Dr. Kavetha Sun | The Art and Science of Compromise
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The Art and Science of Compromise


The Art and Science of Compromise

When my wife and I decided to get married, we began asking for advice from couples who had made it (happily) past the 5 year mark.

At least 80% of them said “compromise” was the top reason for their success.

Although it intuitively made sense, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Does that mean neither partner ever gets what they actually want? Or, are we doomed to get only 50% of our requests met?” I wasn’t sure I wanted that for myself…OR my wife!

I was even more dismayed when a few couples who thought they “compromised” well, began splitting up a few months later! Something was seriously wrong.

I began rephrasing my question: “What exactly does compromise look like in your relationship?”

And, I went one step further. In my therapy sessions, I asked couples to discuss a potential subject of conflict for 10 minutes. And I watched. Slowly but surely, the answers began to form a pattern.

In couples who compromise well, both partners were willing to accept the other person’s influence. These couples intuitively knew the ancient Aikido principle: You have to YIELD TO WIN.

You cannot be influential without accepting influence.

Happy couples allowed their partner to influence them, saying things like, “That’s a good point,” or “You’re right, I do get that way sometimes.” Or, they used body language, nodding or smiling in agreement–even in the midst of an argument.

The second way happy couples compromised was by picking up and responding to their partners’ underlying emotional needs. For example, when Jenny* and Greg*, a couple in one of our online programs, argued about how often to visit her family, Jenny blamed Greg for being callous; he blamed her for being “too sensitive.” At one point, however, with my encouragement, Greg was able to listen for and respond to Jenny’s underlying fear that her father may die young. (Several men in her family had died of heart attacks in their mid-50s.) I watched him reach over to hold her hand and say, “It must be really scary for you that your dad is turning 55. I know you want to spend as much time with him as possible in case something happens.” As soon as he said this, Jenny let out a sigh, sat back in her chair, and allowed Greg to hold her hand as she cried. After a few minutes, they were lovingly able to figure out a schedule to visit that worked for both of them.

Next time your partner seems intent on making your life miserable by arguing with you, I urge you to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and try these two things:

1) Use words and body language to show you are accepting the other person’s influence.
2) Listen carefully for, and respond to, their underlying emotional need.

Have a great week!

Talk soon,

If you found this helpful, *please* hit the “like” button and share this page with your family and friends so they can learn about these skills too.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

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