Relationships, Part 51: Constructive Conflict: Compromise

Compromise is one of those things, like flossing, that everyone says is desirable and few are willing to do. We mostly want our partner to practice it. However, you don’t really need to be so cagy about compromise. Just say you don’t like it and avoid it when you can.

There are good and bad ways to evade compromising. Here’re all the ways I can think of, in no particular order. You’ll have to decide for yourself which ones are good and which are bad. I will say that all these methods can be effective; in the short term, at least.

• First, there’s screaming and shouting, hitting and gouging, whining and cajoling, sarcasm and name calling. What you’re going to want to do is to take whatever your loved one wants and increase the cost for him, so that he will give up on it. Domestic violence is the most crude form of this method. The most successful users of intimidation never raise a hand in anger, they are able to terrorize and threaten their partners into compliance by more subtle means.
• The second method to avoid compromise is equally popular. You can give the appearance of agreement to whatever she wants, with no intention of ever following through. This stops the discussion long enough so that you can watch the game. Repeat for as long as it takes her to give up on it.
• If your partner also doesn’t like to compromise (who does?) you may be able to collude with him into pretending the problem doesn’t exist.
• One counterintuitive method of avoiding compromise it to just let her have her way. This spares you the hard work of being real about what you need and coming to terms with the fact that you and your partner just may not be compatible. Sure, you lose whatever you give up, but you can always make up for it later by nursing grudges and exacting concessions. A good grudge is better than drugs.
• Blackmail.
• You might be able to evade compromise if you have a plural marriage. You can form a coalition with your sister wives and vote your husband into submission.
• If you don’t have a plural marriage, you can create sort of a temporary one by erasing the boundaries between your union and others. Friends, children, in-laws, and marriage counselors can be enlisted to arbitrate disputes. The wise ones will refuse, but you don’t need wisdom from them; you just need them to go along with you. You can get your whole family to gang up on your wife and call it an intervention.
• You can avoid a lot of compromise by having a traditional, paternalistic marriage. Just put the husband in charge of all the decision making. Line up all the machinery of society: social disapproval, family ties, religious strictures, the power of the state, to support him and ensure his way or the highway. Both men and women may like this arrangement for their own reasons. The men, so they can be in charge, and the women, so the men can. I suppose it can work just as well the other way around, with the wife in charge, if you can get society to go along with it. The ship has not yet completely sailed when it comes to paternalism in our society. Some say that a new ship, maternalism, has been spotted coming into port.
• Let’s not forget that, before you compromise, you can play a game of marital chicken. Stick to your point to see if the other side blinks first.

So, let’s see. Are there other ways to avoid compromising?
• If you’ve been trying my suggestions about having a constructive conflict, you might’ve found that you and your partner don’t disagree as much as you thought you did. There are huge regions of concord you never knew existed. You might have discovered your partner just wants to be taken seriously. He needs to be heard, that’s all, So, see, no compromise needed.
• Make a deal; do some horse trading.
• If one partner has special expertise in a particular area of common life, you could give that person the final word in matters pertaining. She’s good with figures, so she makes the final decision on money issues. Since he’s a teacher and is an expert on child development, he makes the call with the kids.
• Split the difference.
• Even when there’s no expertise, per se, as a practical matter, it can make sense when each partner deals with his or her own stuff. You could be vested in the ultimate authority when it comes to your own job, your own kids, your family of origin, your car, so on and so forth. In the same way, couples who do not put their money in a common pot, but handle it individually often have the one partner retain control over their portion of the income.

It’s possible to break up the functions of marital life in as many pieces as you would like and maintain dozens of small, petty dictatorships over the laundry, the vacuuming, making breakfast, writing checks, etc. You could cede to the other partner a significant advisory role, but the final decision is left to the person in charge.

Many traditional marriages are structured in this way. Husbands have the final say making a living and relating to the outside world, while wives rule inside the home. This arrangement has its advantages in clarifying roles, but heaven help you if you lose your partner and you don’t know where he did his banking, or if your wife picked out all your clothes and now you don’t know how to shop.
• Here’s another way to settle an impasse and avoid compromise. Go with whomever has the strongest feelings on the subject. If he’s a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan and they’re finally in the World Series there’s no question of what you’re tuning in to if you don’t care what you watch. If she can’t digest Indian food or wash the curry smell out of her hair, you may have to go without your fix of vindaloo. This method works well when you and your partner are in good faith, are not unnecessarily histrionic, and don’t really mind your emotions, much less someone else’s, making all major decisions.
• Take turns giving in.

If you don’t like any of these choices, remember, compromise is not necessary if you don’t care about the relationship, or if you care about it, but not as much as you care about the Stanley Cup Finals, or shopping for shoes, or sending your children to Catholic school, or seeing your parents on Christmas morning, or having the right to drink beer until you’re passed out on the couch after having barfed all over yourself and yelled at the kids. There are plenty of things that you might believe are more important than keeping your vows to the love of your life. If you really believe that, then do not compromise your beliefs by compromising. Stick to your guns, wave the flag, and never give up.

So, you see, there’re lots of choices before you have to compromise. If you exhaust all these, then hold your nose, grit your teeth, and just do it.

Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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