Why & how to compromise more in relationships

In this podcast (episode #476) and blog, I talk about how to improve your relationship, develop sexual intimacy, and increase your health and longevity through compromise. This is part 3 of my series on love, sex, relationships and wellbeing. 

As I mentioned in parts 1 and 2 of this podcast, relationships can be incredibly challenging at times. But they are also incredibly rewarding and can have a beneficial effect on our mind, brain and body health, right down to the level of our telomeres, and can contribute to better longevity. 

In every relationship, compromise is incredibly important. I am sure you have heard this before: relationships are about giving and taking. However, it is important to actually know what this means for you and your partner: what compromise looks like for your relationship, what your boundaries are, how to respond when “giving and taking” goes too far, and what to do to improve how you communicate your need for compromise. 

Below are some tips to help you navigate these questions in your relationship as you work on communicating and compromising better and strengthening your connection to your loved one: 

A) Be intentional—don’t just live from crisis to crisis, or fight to fight. Take the time to work on your relationship when times are good, not just when you are at a crossroads or are fighting. Being intentional is about bringing commitment, focus, and attention to something important to you. If your relationship is important to you, and you want to not only make it last, but also make it stronger, then taking the time to work on and improve how you communicate is key. 

B) Compromise is not a one-way street. If one partner is constantly compromising while the other refuses to do so, this will not only damage the relationship but also have a huge mental toll on the person doing the compromising. If you feel like this is something that is happening in your relationship, don’t suppress how you feel. Let the other person know that this is impacting you. Then take the time to work out what compromise means for you and your partner and what this will look like in your relationship. Really take the time to listen to each other's needs and wants; for a relationship to be successful, everyone involved needs to try to understand the other person and the reason they want something a certain way. 

To this end, I recommend doing a Neurocycle when you are in the midst of a relationship issue or when you and your partner are at a “fork in the road” moment. This is the scientific mind-management process I have developed and researched over the past three decades, and is based on the way the mind and brain function, build thoughts and memory, and process life experiences, which I discuss in my latest book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and app Neurocycle

The 5 steps of this process are designed to help you and your partner process your feelings and experiences, individually, as a couple, or both (which is what I recommend, because saving a relationship takes both individual effort and work as a couple, as mentioned above) before they permanently affect your relationship.  

The 5 steps are:  

1. Gather awareness of how you feel mentally and physically. 

In this gather step, you are gathering awareness of your emotional and physical warning signals, behaviors and perspective/attitude. It’s a bit like gathering apples into a basket versus letting them all fall on your head and knock you out—the apples being all these signals.

Here is how you can do this together:  

Both close your eyes and gather awareness of your physical warning signals: 

Are you feeling any pain or discomfort in your body? Your stomach? Your head? Your heart? How does it feel? Explore these sensations, don’t try to ignore them. Is it a sharp stabbing pain? Do you feel “woozy” or nauseous? Do you feel your heart rate dropping? Do you have a headache or migraine? 

Now gather awareness of your emotional warning signals:  

How are you feeling emotionally and mentally - are you feeling anxious? Angry? Sad? Reactive? Depressed? Annoyed? Fearful? How intense are these emotions?

Now gather awareness of your behaviors:  

What are you doing and saying? How are you saying things? What’s your tone of voice and body language? Are you using too many “you’s” instead of “I’s”? Are you using strong adjectives like “always” and “never”? Are you interjecting and not letting the other person talk? Are you really listening and trying to see things from their point of view? 

Now gather awareness of your perspective/attitude: 

What do you feel about the situation? How do you see what is happening or what happened? How do you view your partner? 

In this step, allow yourself time to feel. Validate your feelings, don’t run away from them! 

2. Reflect on how you feel. Why do you think you feel this way?   

Why do you think you feel the way you do?

What has happened recently? What has happened in the past?

Have you been suppressing or ignoring anything? Are you trying to avoid anything?

What triggered you? Be as specific as possible.

Where is all of this coming from?

What prior experiences are you bringing to this situation that could be making it worse?

How would you advise someone else to respond in this situation?

How did you overcome past challenges in your relationship?

What would you like to see in the future? How do you imagine your relationship? 

How do you define compromise? What kind of compromises are you looking for? 

