Why I Hate the Concept of “Compromise”

What can you do to help a couple shift from an adversarial stance to a collaborative alliance?

Couples often come to therapy with at least one big difference or disagreement, and an expectation that I will “fix” it. They hope that I will verify that their partner is wrong and they are right–problem solved!

I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that this is not my agenda at all. Not even close.

In this and the next blog post, I’ll let you know more about my perspective, and how I work with impasses. Much of this material is drawn from the Bader/Pearson Developmental Model of Couple Therapy. The rest comes from my experience with consensus process as a Quaker.

Once I let my clients know that I won’t be acting as arbiter regarding their disagreements, they assume I will be guiding them through some sort of process to arrive at a compromise. I think many couple therapists do just that. However, I do not believe in or strive for compromise.

To me, compromise can be described as “lose/lose”, as it implies that everyone will give up something of value to them in order to “meet in the middle”. I think a middle ground that requires everyone to give up something of value sounds like quite a dull place to live in, particularly when we’re discussing lifelong commitment.

I much prefer a process of creating space for a miracle.

Gridlock is not a space for a miracle to occur. Neither is polarization. However, that is how most of us learned to disagree. We learned to lock in to “I’m right and you’re wrong.” If we have to come to an agreement, and I have to give up something, so do you. Obviously one will win, and one will lose, and I’m determined to be the one who wins.

Instead, I help my clients step into another space entirely. (This strategy comes from Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson, and fits my belief system perfectly.) What kind of a person do you want to be in your committed relationship? Kind? Loving? Compassionate? Reliable? Strong? Whatever it is, my next question is, when you are a compassionate (or insert another value here) partner, how do you behave? What do you do? How do you know you’re being compassionate? What does it look like? And the next question: how far from that are you now, in your current relationship? Another question: how would it benefit you directly (not your partner but you) if you were able to act from your compassionate self more often?

Every person in a relationship ends up shooting themselves in the foot with their own behaviors now and again. Until this is looked at very directly and some motivation to change is identified, that conversation about the dishes (or sex, or kids, or whatever) is not going to shift. Even if it does, it will take many months of one-step-forward-two-steps-back therapy, and that’s frustrating and discouraging for all involved.

More importantly, the magic can’t happen until the adversarial stance is changed to something more collaborative. The abovementioned sequence is designed to switch adversarial thinking (characterized by hyper-focus on the other and the oppositional forces) to self-focus. This is so important because it leads to empowerment; a realization that there is something here that I have the power to change and it will make a difference.

Next week I’ll tell you about another strategy I have for shifting the adversarial stance and working with internal impasses.

Helpful Links

I started blogging in 2016. Now, two years later, I’ve amassed a pretty significant backlog of posts, each of which strives to provide something of value to therapists and individuals: useful tips about building fulfilling relationships, sorely-needed little-known facts about sexuality, answers to pressing questions from my subscribers and students.

When my course started at the beginning of this month, I received tons of questions from my new students–and realized that a good many of them related to topics I have written about here. I write about these topics because I want therapists to have access to thoughtful, high-quality information and advice about how to handle sex issues in therapy, and I want that information to be easy to access whether or not you take my course. For that reason, I thought I’d put together a guide to the topics I’ve covered before on my blog, so that you can easily find answers to your questions if I’ve addressed them before here.

As I wrote in the very first post on this blog, I’m on a mission to change the culture of therapy regarding sex, to create a world in which every therapist feels confident addressing sex issues, and every person struggling with a sex issue can access the help and healing they need. A big part of that mission is making sure that therapists and individuals have access to the information they need. This compilation is one small step in the direction of making that kind of information more readily available and easy to find for you and your colleagues.

Thanks so much for being part of that mission; I wish you much success!

Martha

 

Desire Discrepancy

One Question You Can’t Fail to Ask Your Clients

What Do You Do When There’s Love But No Lust?

