People are forever saying that one of the keys to a happy marriage is learning to compromise. And in the sense in which that’s usually meant, that’s true. But in another, deeper sense, it’s also true that the key to a happy marriage is learning to never compromise at all.
We all know that central to our personal happiness is to consistently resist compromising the things that are most important to us, which are our values. We know that we should always do what we know is best, that we should never lower our standards, that we should always stand for and defend what’s true and right.
And that’s about never compromising. And if we shouldn’t compromise ourselves to ourselves, we certainly shouldn’t compromise ourselves to our spouse, the one person with whom we’re supposed to share what’s true and right. How can always doing what’s truly best for us personally not also be what’s always truly best for our marriage?
As a way of honoring my marriage, I try to make sure I don’t ever compromise about anything I really care about. “Compromising” means doing something other than what I know is best, not saying or doing what I really think I should say or do—not, in essence, being who I am. How could doing that be helpful to either my wife or me? About anything before us—any subject we’re discussing, I mean—I’m either right, or I’m wrong. If I’m right, or at least really think I’m right, then it’s my job to (politely, carefully, kindly—which is everything) say why I think I’m right; it’s important that I not compromise my convictions about that matter. It’s then my wife’s job to listen and carefully consider what I’ve said. If, having done that, she concludes that in some relevant way the position I’ve taken is wrong or mistaken, it’s her job to (politely, carefully, kindly) tell me why she thinks that. Then it’s my job to truly listen to her (as opposed to, say, pouting and walking out of the room).
It’s through that back-and-forth process that she and I will arrive at the position on the matter that we will both understand is the correct one. But nowhere in that give-and-take did any “compromise” happen at all. What did happen (if it’s been a good discussion) has to do with discovery, consideration, alteration, reassessment, conviction, respect, love, appreciation. If I started off wrong, but then saw I was wrong, changing my mind to do or think what’s right isn’t a compromise at all. It’s more like a privilege.
To “compromise” too often means to cheapen yourself, to allow yourself to be in some way dominated, to purposefully weaken your own grip on what you know to be right. Any spouse who would ask you to do that to yourself and to what you know is best isn’t really working for what’s best for the two of you at all.
In a pretty dramatically real sense, being married amounts to two people being one. The important thing is for the two equal parts of that “one” to always take the time and energy to discern what’s best for the whole of the single entity they’ve created of themselves. “Compromising” isn’t healthy at all if it means failing to choose to do the emotional and even intellectual work it takes to always, in partnership with your spouse, discern what’s right and best for you both.
Anyone in a marriage can and should, of course, compromise on the little things, all the time. Why not? But when it comes to anything that really matters—any true concern of the heart or conscience—one should never compromise at all. Marriage should never be understood as one long lesson in how to compromise. It should instead be considered one long lesson in how, and why, to never really compromise at all.