Guideline # 7 for a Healthy Relationship

Written by on September 4, 2012 in On Relationships

Guideline # 7: Don’t Compromise

Yes, you read that correctly. Don’t compromise and I mean that too. I know that sounds like the worst relationship advice ever given, but stay with me and I will explain.

Give and Take  (Offering and Accepting)

Relationships really are about give and take but that can be a problem depending on how you interpret GIVE and TAKE. I felt like for many years that a healthy relationship involved giving up what I wanted sometimes and letting Aaron have or do what he wanted. Well, I kept track of all of the giving I was doing and all of the taking he was doing and I found that the more I gave, the more he took and the harder it became to ask for the things I needed and wanted. I was creating a pattern in the relationship that was completely to my disadvantage and making it look like I was serving the good of the relationship. I couldn’t have been more wrong about it. Give and take in a healthy relationship is learning how to receive when your partner is giving to you, such as accepting affection when it is offered, letting them love you the way they give love and recognizing that might be different than the way you give love or even prefer to receive it. Taking in the gifts that your partner chooses to give you is the practice of taking. Another way to understand this idea is to call it “offering and accepting.” Sometimes I am the one offering, (freely and without strings) and other times I am accepting (freely and without obligations or guilt) and receiving graciously whatever it is that the other person is offering. It is something that requires attention and awareness and when practiced, even by only one person, it can shift the whole relationship into new territory. But before proper giving and taking can occur you must first have rock-solid boundaries by being true to yourself.

Be True to Yourself   (Understanding Boundaries)

Okay, how about when there is a real conflict that seems as if it cannot be resolved? First things first. Be true to yourself. That might seem like another lofty platitude that no one really knows how it looks and feels in real day to day life but it is the foundation for success in any conflict resolution. Everyone has values that they live by, even when they are not aware of it, there are things each person feels they must do or say or not do  or not say. We all have a boundary around ourselves that is meant to protect us and provide us with the information to make wise choices everyday. Sometimes we think that lowering our boundaries to work through a problem is a good thing; relaxing our values and leaving room for our boundaries to be crossed is the way we effectively compromise. But all we are doing is preparing to be violated. And sometimes we learned as children that personal boundaries caused us pain and punishment and we learned to live without them (if you can call that living.) We forgot how to reset our boundaries and how it felt to be protected by them. Being true to yourself is discovering or reinforcing your values as the setting of boundaries. I sometimes hear people say, “You need to give that person boundaries!” But that is not quite right. What that person perhaps means to say is this ” I need to reset my own boundaries!” I really have no business telling other people what to do, how to feel and what is right and wrong in their reality. I can only do those things for myself. When I know exactly what matters to me and what doesn’t matter I can make better decisions that help protect me and support my value system.

Here is an example: Let’s say a friend of mine wants to come visit me. I haven’t seen her in awhile and I am really glad she is reaching out. I want to say yes but something stops me. I bumped into my boundary. This gives me pause. I search to discover what stopped me from instantly saying yes and feeling excited about. Then I realize that I am tired and feel like being alone. One of my personal values is to take care of my needs as they arise so that I can be 100% available to my friends. I need to first take care of myself and then I can spend time with my friend. My first instinct then is to let my friend down easy with a little white lie. “Sorry, I would LOVE to visit you but I am just walking out the door and I won’t be back until tonight.” Then I notice that I hit the boundary again. One of my personal values is being forthright and honest in my relationships so I am again feeling torn. Being true to myself and my values demands that I tell my friend the truth. If I tell my little white lie, I have broken the boundary and will undoubtedly be invaded in some way. I choose to tell my friend the truth, that I am needing some time alone and I set up a day when I believe I will be able to really visit with her. This allows her to know that I really do want to see her and it also allows her to ask for whatever she wants whenever she wants because she KNOWS I will tell her the truth. This kind of boundary setting creates deep trust in any relationship. And while it is more difficult to regularly perform this in a marriage or other intimate relationship it has even more profound results.

Win-Win is Always Possible (When you have good boundaries)

I am huge believer in win-win situations. No one has to suffer with something that they really don’t like or want to do. If you have good boundaries, by knowing yourself well enough to be true to yourself, you will be motivated to work at creating win-win situations. There is a creative solution to every problem that leaves no one holding the bag. There is a way to have what you want without depriving the other person of having exactly what they want as well. There are plenty of excuses as to why this might be impossible, but believe me, when you believe that everyone can win something magical happens and ideas spring forth from the ether that no one has ever thought of or considered. The thrill of discovering some solution that is new and innovative can be as alluring as getting what you want. There is only one important catch to creating win-win situations: you must be willing to help the other person with their win first without compromising your own desires in the least bit. I usually ask both parties (if I happen to be mediating) if they believe it is possible for them both to have EXACTLY what they want at the same time. Once everyone agrees the sky becomes the limit. Creating solutions together can be a bonding experience as well as a liberating one. Both parties can be excited about helping each other instead of only looking out for their needs, or looking for ways they can give up something that will end the conflict. So, what if one person is not interested in win-win? They want what they want and are determined to get it. Great! That person has good boundaries and you can be certain they will not compromise what they really want. Just make sure you are as solid and protected by your own boundaries too. Only then can a truly creative solution emerge. Even if it is only you doing the creating, it can still be done most effectively, it just isn’t quite as much fun when you are not collaborating. But if you make this your mantra in all situations you will find successes and solutions like never before.

Be Flexible (But don’t Compromise)

There is a difference between flexibility and compromise. I understand that many people use the term compromise to mean flexible. I understand that it can mean coming to an amicable agreement through communication but the word has taken on something of a negative connotation. I would like to make a distinction. The dictionary gives this definition for compromise: a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands. I don’t like to concede on either my claims or principles. The dictionary states the meaning of flexible as: capable of being bent, usually without breaking; easily bent: I think the word compromise and its dictionary meaning does not conjure up too many happy endings so the word flexibility serves better here. So . . . when should I flex and when should I hold firm? That is easy. Once you understand your own values about an issue, you can easily see where you will not and cannot flex. Anything that affects the security of your boundary or will cause it to break is non-negotiable. Anything outside your boundary? Flex away! Mold, shape, bend and rearrange, that is the fun of creating solutions. But the minute you start tinkering with your values, violations and invasions are inevitable and you will leave feeling chafed and taken advantage of. Being flexible is fun when the consequences of doing so don’t leave you hanging out in the cold. Requiring others to compromise is not fun either when you realize that the other person is totally giving up what they want because they feel you are bullying them. But you see, most of us compromise for the short term to get something in the long term. Most compromises come with strings attached. For example: I will give up what I want so you will love me. Well, you better love me just the way I want you to because I gave up what I wanted for that. And when you don’t love me the way I want you to? The three r’s: resentment, revenge, and rage. You are confused as to why I am so angry. You thought I gave up what I wanted-for free?!  No way, and now you are going to pay. You are going to get the silent treatment and I am going to withhold love. That sounds like just the kind of relationship I always dreamed of. *Romantic sigh.* NOT!

Don’t compromise yourself but be true to yourself by knowing your own boundaries (values) and sticking to them. Remember win-win is always possible when you have good boundaries and flexibility is fun when you are not giving away the farm! 

Remember guideline # 7  for a healthy relationship: Don’t Compromise!




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  1. Maryanne says:

    Thank you for writing these articles on the guidelines for relationships!!There are treasures here that inspire and excite me to keep trying..
    I always feel anticipation when I see that you have written another one. Thanks.

  2. Susanna says:

    Thanks Maryanne! I will keep ’em coming.