All Levels of Desire Are Normal

Shifting an Unhelpful Dynamic in Desire Discrepancy

Why Desire Discrepancy is So Tough

Desire Discrepancy Lesson #1: Normalize Variation

Desire Discrepancy Lesson #2: Look for the Blocks

 

Consent

Modelling Consent in the Therapy Room

Nuances of Consent: The Therapist’s Side

When Consent Isn’t Simple

 

Managing Conflict in Relationships

How to Keep Fights From Damaging Your Relationship

10 Calming Strategies for Managing Conflict

7 Steps to Stay Steady in Tough Conversations

Don’t Let Strong Emotions Control You

Don’t Try to “Win” A Fight With Your Partner

The Case for Going “Slow and Steady” to Resolve Couple Conflict

The Key to Resolving Couple Conflict? Uncovering Internal Motivation to Change

Addressing the Issues Without Getting Swept Up in Emotion

Promoting Healthy Differences of Opinion Between Partners

 

Differentiation of Self

How to Build a Long-Term Relationship with Courage and Compassion

3 Ways to Handle New Relationship Bliss that Support a Long-Term Healthy Relationship

Sex and Differentiation of Self

The Discovery That Turned My Practice Around

Better Than “Better Half”

Sexual Intimacy and Vulnerability: Paths to Personal Growth

When Partners Encourage Each Other To Lie

Stop Negative Meaning-Making In Its Tracks

Helping Your Clients Find the Courage to Make a Vulnerable Disclosure

The Power of Checking Your Assumptions With Your Partner

Why Helping Your Clients Find the Joy is a Crucial Part of Couples Therapy

Differentiation of Self is the Key to Keeping Things Sexy in a Long-Term Relationship

Why I Hate the Concept of “Compromise”

What Kind of Partner Do You Aspire To Be?

 

Relationship Agreements

There’s No Such Thing as a One-Size-Fits-All Relationship Agreement

Making Relationship Agreements that Support Growth

What If One Partner Wants an Open Relationship, and the Other Isn’t So Sure?

Rules for Poly Relationships? It’s Not That Simple.

 

Building A Flexible, Resilient Sexual Relationship

When Sex Doesn’t Go As Planned

Beyond Communication Skills: What DOES Improve Intimacy?

Postpartum Low Desire: Improving Intimacy and Strengthening Relationships

Postpartum Low Desire: Emotional Causes

Sexual Intimacy and Vulnerability: Paths to Personal Growth

Willingness is Enough

What To Do When You Don’t Have an Orgasm With Your Partner

What Makes Good Sex Good?

Getting What You Really Want Out of Sex

Good Sex Over a Lifetime

 

Pleasure

Are Vibrators Habit-Forming?

7 Tips For Getting Creative: A Sex Therapist’s Guide to Trying New Things

How (and Why) to Talk About Self-Pleasure in Therapy

 

How and Why To Talk About Sex In Therapy

What Terms Should I Use When Talking About Sex in Therapy?

3 Reasons Therapy Clients Need to Discuss Sex, Not Just Connection

I’m On A Mission–To Change the Culture of Therapy Regarding Sex

After Will Lily: How to Use What You Learn in Brief Assessment (Part 1)

After Will Lily: How to Use What You Learn in Brief Assessment (Part 2)

How Asking About Satisfaction Can Guide Your Treatment Plan

Putting Clients At Ease With Sensitive Topics 

 

Unscripting Sex

When Sex Doesn’t Go As Planned

Unscripting Sex for More Connection and Pleasure

Flexibility is the Key to a Satisfying Sex Life

Good Sex Over a Lifetime

 

Non-Normative Sexualities

Reader Question: What is Gender Fluidity? Part 1 and Part 2

Reader Question: Is Abstaining From Sex Healthy?

 

Polyamory

Rules for Poly Relationships? It’s Not That Simple.

Should Polyamorous Couples Share Everything?

What If One Partner Wants an Open Relationship, and the Other Isn’t So Sure?

