Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • June 2018
Written by 

The art of compromise — Getting to “yes”

According to John Gottman in The Art and Science of Love Workshop for Couples, “The Japanese martial art, aikido, teaches the idea that using force as a defense against force only creates a bigger problem and that this type of response is a mistake. We must yield to win. You cannot be influential unless you accept influence. If you want to be heard, you must listen and if you want power, you must be willing to give it up.” Many people behave as if they are afraid of the word “compromise.” For them, the word “compromise” means that nobody will get what they want and everyone will “lose.” Being a brick wall, however, and saying “no” to everything your partner suggests, ensures that nobody will get what they want and need. If you want to get what you need, and some of what you want, you need to get your partner to start saying “yes;” the only way to do that is to start saying “yes” to the parts of their argument that you believe are reasonable.

Conflict helps couples to learn more about one another, and to learn what is important to each other. It makes no difference how often you disagree, or even get downright angry during conflict. Successful couples have disagreements and arguments just as unsuccessful couples do; the difference is that happy, successful couples are simply able to repair the damage they inflict upon each other and to their relationship. Thirty one percent of the arguments that couples have can be resolved, at least in theory; to resolve these “situational” problems, the couple must be able to compromise. If one partner habitually gives in whenever conflict arises, eventually, they will become resentful. Resentment builds and takes a toll on the person who carries it. Malachy McCourt said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Anger can be a “sticky” emotion that attracts more anger; as a snowball rolling down a hill gets bigger. Both partners need to give in and both partners must get what they need. Accepting influence from one another must be a two-way street.

The Gottman method has given us a wonderful tool called the “Compromise Circles.” Picture a bagel shape, a big circle with a smaller circle inside. Each partner has a sheet of paper with a big circle and a smaller circle inside it. The couple works individually with the circles, starting with the small circle. Inside the small circle, each person writes down their core needs; the ones about which they are not willing to negotiate. Writing down basic needs first ensures that neither partner gives up on something that they absolutely must have — their core needs.

Then, in the larger circle, the partners write down the things about which they are willing to negotiate. This is usually the “who, what, when and how” parts of the issue. Ideally, there will be many things in the outer circle and comparatively few in the smaller circle. Once both partners have filled out both circles, they talk about what they have written. The goal is to understand one another more completely, not to resolve the problem.

Couples take turns answering and asking the following questions:

  1. What do we agree about?
  2. What feelings do we have in common?
  3. What common goals do we have?
  4. How can we accomplish these goals?
  5. What is a compromise that honors both of our needs and dreams?

If you and your partner have difficulty filling in the outer circle with areas of flexibility, it is likely that you and your partner are struggling with a perpetual problem; one of the 69 percent of problems that cannot be solved. If this is happening, avoid the temptation to try to convince your partner that you are right and they are wrong. Perpetual problems have no “solutions” because you will both continue to believe that you are right, because both of you are right. There are many right ways to do almost everything. Eventually, you will become gridlocked and the problem will become something that you stop, even trying, to discuss. Don’t go there! 

Subscribe Today
Community Partners Directory
Find a Complimentary Copy
Community Calendar