My friend, who always asks poignant timely questions, requested her facebook friends weigh in on our definitions of compromise. It’s been my experience that whenever you’re questioning compromise, you’re grappling with the core values of your life. I instinctively responded to her post, “Giving in without giving up yourself in the process.”
Several responses later my friend interjected into the threaded discussion, “If you don’t compromise, does it mean you are selfish deep down?”
My answer: “I think it means you know your limits.” But then I got to thinking: Do any of us really know our limits? Are there limits with the ones we love?
I used to look at the concept of compromise as a dirty, ugly word – a slightly less offensive version of its evil twin: settling. If you are agreeing to less than you imagined, how can compromise be anything but settling? Working out your daily life, constantly, with someone else can illuminate the difference.
There are one-million-and-a-half things my husband and I have compromised on (probably more). Things like where we will eat and how we spend our time together to summer travel and what the future might look like. I think what did me in from the start was the false expectation that the man of my dreams would always wake up and see the world the way I saw it. Don’t get me wrong, we’re both pretty clear that the sky is blue, but there have been days where it felt like that may be all we agreed upon. A nice dose of reality during our dating years led me to the realization that always looking out and seeing the same thing was not going to happen. However, I did learn to embrace the virtue of being gifted another way to see the world. Which gave me another way to begin to see myself.
Laughing over breakfast today, I realized my husband and I have grown to understand each other’s differences so well that we’ve incorporated each other’s ways of seeing into an expanded version of our own. That has come with time and articulated willingness, but it has come. That’s a compromise that has increased my understanding and the value I place on differences; I’m a larger person for the compromise, not smaller. Does the compromise you’re making lead you to be a better version of you or does it leave you feeling like less? It’s only settling if you are somehow less.
In marriage and life, we all have expectations born of our hopes. Sometimes… er… many times… our expectations aren’t met with the attainment we long for. There are times where our expectations are completely disregarded. I think that’s where the fun begins, where we really dig in and begin to meet ourselves. It’s one thing to attempt to live out a narrative you established long ago, quite another to constantly adjust and refine a vision for a life responsive to the shifting currents of change. Who are you if you aren’t going to get what you thought you wanted? Is it possible to compromise and get what you need? Is it settling (or possibly genius) to appreciate what you have instead of mourning what you lost (or possibly never had)?
Along with our expectations, we have limits. There’s only so much we can change and let go of before we aren’t being true to ourselves. That means the ones we love might get shut down at some point. (I happen to think that’s okay, because you can’t be someone you’re not and be satisfied with it for long.) Being resistant to change, however, I sheepishly admit my limits have been pushed and expanded beyond what I thought possible, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the person who has emerged. I have stubbornly had to learn that testing those limits is not the frustrating byproduct of living with and loving others – it’s the point.
Knowing your limits, though, isn’t a bad thing, and compromise doesn’t have to be a dirty word. More often than settling, I’ve found compromise means moving to a middle ground where you get to see the world in a whole new way. The ones we love test our limits the most, but if we didn’t love them we wouldn’t bother with their vision of things. So maybe that love we practice means experimenting with what we can live with and what we can’t live without.
Married or not, the only person who can determine the difference between compromise and settling is you. Married or not, the only limits you have are the ones you set for yourself.
Jeanine Tegano Collins is a dreamer and lover of all things impossible and magical… sometimes making the normalcies of day-to-day life less than enthralling. Thankfully, she has a loving husband who reminds her of the virtues of reality. To understand the space between the fairy tale and reality – of life and marriage – she writes. When she’s not writing, Jeanine is busy dancing with her high school students. Check back every Monday for life after the honeymoon and follow Jeanine on twitter or friend her on facebook.