A few days ago, I was getting ready to start my work when my wife asked me to change a flat tire on her bike. “Great,” I thought – “I have loads to do today, and now I have to spend 20 minutes wrestling this bike and getting covered in oil.” After giving in, I realized how silly this was – Lynn was grateful for my help, and I remembered how good it feels to compromise in relationships.
Where failure to compromise in relationships gets us
It can be hard to spot when we’re getting our own way all the time. Sometimes it takes the form of being inflexible or having to be the one who makes the decisions. Maybe we won’t back down from an argument. Or maybe we simply withdraw from it or stonewall, which has the effect of us winning. Like I almost did, sometimes we refuse to do a favor for our partner, thinking purely in terms of what it will cost us.
Of course, everyone is inflexible and self-centered at times. But if we make a habit of it, it can quickly become destructive. Who wants or needs that from their relationship?
Everyone is inflexible and self-centered at times. But if we make a habit of it, it can quickly become destructive.
If we seldom compromise in our relationships and almost always have to have it our way, we may be crossing the line into controlling behavior. This can make our partner feel disrespected, like we’re not on their side, and fearful that they don’t have a voice in the relationship. It’s a sure-fire way to destroy intimacy.
Who’s afraid of compromise in relationships?
If you see yourself in what I’m describing, then you and I are in the same boat. Some people will put this down to just being selfish or having a superiority complex, but I don’t think that’s accurate. We need to go deeper and ask: why do we refuse to compromise in our relationships? Maybe the most useful question is: what do we think might happen if we don’t get our way?
Let me get back to my story about the bike. That morning, I was feeling anxious and stressed about how much work I had to do, and maybe a bit guilty about not starting earlier. Lynn’s flat tire was an interruption that I hadn’t planned for – it felt like it would put my whole day out of sync. Deep down, I worried that I wasn’t going to get enough done, and that leads me straight to a “I’m not good enough” mindset.
Another example: I have an ex-girlfriend who always had to choose the music when we were in her car or at her house. If anybody suggested something else, she would refuse, hurl a bunch of insults about their taste, and sulk for the rest of the day. Why did she find it so difficult to compromise?
Sadly, she was a struggling musician whose career wasn’t going anywhere. Whether or not she realized it, being the one who chose the music was probably a way to feel in control of her life. When someone wanted to listen to something else, she subconsciously felt like she wasn’t being respected as the music expert she wanted to be.
Trouble at the core: self esteem and fear
Often when we’re refusing to compromise in relationships it’s because we are coming up against something that challenges our self-esteem, or triggers a deep-down fear. Some common examples include feeling like we’re not trusted, respected, have a voice, or have any power. Also, feeling like we’re not going to be ok because we’re not going to have enough money, be successful, or be good enough can create an inner fear.
Insisting on having things our way is often an attempt to regain a sense of control or prove our worth.
By insisting on having things our way, we are often attempting to regain a sense of control and security, or to prove our worth. When we equate getting our way as being important or valuable, we’ve bought into a lie that damages our relationships and us. As my stories about the bike and my musician friend show, this can translate to selfish, unkind, or even abusive behaviors.
Learning the art and joy of compromise in relationships
Let’s not forget that refusing to compromise is actually damaging to our relationships, and isn’t getting us what we really want. If we always have it our way, we’ll only succeed in isolating ourselves, upsetting our partner, or worse. So how can we learn to let go?
See if you can think back on a time when you insisted on getting your way. What was going on underneath? The thoughts and fears behind this behavior are often untrue and distorted – making things seem like life and death when they’re not.
For example, spending 20 minutes on replacing that flat tire wasn’t going to ruin my day or stop me from doing everything I needed to. Letting someone else choose the music doesn’t mean they don’t respect us or that we’re failing at life. By identifying and challenging thoughts like “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not going to be ok,” we can get better at compromising in relationships.
We cannot get our own way all the time. It’s just not how the world works. Accepting this fact is incredibly freeing.
In any case, thinking we are in control is an illusion. We cannot get our own way all the time, as it’s just not how the world works. Accepting this fact is incredibly freeing – it means all we have to do is focus on our own thoughts and actions, and nobody else’s!
It’s even more freeing to discover what is to gain from compromise and generosity. When we back down, give our partner some slack, or let them decide, we avoid conflict and instead create peace and harmony. Better still, we get the satisfaction of doing something good and seeing our partner’s happiness and gratitude. Best of all, we set off a joyful feedback loop – our partner will often return the gift, and our relationship will grow closer as a result.
Jesus said “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” That’s contrary to our culture, which says, “You deserve” and “Get everything you can.” Our Creator knows better, and He wants you and me to discover this truth.
When we give, we’re acting more like Jesus. We’re also trusting God to provide for us all that we need. We don’t have to be first in line—there will be plenty for us if we wait. In fact, God promises the best for those who are last.
Serving means we are acting consistent with the purpose God gave us: to love and serve others. I feel great when I do something kind, like holding open a door, or letting my wife choose what we’re watching on Netflix. God knows that seeing the excitement, appreciation, and even surprise in others when we compromise in relationships is the greatest reward of all.