Is Compromise Killing Your Relationship?
“Relationships are about compromise”.
We all hear this one often, but is it true? And what does it really mean?
When I hear people utter this phrase, it’s typically accompanied by a story about giving something up that’s important to them in the name of (supposedly) benefiting the relationship.
“I hate my job, but this house is really important to her. It’s all about compromise.”
“I quit the band because he really wanted me to. I miss it, but hey, relationships are about compromise.”
In case after case, the "compromise" we are talking about is really this: “I’ll do something I don’t want to do so that my partner approves of me”. It’s really a transaction, one in which you’re selling your soul.
We like to tell ourselves that we’re doing the right thing - that such compromise proves what a supportive partner we are.
The irony is that while we do this for the sake of the relationship, in reality this kind of compromise quickly erodes the very relationship it’s intended to support. It creates resentment and disconnection. Whether or not you admit it to yourself, you silently blame your partner for asking you to be someone you’re not.
I call this “dirty compromise”. It’s the kind of compromise that’s always grounded in fear. Fear she’ll leave you, fear he won’t respect you, fear of conflict.
“Clean compromise”, on the other hand, is when you compromise out of love. In fact, it’s not even compromise, per se, because you WANT to do it.
As I was writing this, Stephanie interrupted to ask if I’d scrape the ice off her windows. Even though it broke my focus, I was genuinely excited to do this because I love her s’damn much. It was an act of love.
Alternatively, when she asks me to attend an event that doesn’t interest me, AND I’m not genuinely excited to go simply because she’s into it, I politely decline.
In all categories, we ask one another to never compromise on who we are and what we want. If something can’t be done out of love, let it not be done at all. And as a result, we never feel weighed down by one another, and we never feel resentment.
When you feel that your partner is a burden due to the compromises you make, it’s vital to remember the hard truth: it’s on you. They are (presumably) being honest with what they want. It’s YOUR responsibility to say “no” when something doesn’t align with what’s right for you. That’s not always easy, but it’s a long-term investment that pays serious relationship dividends.
Note that “dirty vs. clean” is not set in stone - you have agency to transform dirty into clean. For example, your initial reaction to a request might be a thought of resentment, but when you expand your perspective, you’re able to reframe it as an opportunity to show support or caring, and boom - it’s suddenly driven by love. Now you’re in Cleansville. Sometimes that dirty-to-clean transformation can happen not by reframing it in your mind, but by having an honest conversation about what you’re feeling and thinking.
In short, dirty compromise can only become clean when a pattern is broken in how you think or how you speak.
Here’s an easy rule of thumb to consider: if you simply can’t find a way to compromise without feeling resentment or disconnection, Just. Don’t. Do it. And consider whether or not a new, honest (and probably uncomfortable) conversation is in order. In that conversation, it’s important to talk about how YOU feel, not criticize your partner.
Some relationships get to the point where dirty is the only kind of compromise going on. If that’s the case for you, it might be a good time to explore - ideally with a friend, therapist, or coach - what’s behind that heaviness. If this hits home, don’t despair - there are a lot of ways to get back on track, and even some of the most dysfunctional relationships can be magically transformed. But don’t kid yourself -running away and sweeping it under the rug works precisely never.