A Great Marriage is About NOT Compromising

A Great Marriage is About NOT Compromising May 28, 2009

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.

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  • "So, Dale, ultimately you’d RATHER go to the concert your wife wants to. That’s … the whole point."


    You're right, that is the whole point, and it really is merely a difference of semantics. I'd rather go to the movie, but because I value my wife and her desires, at least occasionally, I will make a concession and do what she prefers to do. So, I want what she wants more than what I want at least at that moment. I see your point, but I call that compromise.

  • Ah… I get it now. So one doesn't compromise for the sake of compromise, per say- one chooses to give in to the other because one truly believes that the needs/desire/opinion of the other ought to be respected.

    It's a fine, fine, line, John- but it is there. 😀 Great post.

  • John,

    For a minute, I thought you were just being sarcastic, but then I realized you’re arguing over semantics. The principle of compromise on terms of “right” or “wrong”, as you mention, is misguided, as you say. There are many relational issues, though, that are matters of opinion or momentary desire. For example, it’s Friday and I want to go to a movie, but my wife wants to go to a concert. Which do we do? I compromise and go to the concert. In that sense, compromise does have value. Furthermore, beyond my simple example, some such issues, especially in multiples of years together, can have serious relational consequences.

    Of course, the opinion vs. principle issues can blur when the principles are not respected. Again, for example, if my wife never gets to go to a concert because I always get my way, she is not compromising, she is being coerced and that is just wrong on many levels.

  • Oh, John!

    Never, ever, compromise your standards or ethics, ESPECIALLY IN A MARRIAGE.

    But sometimes you have to not do things your way. Two people, two sets of ways of doing things, someone is going to have to put the other person first. It happens.

  • I think I get it, too. When my husband and I were married, our Bishop (spiritual advisor) gave us some very sage advice. He told us that if we would always treat each other as King and Queen, seeing each other as royalty, we would have a happy marriage. The way I interpret that advice now (after 19 years perspective) is to truly respect each other’s potential and inner power, always desiring for the other to be happy, feel respected and valued. Then the marriage becomes a beautiful, powerful and dynamic partnership. At that point, it is no longer a “compromise” to do things “their way” but rather a privledge.

    The key is that both sides have to be what the scriptures call “equally yoked”….equally committed to each other. Selfishness will always kill a marriage.

    Your comment, John about “doing the right thing” is really spot on, because if I want to go to a concert, and he wants to go to a movie, and yet our ultimate desire is that we BOTH want the other to be happy, then making the choice becomes easier – we talk to each other about the reasons why we want that particular thing, and we discuss the pros and cons from each other’s view. Ultimately our decision becomes unanimous, because it is what is right for both (often in those situations, after we have talked, we end up doing something else entirely – like renting a movie and making popcorn, or going for a hike). This concept is especially important when the really BIG decisions in marriage come up that usually cause terminal strife, like: budgeting & large financial purchases, whether to start a family, how many children to have, making a career change, choosing to relocate, purchasing a home (or building a home…yikes, never again!), and (often the biggest test of all) which inlaws to spend Christmas with! 🙂

  • My husband and I just got married 4 months ago after a 3 year long-distance relationship. In addition to the big life change of — getting married (!) — we are also living near each other for the first time… Oh yeah, and that’s in Germany because my husband is in the military and was just stationed here. Needless to say, there are quite a few things that we are “hashing out”. For us there are plenty of big things as well as small things to go through as we’re laying the foundation of our marriage.

    Before we got married we each agonized (in prayer and other ways) over what we wanted for our marriage. Each coming from “broken families” we know all too well that marriage takes work. Given our high standards, I’ve lately been struggling with us disagreeing (I find it exhausting actually). I really appreciate what you said, John, because it really speaks of disagreeing with respect and having a good outcome. I realize that my husband and I have been doing this mostly successfully, but I was still discouraged afterwards because I felt like we were being counter-productive to our marriage goals. But what you’re saying is that as long as we are “politely, carefully, kindly” communicating and agreeing at the end, that we are actually -helping- our marriage and making it stronger.

