A good compromise generally leaves both people satisfied, and feeling like they made the decision together. Neither person should walk away feeling like they’ve won or lost.
I use a scale of who wants what more. Ten means you really want something; zero means you don’t. Where we each land on the scale helps me decide. In the past, in a debate over the size of living space needed, I conceded. I like small spaces – they are cozy and cute and I feel warm and safe in them. I was a 6 on wanting a small space. My partner felt small spaces were simply small, and wanted more room. He was a 10 on wanting a big space. He wanted more space more than I wanted less space. We got a bigger space. A healthy compromise.
You want Chinese more than I want Italian for dinner – okay, let’s have Chinese. I want to see the latest Woody Allen film more than you want to see the latest Marvel Comics film – let’s see the Woody Allen flick. To me, this is easy.
But sometimes compromise feels like settling or giving in. Sometimes it feels like coercion, not cooperation. In the words of Famous Freddy: “If one of you wants two kids and the other wants none, having one isn’t a compromise.” So what do you do if you can’t meet in the middle?
- Living in the ‘burbs: You are a ten; your partner is a four. Where do you hang your hat?
- Getting married: You are a zero; your partner is a six. Do you tie the knot or not?
- Having kids: You are a seven; your partner is a three. Do you invest in a minivan or Mazatlan?
One of the questions we often ask ourselves in this situation is if our relationship is more important than our postal code, marital status or family status. And we ask ourselves if our partner will be enough to make up for whatever we are giving up.
I think we should be asking what it is we really want out of life. Where do we want to be in two, five, ten years? What are our real deal breakers? And I think the question we are avoiding is when does compromising stop being a negotiation about staying together and start being a discussion about breaking up?