When Your Relationship Is On The Rocks: 9 Steps For Compromising

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By Terry Gaspard, Featured Journalist - March 21, 2015

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Believe it or not, marriage is good for you. According to researchers, it’s tied to live-in emotional and physical support. While studies on the benefits of commitment without marriage are mixed, most experts concur that long-term commitment has many benefits. When you have someone around on a day to day basis, you have a partner to remind you to take care of yourself and you're more likely to be healthier and live longer.

So why do so many couples report that they’re on the verge of a breakup or divorce? This is especially true for women – since two thirds of divorces are filed by the wife. While men report more happiness with matrimony than women do, researchers have found that women thrive in a happy marriage (or possibly committed relationship) as well.

Whereas we hear a lot about the value of couples learning better communication skills, teaching couples to give and take – is essential to helping both people feel relatively satisfied in their relationship. According to the authors of the study The Normal Bar, the happiest couples learn to compromise. They write: “This seems to be the core secret for relationship happiness: frequent compromises over time, and balance in giving and getting, conceding and winning.”

What is the meaning of the word compromise? It’s a settlement by which each side makes concessions. And while this doesn’t sound romantic, if you decide you want to save your marriage, you have to learn to negotiate – which is the essence of compromise. Negotiation is about diplomacy and is a tool that will help you and your partner get on the same side and to become intimately connected.  

According to psychologist Harriet Lerner, a good fight can clear the air. She writes: “and it’s nice to know we can survive conflict and even learn from it. Many couples, however, get trapped in endless rounds of fighting and blaming that they don’t know how to get out of. When fights go unchecked and unrepaired, they can eventually erode love and respect which are the bedrock of any successful relationship.”  

It’s crucial that couples see conflict as an inevitable part of a committed, romantic relationship. After all, every relationship has its ups and downs, and conflict goes with the territory. Yet you might avoid conflict because it may have signified the end of your parents’ marriage or lead to bitter disputes. Marriage counselor, Michele Weiner Davis explains that avoiding conflict backfires in intimate relationships. She posits that bottling up negative thoughts and feelings doesn’t give your partner a chance to change their behavior. On the other hand, Weiner cautions that one of the secrets of a good marriage or romantic relationship is learning to choose battles wisely and to distinguish between petty issues and important ones.  

It’s also important to stop keeping score and to try not to win every argument, even when you’re in the right. Instead, author Pat Love says, “think of winning an unofficial contest I like to call ‘Who’s the Bigger Person? Resolving Conflicts is about who wants to grow the most and what’s best for your relationship.’” In the beginning of a relationship, couples tend to focus more on their similarities. Yet after a while, negative projections tend to surface and your partner may remind you of someone from your past. This could explain why some couples who seemed so compatible when they first got together, have more conflicts as time goes by.  

Casey, age 34, explains how identifying her part in communication breakdowns with her husband, Peter, helped save her marriage. “In the past, I used to focus on what Peter was doing wrong until a good friend reminded me that I may want to try harder to compromise and stop blaming him.” Casey realized that she failed to learn healthy ways of resolving conflicts from her parents who split when she was 13, a pivotal age for adolescent development and observing your parents’ relationship patterns.  

Fortunately, Casey learned it takes two people to contribute to communication difficulties. Casey and Peter started meeting with a counselor and began practicing the art of compromise. “That’s when I noticed that I had a problem communicating.  I expected Peter to know what I wanted without me telling him what I needed. When he failed, I’d punish him with the silent treatment, or blow up. When I let go of my efforts to fix him, and started negotiating, I started getting my needs met.” she says.

  9 steps to resolving conflicts through compromising:

  • Create time and a relaxed atmosphere to interact with your partner on a regular basis. Ask for what you need in an assertive (non-aggressive) way and be willing to see your partner’s side of the story.
  • Take a risk and deal with hurt feelings – especially if it’s an important issue rather than stonewalling or shutting down.
  • Approach conflict with a problem-solving attitude. Avoid trying to prove a point and examine your part in a disagreement. Listen to your partner’s requests and ask for clarification on issues than are unclear. Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements that tend to come across as blameful – such as “I felt hurt when you purchased the car without discussing it with me.”
  • Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded. This will give you time to calm down and collect your thoughts.
  • Show attunement with your partner with non-verbal eye contact, body posture, and gestures that demonstrate your intention to listen and compromise.
  • Establish an open-ended dialogue: Don’t make threats. Avoid saying things you’ll regret later.
  • Determine your deal-breakers – those non-negotiable items that are crucial to your happiness. For instance, your partner might want an open relationship and you might feel strongly that you both need to be faithful and/or monogamous. 
  • Be assertive yet open in your attempts to negotiate for what you want from your partner. Both individuals in a relationship deserve to get some (not all) of their needs met.

According to Dr. John Gottman, the number one solution to this problem that couples need to conquer is to get really good at repair skills. He posits that the thing that seems to be breaking up many couples is difficulty bouncing back from a conflict or disagreement in a healthy way. He tells Business Insider that you’ve got to get back on track after a fight if you don’t want issues to fester. It’s essential that you discuss them with your partner and find creative ways to compromise.

In closing, compromise is an essential tool to preserving an intimate relationship. When one or both partners shuts down or becomes critical, issues often get swept under the rug and are never resolved – leaving the partner who feels hurt – or both people – even more resentful. But if you feel your relationship is on the rocks, adopting a resilient mindset and working on ways you can repair hurt feelings, can help you restore your bond. Couples who learn to compromise are on their way to building a successful relationship that endures the test of time.

More from Terry

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