What Polyamory Can Teach Us About ALL Relationships

Poly 101: Working With Jealousy

Discussing Poly in the Aftermath of an Affair Part 1 and Part 2

Working With Secondary Partners

A Common Dynamic that Causes Problems in Primary/Secondary Poly Relationships

 

Health and Physiology

Orgasm and Heart Conditions

How To Set Loving Goals for Lifestyle Change

Body Positivity and Health Consciousness

Life After STIs: The Therapist’s Role

How to Talk About STIs With Your Clients

Postpartum Low Desire: Physical Causes

Mindfulness: A “Magic Bullet” for Building a Healthy Sex Life

Having a Satisfying Sex Life on Antidepressants

Why I Teach Anatomy to My Clients

Facts About Anatomy that Your Clients Need

Facts About Anatomy that Your Clients Need, Part 2

 

Body Positivity

How To Set Loving Goals for Lifestyle Change

Body Positivity and Health Consciousness

Resolution: Start Loving Your Body, Today

How You Can Help a Client With Negative Body Image

3 Ways to Handle New Relationship Bliss That Support a Long-Term Healthy Relationship

This is the second post in a three-part series about sex and differentiation of self in relationships. If you missed the first post, about the phases relationships go through, and how that development can get stuck, check it out here.

Think about those exciting early days at the beginning of a relationship. All the hormones and novelty work together to ease much potential distress around sex. This is a stage where we don’t generally see our partner very clearly. We see all the things we agree about and love about them, based on quite limited experience from a few dates, or a few months together. Then we invent the other 98% to support the story that they are perfect for us. We see the best in one another, and see how much we can change ourselves to be as much alike as possible. This phase is called symbiosis. Over time, the new relationship energy starts to fade, time goes by, and at some point we look around and realize “they’re not who I thought they were”. We start to notice we have differences, and some of them are big. Some are huge. Who IS this person?? This is the beginning of a natural transition from symbiosis to differentiation.

You (or your client) can set yourself up for an easier transition from one stage to the next. If you know that in past relationships you’ve tended to lose yourself in your partner, setting aside your own interests or habits for theirs, and becoming dependent on their approval or attention, this is valuable information to take into future relationships. You can get better at holding on to what makes you a unique and separate person from your partner without losing the joy and intimacy of a loving partnership–in fact, that joy and intimacy will only be heightened, ultimately, by the vulnerability you can find in welcoming your partner into the truth of your innermost self. Here are a few important steps you can take to prevent getting stuck:  

  1. Don’t tell “kind untruths” like  “I always had an orgasm with you” or “I never use a vibrator” or “I only think of you when I fantasize”. Any kindly-meant bending or breaking of the truth will certainly come back to bite you later on, and when it does, it will seriously undermine or destroy your partner’s trust in you.  
  2. There is nothing wrong with seeking to grow as a person, but don’t give yourself up to your partner entirely. Grow to be more the person you want to be, not simply more the person you partner wants you to be.
  3. Don’t give up any parts of yourself that are a major part of the “juiciness” of your life, like independence, career aspirations, major life goals. The healthy business of the symbiotic stage of your relationship is to bond and stabilize, but if you take it too far and eliminate all of the things that are most important to you, you will find yourself without a sexual spark later on. Ask yourself (or your client):
    • When do I feel alive?
    • When do I experience joy?
    • If I stopped doing _____, would I miss it five years from now? Ten?

When you answer these questions you must go further than “when I’m with my partner”.  Get down to an answer that is just about you.

The things that make you feel alive are the things you must keep. In fact, they’re probably the things your partner was attracted to in the first place. Unless you want to feel flat in 5 years, prioritize those things. This creates a foundation for a relationship that has room for you to be happy!

In my next post, I’ll zero in on some reasons couples struggle when moving from symbiosis toward differentiation. I’ll talk about the Big Choice couples are faced with, between the path of differentiation (risk) and the path of assimilation (safety).