Are you familiar with the experience of having a strong opinion that seems directly opposite from that of your partner’s? Do you both get heated when you discuss this issue and neither of you are willing to budge an inch? You firmly believe that your opinion is right, and your partner believes they are right. You start to lose hope that you will ever resolve this conflict in a way that you both can tolerate. It may even feel so intolerable that you don’t know how your relationship can work if you can’t figure out how to meet in the middle and compromise.
Compromise Isn’t as Hard as You Might Think
If this sounds like your conflict pattern, it can seem like a daunting task to attempt to compromise when you feel so strongly about your opinion. Luckily for you and your partner, sometimes there is more wiggle room than it seems. Dr. John Gottman, a world-renowned researcher for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, has come up with an activity to help couples with this exact struggle.
The premise of the activity is for each partner to identify their core needs regarding the specific conflict at hand. When you identify that your core needs are safe, you will find that coming to a compromise is less threatening. Follow the steps from the activity below when you and your partner have time to sit down together. Be sure you are both feeling calm when you do this activity. It is even harder to compromise while heated!
The Art of Compromise by Dr. John Gottman
Step 1: Consider an area of conflict in which you and your partner have been stuck in perpetual gridlock. Draw two ovals, one within the other. The one on the inside is your Inflexible Area, and the one on the outside is your Flexible Area.
Step 2: Think of the inside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values you absolutely cannot compromise on, and the outside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values that you feel more flexible with in this area. Make two lists.
Step 3: Discuss the following questions with your partner, in the way that feels most comfortable and natural for the two of you:
Can you help me to understand why your “inflexible” needs or values are so important to you?
What are your guiding feelings here?
What feelings and goals do we have in common? How might these goals be accomplished?
Help me to understand your flexible areas. Let’s see which ones we have in common.
How can I help you to meet your core needs?
What temporary compromise can we reach on this problem?
This activity will not solve all of your problems, but it certainly will help you and your partner to focus on what is important and become flexible on the aspects that you can tolerate flexing. It is important to utilize a calm, non-critical tone when exploring one another’s “inflexible” needs. These needs often come from vulnerable places that can easily promote defensiveness in your partner if criticized.
Let me know what your experience was with this activity in the comments!
About the Author
Kelsey Vincent is an intern at The Marriage and Family Clinic. She works with couples and individuals who struggle with emotional intimacy, as well as those who find themselves perpetuating destructive patterns. Kelsey enjoys all activities in the beautiful Colorado outdoors, including camping, mountain biking, snowboarding, and slalom water skiing.