the unknown don’t sound hugely appealing, but a true partnership only comes from speaking up. If you don’t, simply put, “you are a doormat and you have forfeited your right to bitch and complain about the relationship,” Pearson says. “You’re copping out on being a good team player.” 

And there’s one more result from never offering an opinion or creative idea. You’re eventually going to be called boring. And you know what? You are, and it’s another thing you have no right to complain about. “If you keep over-accommodating, you will not feel alive in this relationship,” Pearson says.