    *sigh of relief* Thanks John! 🙂

  • I get it…once I let it soak a bit I usually agree with much of what you say. But you say things completely different than I would. Maybe you could work on that?? 😀

  • sorry…completely differentLY.

  • Dalton

    This is confusing. Is this based on scripture or is it something you’ve developed from your convictions and experiences?

  • Gina

    I believe it all comes down to mutual respect. I also agree with the comment posted about what it is mean to be equally yoked. I have noticed that some people tailor their faith to suit their own personal needs. Actually I am referrin to my husband. My husand and I just got married on March 15th.Prior to marriage he said he wanted to start a family as soon as possible. He also said he wanted to move out of his 1 bedroom condo. Now 4 months later he decided he isnt sure if he wants children not or ever. As for my knowledge as a Catholic it is a sin to be intimate with your husband if you are trying to prevent pregancy. He seems to disagree. We are also older..I am 43 and he is 40. I have a 21 year old and he has never had children. I am trying so hard to pray and have faith that we can resolve thses issues. We used to pray together and now when I ask him why he wont, he say's : " You can read".." I dont like anyone tellig me what to do or when to do it" . Family members have told me that I have grounds for an annullment..but I am torn as to what I should do.He said having a child is our will or in reality his, but I believe it is Gods as a married couple.

  • Didn't you describe healthy compromise. Being open enough to consider another's thoughts and input and willing to bend if necessary? That is true compromise. The other stuff is just passive-aggressive placation

  • Oh, John …

    Once again, your title requires people to read the whole post in order to get it.

    I know exactly what you mean … I never would have married my ex-wife if I hadn't compromised in a lot of areas. I never should have done those.

    On the flip-side, my wife likes Jane Austen and just isn't that big a fan of Charles Dickens. As much as I'd love for us to read more Dickens together, I give that up just because she'd rather read "Pride and Prejudice" for the umpteenth time than "Hard Times." (She has given up on sharing "Pride and Prejudice" with me, though … something about my snoring.)

    Was I saying something? Oh, yeah … Another great post, John!

  • Wickle: Too funny. Great comment, as always from you.

    Hey, my wife has basically—well, exactly—been reading "Pride and Prejudice" for 30 years. She knows it like I know my name. Man, she loves that book. So. There's … that thing we have in common.

  • Karin

    Okay the way I understand this is that this post has nothing to do about going to the movies or a concert or not. It's about deeper bigger issues like values. Like if a partner believes in never lying for any reason then don't compromise when your partner expects you to lie for him/her.

  • Karin: Right. If I want to go to one movie and my wife another, neither of us will have to "compromise" at all, because one of us will CHOOSE to show love for the other by going to their movie. So that's not really a "compromise" in any sense of the word. In that (real) sense, I don't think compromise REALLY has any place whatsoever in any marriage. But articulating that is bound to get a bit too thick for a blog post—so all I'm saying here is that, as you say, it's when it comes to the big important stuff—being values and what amounts to morality—neither party in a marriage should ever compromise, or be asked to. And in a healthy marriage, the whole idea of having to comprise should never really never come up at all. If your husband wants you to lie for him, the assumption is that he better have an extremely compelling reason for wanting that. In telling the lie he's asking you to, the both of you had better be serving a LARGER truth than would be served by not lying. Because then lying IS the right thing to do—and so, again, would involve no compromise on your part at all, because, having seen that, you'd be happy to lie in that instance.

  • I think that most folks in marriage have a difficult time with this "compromise" word because the dominant personality hardly ever compromises while the more submissive one (husband or wife) always gives in. So to the dominant one compromise is much needed but not so much for the "submissive" one. Of course the "submissive" one often uses passive aggressive behaviors to even out their "submissive" activities.

