Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Compromise – The Art of Finding An Acceptable Solution to a Disagreement

Compromise – The Art of Finding An Acceptable Solution to a Disagreement

The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.

~Japanese proverb

We all know what compromise is, right? We disagree on, say, where to have dinner. You want Italian, I want Japanese. But I agree, ok Italian, so let’s go to the Trattoria on 17th St. You say well no, not the Trattoria, I like Gino’s. Eventually we settle on Caffè Bozo. We met in the middle, sort of, but neither of us is really happy. Is this the best we can do? I think probably not.

There are two ways to compromise, and discussing compromise as a more general issue is a good idea at the beginning of a relationship rather than way down the road when it becomes a need to stand your ground or feel like you lost. If your need to “win” every difference of opinion is that strong, it will ultimately get in the way of your relationship on a broader scale.

The two ways to compromise are, first, as in the first paragraph, where each person gives a little and you find a place in the middle that works for both of you. The other way to compromise is that you do it the other person’s way for the sake of the relationship.

If you can find a solution in the middle that works for both of you, that’s great! If, and only if, it means you’ve taken a look at all the options and found one that you can both live with, comfortably. Not begrudgingly.

If you can’t find some middle ground to agree on, you give in, do it the other way, and down the road you realize you’re always the one who does it the other way, then there’s a problem. Relationships are (or should be) two-way streets, so each side has to be willing to do it the other way on a relatively even basis. Not always exactly 50-50. That’s unrealistic and leads to score-keeping. But the general idea of being willing to do it the other person’s way some of the time is important.

Doing it the other way means you’re hearing the other person’s needs. You’re listening with compassion about how important something is to someone. It means you’re willing to give up what you desire because you care enough about the other person to do so, and you’re not sacrificing yourself so much that you find yourself becoming resentful. That’s what can happen when one of you is always the one who gives in and does what the other wants.

It’s important that you are aware of your basic core needs and principles, and you’re not sacrificing those “just for the sake of the relationship.” When you do that, you begin to lose yourself, who you are, and what means the most to you. It’s important that your S.O. understands those things, and when they come up, they prevail. And surely, you don’t put yourself in harm’s way, or do something that jeopardizes your safety, physically, mentally or emotionally, even for the sake of the relationship. Know what’s negotiable for you and what’s not, and make that clear from the get-go. And know (ask if you don’t) what those are for the other person.

Some things are easier to compromise on than others. Which movie to see is a completely different situation than whether or not to have children and how to raise them.

Relationships are hard, partly because we’re not clones of each other, and even if we were, we’d still disagree on some things. Each of us is unique, and for survival of the species, we come into this world hard-wired to look out for #1 first. (Remember what they say about the oxygen mask on a plane…) On the other hand, we’re also hard-wired to “socialize,” meaning to get along with each other. We couldn’t survive otherwise.

There are good ways and bad ways to do that. Giving up everything important to you – your interests, your hobbies, your friends, possibly even your family, simply because you’re afraid of losing the other person is not a good way to compromise. In fact, it’s not compromise at all. It’s submerging yourself to the other person’s will.

I like to think of a relationship as being made up of three units: an I, a You, and an Us (or We). No one of those three units should ever overpower the other two. I should not overpower you and us, You should not overpower me and us, and the Us, or We, should not overpower you or me.

If you discover that you’re starting to feel like the You in you is disappearing, something is wrong. If you don’t feel like yourself anymore, it’s time to take a good hard look at how much you’ve been compromising. (The same would be true for always being the one who gets to have it your way.) If you agree to the other way and it just makes you uncomfortable, something’s not right. Resentment will creep in and build, and the relationship will be on the road to the point of no return. (Yes, I work with couples…)

So here are some Do’s and Don’ts of healthy and unhealthy compromise.

I’ve heard people say that to compromise at all is a sign of weakness. The person who feels that way is probably insecure underneath. In fact, the opposite is true. Compromising, being willing to give in or give up a little is a sign of great strength and security of self.  Compromise is an art, and it will take practice and patience. But it’s worth it.

Compromise is the best and cheapest lawyer

~ Robert Louis Stevenson

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