Compromise is a necessary part of any successful marriage. For two people to work together as a team, each person has to give and take once in a while. But truthfully? Many of us have no idea how to compromise.
"Unless we become skilled in the fine art of compromise, our relationship can quickly degrade into feelings of dissatisfaction and discord. Not to mention a disillusioning sense of being all alone in the relationship," says Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. Most people are used to making decisions for themselves and operating independently, but once you commit to a relationship, you have to consider the needs, wants, and happiness of your partner. That holds true even more so when you live together and get married. All that me-centric thinking quickly transforms into considering the "we" that is you and your partner, but it's not always quite so linear or intuitive. It takes work, but this step-by-step guide will help you learn how to compromise in a marriage.
Meet the Expert
Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 40 years of experience in the industry. He is the author of Paradoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy: A Comprehensive Overview and Guidebook.
Read on for seven tips on how to compromise in a marriage.
Communicate Your Needs Clearly
Use "I" statements to communicate to your spouse exactly what you need or want in the relationship. You might say, "I want to live in the city because it's closer to my work, which will cut down on my commute. I also like the excitement of it, and I'm bored here in the suburbs." Or you could say, "I feel ready to start trying to have kids because we're married, financially stable, and my biological clock is ticking." It's important to speak for yourself without making assumptions about your spouse's needs or wants, and also to express what you want and why. This may seem counterintuitive to the concept of thinking as a we, but it's imperative that you don't lose your own sense of identity to it. You have to be able to check in with yourself first and foremost and validate those personal needs and desires.
Listen (Without Interrupting)
After you’ve expressed your desires and offered an explanation of why something is important to you, give your spouse a chance to respond. Allow them to speak and don't interrupt. Pay attention to what they're saying and try not to dismiss their thoughts immediately. "Disagreements are best resolved when each person’s needs are assumed to be legitimate and important," says Seltzer.
If your partner responds with a detailed counterpoint, then you should repeat what you heard without malice to make sure you're on the same page. You could say, “So, you’re saying that you would rather live in the suburbs because your work is here and the city is too loud and chaotic for you, right?” You want to show your spouse that you appreciate and value their needs and wants, too.
Avoid sarcasm and speak with a steady, nonjudgmental tone. Remember it's a discussion, not an argument.
Carefully Weigh Your Options
Consider all your options, and remember that there are more than two options for every issue. You could live in the city, you could live in the suburbs, or you could live in a suburb closer to the city that has high-rise apartments and enough public transportation to allow you to have the best of both worlds. Before drawing conclusions, you could look at your budget and the cost of living in both the city and suburbs. Remember to think about the decision as though you are part of a pair and not just for yourself.
Put Yourself in Your Partner's Shoes
Truly understanding your spouse is difficult, especially when your own desires cloud your judgment. That’s why it's important for you to step out of your own mind for a moment and consider your spouse’s opinions and feelings. How would they be affected if they just gave in to you? What would be the positives and negatives for them? Why do you think they hold a different opinion? What kind of sacrifices would they be making if they went along with your ideas? Let your spouse know what responses you come up with to these questions and offer empathy.
Consider What Is Fair
For compromise in a marriage to work, one person can't always be the doormat. In other words, you can't always get your way, and your spouse can't (and likely will not) always give in to you and your needs. Also, you have to consider the fairness of each decision. If you move to the city, you might have an easier commute and be happier in the fast-paced lifestyle. But will your spouse’s commute double? Will they be put out by the frenetic life? Is that fair to them?
Make a Decision and Stick With It
After you've weighed your options and considered your spouse’s feelings and the fairness of the situation, you have to make a decision together and stick with it. If you've been completely honest while undertaking all the other steps, you should come to a resolution that you both approve of and that won't leave you with any doubts.
Check In With One Another
When there’s give and take in a relationship, one or both of you is likely making a sacrifice or giving up something you wanted or needed. If this happens often, you or your spouse could start to feel taken for granted or ignored. This can cause resentment to build, which can break down a marriage. Check in with one another to make sure there's no resentment or hurt feelings. Make sure when you agree to a compromise that you won't hold the sacrifice over your spouse’s head, doubt your decision, or stew about it. You have to make the decision, stick with it, and move forward in a positive way.