The word “compromise” has two meanings. The first describes compromise as a settlement between persons, in which those involved relinquish certain rights and behavior in order to appease one another. The other defines compromise as “to endanger” something. And I find both of these definitions quite fitting, because making compromises is a sure way to compromise your relationship.
Now when I talk about compromise in relationships I’m not talking about time management or finances, household chores or anything like that. I’m talking about compromising who you are as a person. This is in regard to your beliefs and principles, your lifestyle, your hobbies and interests, your personal preferences and so on.
Now we’ve all been told that relationships require a great deal of work and that much of this work has to do with making compromises. But this concept is based upon the false belief that it is each of our responsibility to satisfy our partner’s every need and to live up to one another’s imagined expectations.
As we journey deeper into relationship we find that there are various aspects about our partner that we don’t like, and even some things which make us very uncomfortable. Maybe we don’t see eye to eye on certain issues. Or maybe we don’t have the same taste in clothes or music. Or maybe our interests differ in some ways. And rather than fully accepting our partner, which is what love is all about, we pressure and manipulate them to change.
Now it might not seem like much in the beginning to make a few minor adjustments, but overtime these adjustments add up. We may be willing to give up some small aspect of ourselves, replacing it with the expectation of our partner, but when we continue in this manner we wind up losing ourselves entirely and becoming something unrecognizable. It’s as if our partner sees us as a lump of clay, to be shaped and molded according to their personal desires. But what ever happened to simply loving someone for who they are, without conditions?
It’s rare that anyone ever loves someone simply for who they are. Rather, we tend to love someone for who they could potentially become. And it may well be that the other is naturally growing in that direction. But often they are not.
We talk a lot about potential, while denying the present reality. The truth is that everyone has all the potential of being perfect according to anyone’s standards. But the reality is that people rarely live up our expectations, let alone their own unique potential.
In relationship there is so much pressure to change. And often we will compromise who we are in order to please our partner. But at some point we don’t recognize ourselves anymore. Maybe we don’t like who we’ve become, or maybe it feels like we’re putting on an act because we aren’t allowed to simply be authentic. We often begin to resent our partner for not accepting us as we are, or we might feel ashamed, rejected and even powerless. And when resentment enters into any relationship, it is headed for disaster.
It’s important for the individual to remain firm in who they are, and to be unwilling to compromise in this way. Certainly there should be some degree of cooperation in regard to taking care of the household. Certainly there should be consideration toward our partner when deciding what to make for dinner or where to go on vacation. But when it comes to one’s personal principles and beliefs, one’s lifestyle and interests, one must be committed to honoring those aspects in oneself as well as in their partner, even if those aspects are very different.
In my own relationships I’ve observed how uncomfortable I feel when I’m being asked to change some aspect of myself. And just the matter of being asked to compromise causes some resentment toward my partner, because I feel like there is a lack of respect. I feel that there is some rejection. I am not being fully accepted. Rather I am being asked to change who I am or how I do things in order to please the other person, when it would be just as easy for them to change in order to adjust to that aspect of me which they find dissatisfying or uncomfortable.
Often we want our partner to compromise in an area in which we are unwilling to compromise. In fact, in many relationships we expect our partner to make all the effort to change in order to please us, while we remain stubborn and unwilling to change ourselves.
So we’ve heard it said that relationships require work. And this is very true. But what we are often not told is that the work required is our own personal growth. It has nothing at all to do with changing anything about the other person. Rather, it has everything to do with changing ourselves.
So if I look at my partner and I find some aspect of them to be unsatisfying or uncomfortable, it is my impulse to want to change that aspect. But then I have to remember that my reaction to that aspect is my personal interpretation, my judgment, my discomfort, and I must own it. It is not my partners responsibly to change in order to appease me. Actually, I can use this opportunity to look more deeply at myself. What can I work on in myself that will change the way I respond to that aspect?
If I ask my partner to change something about themselves, then there are two things which this suggests. The first is that it is their responsibility to change in order to appease me. Not only is this completely selfish on my part, but it shows a complete lack of acceptance, and therefore a lack of love. It tells my partner that that I don’t fully love them, because essentially I am saying that I would love them more if they were different. We must constantly remind ourselves that love is about acceptance. As soon as we place conditions upon it, we have made it something cheap.
The other thing that this suggests is that my partner is capable of changing this aspect in themselves. And while this may or may not be true, it’s completely unfair, because, if my partner is capable of changing this aspect, then I must be equally capable of changing. And if I am the one who is dissatisfied, then isn’t it my responsibility to change, rather than my partner?
To give an example, let’s suppose that my partner’s favorite color is yellow. However, yellow is my least favorite color, and I find it repulsive when my partner wears yellow. So I demand that my partner change their wardrobe.
Here is the problem. There is nothing wrong with my partner’s color choice. The fact that I find yellow repulsive is my own personal issue. It is my own judgment. And as soon as I tell my partner to change, I am projecting my issue onto them. I am making it all about them rather than recognizing it as my own personal issue. I do this because it is much easier for me if my partner makes all the effort to change rather than for me to take the responsibility of changing myself. I call this emotional laziness. If I believe that it is so simple for my partner to change their color preference, then isn’t it just as simple for me to change mine? And if I am the one who is unhappy with the situation, then shouldn’t I be the one who makes the effort to change my own preference? Wouldn’t it be much more fair to my partner for me to develop a taste for the color yellow, rather than asking them to change their taste?
Well the truth is we don’t have to change our preference. And neither does our partner. We just need to respect our partner’s preference and allow them to express it.
Now, when I look at my partner I see someone who is imperfect, just as I’m imperfect. And I recognize that we have our differences. And certainly it would be ideal if they were to change some aspects of themselves in a way that would better suit my needs and desires. But if they change these aspects simply to please me, then they aren’t being authentic. And if they aren’t being authentic, then they’re essential lying to me about who they really are. Not only this, but there may also be some underlying resentment rising up in reaction to it. Eventually who they truly are will come to the surface. Eventually the charade will be over, and maybe the relationship along with it. And that’s not what I want.
Nor did I enter into the relationship with any expectation for my partner to be anyone other than who they are. While my partner may not be ideal in every conceivable way, they are who they are, and I accept that. In addition, I tend to give more of my attention to the aspects which I appreciate, rather than dwelling on those small things which I don’t like. And more than anything, I want my partner to be authentic. I want my partner to be true to who they are. I want this for them as I want this for myself. I want to have the freedom to be authentic and to express myself in whatever way comes naturally to me. I want to be accepted just as I am, and so in order to encourage that from my partner, I must accept them just as they are, with no pressure to compromise.
Compromising who you are is no way to create or maintain a healthy relationship. Compromise in this sense is a lose-lose situation. When partners feel obligated to sacrifice their personal needs and individuality in order to appease the disapproval of their partner, no one is happy. Both partners will have become a façade, and just beneath the surface resentment will be growing. As resentment grows, the heart connection becomes obscured. We begin to drift apart. We become disconnected. And eventually the relationship has become an empty shell.
Relationships are supposed to be about love, and love means acceptance. If we cannot accept one another just as we are, then we are not coming from a place of authentic love. If we cannot love our partners, despite our differences, then what are we even doing in a relationship? Perhaps we need to re-examine our intentions. Perhaps we need to re-examine our concepts regarding love.
True unconditional love means just that; no conditions. No conditions means no need to compromise. When you love without condition, love is enough. There is no need to change anything. There is no obligation to be anything other than who you are. If love is authentic, it will allow you to remain authentic. In fact, more than this, it will encourage you to drop your masks and express your authentic self.