By Joe Segraves, LPC
The gold standard to managing conflict is learning how to compromise with your partner. Many couples are very well aware of what compromise is and have undoubtedly tried to implement this skill within their relationship, however, there may be reasons why it has not been as effective as it could be In this article, we will discuss some of these reasons include understanding your partners needs and values as well as identifying problems that are solvable vs perpetual. After identifying reasons why compromise sometimes fails, we will discuss an effective technique for how to compromise with your partner.
First, many couples believe that the first step to solving any disagreement is to immediately start to compromise without self-evaluating how they are looking at the problem. For example, your wife may want to plan an evening with your closest friends while you are wanting a quiet night in with your wife. In this situation, before any “compromise” can take place, both partners need to explore why their significant other feels the way they do. The wife might express that she wants to spend time with others because she was home alone on her day off and wants to act on her values of connection and fun with friends. In contrast, the husband might need time to decompress after a difficult day of work and values intimacy and self-care. Attempting to compromise without exploring your partner’s needs and values will likely lead you to a lack of empathy, unhelpful assumptions, and an impasse at best.
Furthermore, couples need to identify problems that are solvable versus perpetual if they want to successfully learn how to compromise. A solvable problem is typically a situational problem that is about a single topic that has a simple solution. Additionally, it does not have a deeper meaning and is not something couples argue about on a regular basis. This may include topics such as housework, disciplining children, evening/dinner plans, and much more. In contrast, a perpetual problem typically occurs when there is a significant difference in personality and/or values. Moreover, perpetual problems will have been visited by couples over and over again without an agreed upon resolution. Common perpetual problems include differences in religion, politics, money, parenting and much more. It is important to note that couples do not have to always “solve” perpetual problems, however, they need to learn how to communicate with each other in a respectful and accepting approach. Learning to identify what problems are solvable or perpetual will allow you to set reasonable expectations when it comes to compromising and whether a solution is to be expected in the immediate future. Perpetual problems are encouraged to be discovered and discussed with a therapist due to the layers of complication that exist. Solvable problems are more appropriate to apply on your own using the exercise below. Remember, though, that you do not HAVE yo do any of this on your own and having a couples therapist will help with any impasses or bumps on the road.
Before using the following compromise exercise, in order for conflict to be resolved, you can’t close your mind to your partner’s needs, opinions, and values. The following exercise is a commonly used Gottman exercise called the “two circle method”. This method is not a bulletproof and can’t fix every problem you may experience in your relationship. However, at the very least, it will start a healthy and productive dialogue.
“Two Circle Method” Instructions
(Gottman and Silver, 2017)
1) Decide on a solvable problem that you want to confront.
2) On a piece of paper, both partners need to draw a large circle and then a smaller circle inside the larger one. (Try to keep this list as small as possible so you can signal to your partner that you are willing to make concessions)
3) In the smaller circle, list aspects of the problem you CAN’T give in on. In the outer circle, list all the things you CAN give into.
4) Once you’ve filled the circles, share each of your circles and ask each other the following questions:
- a) What do we agree about?
- b) What are our common feeling or the most important feelings here?
- c) What common goals can we have?
- d) How can we understand this situation or issue better?
- e) How do we think we should accomplish these goals?
Good luck and remember that the therapists at doors of hope are always here to help you learn how to compromise with your partner!