  • Bob: You're exactly right. The truth is, no one ever really "compromises" at all. In one way or another, people ALWAYS end up exacting back from their mate whatever price they feel they've paid for anything. I might "compromise" by saying I'll do something with my wife that I don't want to do—but I'll be such a pain in the butt WHILE doing it that, in fact, in the emotional balance of things, I wouldn't have really "compromised" at all. The whole idea of "compromise" in a marriage is just … irrelevant, basically.

  • This definitely resonated with me. Which means it's all true. About a year into my marriage, I felt inclined to stop titling My Five Year Plan thus and change the first word to Our. I'd like to take credit for that but everything about my pre-marriage independence points to the Holy Spirit speaking that necessity to me. Ultimately, just writing the list under the new heading proved what I think is the most important defense of NOT compromising. To compromise suggests there's something else you'd RATHER do. When I realized that my attention was previously on my own fulfillment and it didn't take into account my husband's, I wanted to change that. And wanting to made it effortless to do so.

  • Hjordes

    Woot! You did it again. Bingo! Great concept for a blog; awesome delivery.

  • coughand sputter

    Just curious,

    I need some advice on compromise with regards to the mixed culture relationship; I met my partner in Nepal. My child and I were living there and my partner loved us so much, he wanted to be with us and pursued me.

    We have been together for nearly three years. Recently he asked us to move to Hong Kong because he wanted marriage. He didn’t want to marry us in front of the community because he feared ridicule. To be fair to him, it’s not unusual for community members to be highly critical and rude to each other when one marries a foreigner. That being said I know several chaps in the community that have stayed and have endured while with their wives.

    My daughter and I’ve left Nepal and are now in Hong Kong. We are unhappy. My daughter wants to go back and I also. He hasn’t joined us yet. He is waiting on his passport.

    He asked us to come back for a visit. We can’t yet afford to. My daughter and I want to go back and live in Nepal again.

    It’s a tough situation. I told him that I know the unspoken threat is that if we go back to live in Nepal, he will leave us. He said he can’t stay in Nepal. He said he wouldn’t know what to do if I wanted to come back to live. I told him he doesn’t get to dictate what is best for all of us. He must consider all of our feelings, not just his needs.

    I have a new job here in Hong Kong, my daughter a new school and friends but we miss our life in Nepal. We are not happy even though Hong Kong is an amazing place. It just doesn’t feel like home. When I asked him if we are going back to Nepal someday he gives answers like, “I don’t know. Maybe. I want to buy a home there in a few years for us. Maybe not.”

    In Nepal my daughter and I were learning Nepali and Tibetan. We had friends, a support network, and had a very nice life. We both felt content and happy. When he came into our lives it was an added happiness for most of the time.

    We don’t want to lose him, but we are unhappy. It’s been nearly 8 months we’ve been apart. He’s in Nepal and we are here, struggling.

    Have I compromised too much? I know if we go back to Nepal he won’t live with us and our relationship won’t progress. He will be too ashamed. We are butting up against a cultural attitude. I also know that if I agree with him and put his needs before ours, there is a good chance that the only time we will go to Nepal or India is on a visit. I don’t think we will live there again if we are with him. I feel like I gave up something hugely important to me and my daughter for him. I feel conflicted and angry at myself. I love Nepal. I love him. I love studying Tibetan and Nepali. Now what?

    I’m feeling confused. Any ideas?

    Thanks so much

    What do you all think?

  • A’isha

    C&S, Honestly, from what you’ve written here, I think you’ve gone way beyond compromise. The funny thing about compromise is that both people have to give. What has he given you? He’s forced you to leave the place where you and your daughter are happy. He’s put his wants above yours. That’s not compromise, that’s controlling. If he really wants to be with you, he’ll deal with the outcome right there in Nepal.

  • I don’t see where he “forced” her to do anything at all. From what I can tell, our friend here willingly agreed to each step that brought her to the place and state in which she now finds herself.

