Working With vs. Working Against your Partner: Why Compromise is so Difficult

Compromise is Difficult

Why is compromise so difficult for some couples compared to others? As a Marriage Therapist, I encounter two very different types of couples.  I experience couples who work with one another and those who work against one another. You may be asking yourself “what does that mean?”   In my practice with couples for the past 15 years, certain characteristics, traits, or behaviors define these two types of couples.

Working With One Another

Couples who work with one another as a unit tend to have the following characteristics in in common:

These couples…

  • Use active listening skills.
  • Validate their partners feelings or thoughts before responding.
  • Allow their partner to influence their thoughts and opinions.
  • Respect their partners wishes, needs, feelings, and ideas.
  • Do not engage in a game of “win/lose.”
  • Put their pride aside and practice humility.
  • Are careful not to reject anything that is significant or important to their partner.
  • Have a willingness to give up something to make their partner happy.
  • Are willing to bend as not to break their partner’s wishes or dreams.
  • Make their partner’s feelings and thoughts are more important than their ego.
  • Want to understand their partners perspective.
  • Work as a team and turn toward one another often.

Working Against One Another

The couples who work against one another, tend to have the following in common:

These couples…

  • Do not take their partners feelings or thoughts into consideration
  • Think their feelings or thoughts to be more important than their partner’s.
  • Are rigid.
  • Respond with defensiveness.
  • Personalize their partners responses.
  • Do not ask questions for clarification.
  • Make assumptions and respond based off these assumptions.
  • Don’t allow influence – they feel their way is “right” or “best”
  • Talk over one another.
  • Listen to respond rather than to understand.
  • Allow their ego and pride become more important than vulnerability.
  • Feel unsafe sharing with one another.
  • Lack self-insight or do not recognize their contribution to a conflict.
  • Have difficulties expressing their needs and feelings.

What Type of Couple are We?

Many couples may identify with a combination of both sets of traits. Other couples recognize that they engage in many of the “working with one another” traits, but still find it difficult to compromise. These couples may discover they can compromise in certain areas well and yet other areas seem impossible to agree on. If this is the situation, the inability to compromise is often a result of deep-rooted core beliefs and values.  It is not uncommon that these couples have yet to identify the life dreams that accompany these beliefs and values, or they have not shared these important dreams with their partner.

Sometimes we hold strong beliefs we did not realize. These beliefs are often a result of negative internal messages received as a child. This may be due to trauma or what was at least perceived as trauma at that time. What a person may have learned from a certain set of circumstances growing up, influences beliefs, values, and ultimately, life dreams . Further, this impacts their interpretation of how they are treated by others during these important developmental years.

Your Developmental Years Matter

When younger, Shari was often told by her parents that she needed to “stop crying” “toughen up” or “stop being so sensitive.” Throughout the years, she began to internalize this from others including her coaches, teachers, and friends.  These exact statements were not said, but it is what she heard whenever her feelings were not validated.

Her friend who didn’t understand her feelings sent a message that Shari was “overreacting.” When she shared with her coach that her arm hurt, he rolled his eyes and asked her if she’d rather sit the bench. This sent the message that she had one of two choices “suck it up” or “don’t play.” And her teacher who didn’t allow her to explain her difficulty with verbal learning sent the message to “Figure it out.”

Shari has internalized this theme of invalidation. So, the dream for acceptance and validation of her thoughts and feelings are of utmost importance. Now, as a married 38 year-old wife, this is the crux of what Shari’s husband needs to understand when engaging in compromise.

Compromise involves many facets beyond the traits of those couples who tend to work with one another.  Updated Love Maps and understanding your partner are crucial to participating in the art of compromise.

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