Beyond The Stale Platitudes About Love and Marriage (Part II)

You hear about this syndrome of either gender trying to change something (or a lot of things) about their partner (or even their friend). These attitudes and behaviors show a lack of respect. Deep down, the spouse who’s acting this way may truly respect his or her partner, but the problem is that ‘change seeking’ and excessive demands for compromise convey a lack of respect, and even lack of love. For example, ‘She’s always getting on me about this or that. Yet she knew about these behaviors from the time we first met. What gives?’

I know that what I’m saying, against compromise, clearly does not conform to conventional wisdom. But with so many marriages ending in divorce, and with so many people who stay married — I talk to them all the time — reporting that they’re chronically unhappy, maybe it’s time to challenge some of that conventional wisdom. Consider the following quote from Michael Russell of ‘There is one key to making a successful marriage that is probably one of the hardest things in the world to do. It’s called compromise. Why is this so hard? Simple. We may be part of a marriage but we are still individuals. And as individuals we have different likes and dislikes. It’s not like we married a clone of ourselves. Our partner may not and probably doesn’t like the same things we do.’

Yes, we are individuals. But why must it be a compromise to spend time with someone different? All of us want SOME things about our romantic partners to be the same as ourselves and SOME things to be different from ourselves. Not everyone would put the same items on each ‘list,’ but the fact remains true nevertheless. If you choose to spend
your life and time with someone who is both similar and different in certain ways, this is no threat to your individuality — so long as those differences are what you want. Let’s say you’re not handy around the house, and your spouse is. He likes to do the work — it makes him feel competent and in control — and you don’t like to do it. This is a difference that benefits you both. It would make no sense to try and change him into someone who isn’t handy around the house. It doesn’t serve your individuality to make him more like yourself in this respect. So exactly how would it serve your individuality to make him more like yourself in other respects?

Obviously, much of the solution here is to know whom you’re marrying. But it goes even further than that: You have to know what you want. If you leave it all to feelings, you’ll get married to someone if it feels good enough. The problem is, as the months and years go by, you’ll probably discover that ‘good enough’ isn’t quite so good any longer. You’ll feel like you want something more or different, resulting in efforts to demand compromise where it’s really not fair or realistic to do so.

Loving give-and-take, not sacrifice and anxiety, should be part of everyday life. For example, you want Chinese for dinner and I want pizza. Well, we did have pizza two days ago and I always like Chinese. So let’s do it your way. But I’m not sacrificing anything: If I truly love and value you, it makes ME happy to see you get what you want. It doesn’t compromise my individuality to please you. Indeed, I love you and the pleasure you derive from having what you want makes me happier than eating pizza would. In fact, if our relationship is healthy, you’ll enjoy doing the same for me on another day.

Sadly, this is an attitude that many marriages lack, and it’s why many relationships flounder. The answer doesn’t reside in sacrificing yourself and your desires. The answer lies in remembering that you cherish this person with whom you chose to spend your life, and taking pleasure in his or her happiness will pay off in both the short and the long term.