  • Linda Bale

    Sounds like if he isn’t will ing to consider your happiness and isn’t willing to stick it out in the village I would say he is not as committed as he wants you to believe. I say it si a deal breaker, go back to Nepal if you and your daughter liked it there and you had a support net work. Rule Do not give up support net work for any one. The group is a whole lot stronger than one person. He isn’t the only fish in the sea. Think of the big picture whare do you want to be in ten years? If you can’t anser that one you don’t need him cause he doesn’t know.

  • Liza

    My heart goes out to you. Sometimes we make decisions that perhaps seem like a good idea at the time but are not in our long term best interest, thinking that we can persuade the other person to change their mind or hope they will have a change of heart. From what you write, it sounds to me like you know the answer but may be unwilling to make the final choice. You say he loves you but if he is unwilling to stand up for this love, sacrifice for it, how deep can it go? Sometimes you have to make the choice that is best for you and your child. I think he has already made clear his choice.

  • Don Rappe

    Eight months is too long to wait alone in Hong Kong. Be careful while you are there that your “partner” does not find some way to sell you and your daughter into slavery. If you have family in Nepal, go back to them.

  • Chewa11

    Assuming he’s adamant on staying out of the Nepal community (is he in HK right now? It sounds like he’s still in Nepal waiting on his passport), then it looks like you have 3 options:

    1) settle in HK with him

    2) return to Nepal without him

    3) relocate to a place that is new to all of you

    Options 1 & 2 deal with which you value and love more: Nepal or him. It seems like that is what you are mainly mulling over, and no one can make that value judgement for you.

    Option 3 is if you value your relationship with him more than Nepal but are a little resentful of the, can I say, power differential between you two that resulted in you going to HK. I can’t tell if there is a big difference in power in your relationship, but I can imagine that if you’re responding to a post on compromise in marriage, then perhaps there is one. Maybe moving somewhere foreign but palatable to both of you would even the playing field somewhat.

    The other very important thing to consider is the effect your decision will have on your daughter. After all, you may not be with your partner in the future, but you will always be a mom. How will life in HK (vs Nepal) contribute to her experiences and give her the tools to tackle tomorrow’s challenges? How are the schools different? Which culture do you appreciate more? (Conversely, which cultural values would you NOT want to see expressed in her?) And finally, what does she want? And if it’s opposite to what your partner wants, then whose side will you take? (That again, comes to who/what you value more – him or the family you already have)

    Also, perhaps life in HK would be more like home if your partner was there. Would you be willing to stick it out until he returns to you and then begin a “trial period”? 8 months is not long enough to make someplace home if everything is new to you, and the reason for you being there (your partner) isn’t even there.

    Some food for thought. Good luck. I’m sure you’ll make the best decision. God bless you guys!

  • Chewa11

    Whoa. How did slavery work its way into the conversation? I don’t follow.

  • Chewa11

    And how is it that you and your daughter managed to up and move to HK while your partner is still in Nepal? Why didn’t you guys go together?

  • Janey

    If a couple says they need counseling *before* the marriage, I always worry. If they cannot get along with the intoxication of romance, they’ll never make it after the wedding.

  • naksuthin

    Marriage is all about compromise. When there is a difference of opinion about an important matter or trivial matters there needs to be a discussion…and an agreement.
    Where will we go on vacation.
    What movie will we watch.
    What temperature to set air conditioner.
    What car will we buy.
    How often to have sex
    Do I have to put the cap on the toothpaste after I use it.
    How many times can I use a towel before I must wash it.
    Must I make the bed every morning or only when we change the sheets.
    Do we buy cheap toilet paper or the soft expensive kind.
    Little things become very important. But they have to be agreed on. You can’t do it both ways.
    Christ said when two people get married they become ONE. We’ll that’s partially true. They are still two people with two sets of opinions. But most of the time they have to agree to do things one way or the other….
    And if they can’t agree…then they are going to be in a constant state of war…and what follows is generally a divorce

    When you are single you can decide to quit your job and join the Peace Corps and move to Africa.
    When you are married you no longer have that option…unless you can find some sort of compromise that works for your spouse.

    So marriage is about COMPROMISE, about NOT GETTING YOUR WAY 100% of the time.