You can do this in about a minute or less, because you don't need too much information—you don’t need to find all the answers right now! Allow yourself to be curious with your emotions and feelings. What you are feeling is valid, but may not be true, so question everything.

3. Write down your reflections to help organize your thinking. If you must defuse a tense situation and manage it in the moment, you can do this step mentally by visualizing and having an ask/answer/discuss conversation with yourself based on what you reflected in step 2 in your head. Visualizing “writes” genetically in the brain. Just write yourself a note to come back to this part when you have more time.

4. Recheck: think about what your thoughts and feelings are trying to tell you. What does it say about how you view the person/situation? What is your antidote—how will you take action to protect your mental health and relationship?  

In this recheck step, you are making more sense of what you have gathered, written and reflected on. So, I want you to go back over what you discussed, wrote down and thought about more deeply, reflecting and analyzing your thoughts and feelings together. Do a mental autopsy; become a detective and look for patterns, triggers and activators. Ask questions like:

What are you noticing about your thoughts and reactions? 

Has anything changed?

How are you planning to proceed?

What kind of compromises can you both make to improve the relationship?

What can you learn from the issue?

How can you reconceptualize this situation? How can you turn the destructive into something constructive?

What silver lining do you see? Can you see a silver lining?

How would you like your relationship to change?

How would you like to change?

5. Do your active reach. This is a thought or action you both need to practice daily to help you reconceptualize what you worked on in the previous steps and improve your relationship.  

What are you going to do to protect your own wellbeing and boundaries? 

What action steps are you both going to take? 

How will you start practicing comprising in the relationship?

Some great action steps here include:

-Talking to someone you trust or a therapist or counselor about the experience and how you feel. This may provide more perspective and help you learn from the experience. You can do this as a couple, individually or both!

- Focusing on what you can both do better next time, and actually write out a plan along the lines of “If this happens…then I will…”.

- Scheduling in time to get to know yourself better. Make self-reflection and self-regulation a habit by taking the time to think about your own thoughts and behavior so you better understand your own wants and needs and how to communicate how you feel. 

- Making argument autopsies a habit! You can even do a Neurocycle to perform an argument autopsy. After an argument, it is always important to analyze why things ended up the way they did. We cannot fix something if we do not know why it “broke” in the first place! Once you are calm, think about how you can learn from the situation and how you can improve your communication and relationship—don’t just “move on” or the same thing can happen again. Use this “autopsy” process as a preventative measure; it is a way to understand how to prevent this kind of argument in the future. It may be helpful to discuss with the other person what can be done in the future to prevent or manage a re-occurrence of the same argument, or to discuss the situation with someone you trust. 

- Making empathy exercises a regular part of your relationships so that when you need to compromise, you can see things from your partner’s perspective.  

C) Know what compromise is and isn’t. Compromise should never involve a sacrifice of your core values, beliefs or needs. Understand where your “line in the sand” is and let your partner know how you feel. This means taking the time to discuss your values, beliefs and differences, as well as what you both are passionate about. 

Of course, you don’t have to agree on everything. The key is to find ways to give each other space to be individuals, while being intentional about creating shared experiences and values that allow you both to connect meaningfully is important in any relationship.   

D) If an issue arises, take the time to work on it—don’t suppress or ignore problems in your relationship. When you find that you and your partner are in a situation where you need to reach a compromise, you should try to determine how important this need is in the long run, and how you are going to work on this together. Have a game plan—don’t just talk about the issue; discuss how you are going to address it, which can help put the problem into perspective. 

E) Don’t fear change. Compromise can lead to contentment when both partners actively try to respect each other and are open to flexibility. If you approach relationships with rigidity, it may stagnate the relationship and lead to more unhappiness. It is important to remember that sometimes compromise looks like taking neither option or blending the options, which requires the willingness to sacrifice and change. 

For more on relationships, sex and the mind, listen to my podcast (episode #476). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).       

You can now also join me on Patreon for exclusive, ad-free content! Sign up for a membership level that suits you, and receive access to ad-free exclusive bonus podcasts!  

This podcast is sponsored by:

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Podcast Highlights 

1:00 Why healthy, supportive relationships are important 

3:20 Sex, love & the mind 

4:45 The power of compromise in a relationship

8:20 Tips to compromise better & improve your sexual intimacy and relationship   

This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional. 

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