Here’s one of the biggest pieces of relationship advice presented in books and websites: To have a great marriage you must learn how to compromise.

So that we’re all on the same page, the dictionary defines compromise as: an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

Sounds great … on paper. But when you get right down to it, in most every marriages, people don’t compromise, they cave.

If you’re working to create a great story in your life and marriage, then central to that goal is resisting the temptation to compromise on things that are most important. Things like your values and your identity.

Put another way—if you’re working towards creating a great life and marriage, should you lower your standards to accomplish it?

And put yet another way, a great life and marriage are the result of a person living from the best in themselves and by defending what’s true and right. This is never about compromise. So if you’re better off not compromising yourself to yourself, you certainly aren’t better off compromising with your spouse.

After all, isn’t your spouse the one person with whom you’re supposed to share what’s true and right? And how can doing what’s truly best for you personally also not be what’s truly best for your marriage?

In case you haven’t figured out, I don’t believe in compromise.

I define compromise as each party going away equally unhappy.

The reason is simple. Most people give in to others as a way to manage their own anxiety and their discomfort with conflict. Or, they give in hoping it will make their spouse happy. The problem is that they’ve just done damage to themselves and the relationship.

Any time either partner walks away from a compromise even a little bit unhappy, they’ve done damage to the relationship.

Why? This sets the stage for unspoken, but expected, reciprocity.

I’m betting you’ve had these same types of thoughts: “I gave in and we went to visit your parents even though I didn’t want to, so I’m expecting some sex to make up for it.” Or, “You played golf on Saturday, so you need to make up for it by helping out more around the house.”

In the classic exchange-based type of relationship, where giving is expected to be returned in kind, you fall victim to keeping score—and no relationship will ever be “fair” or equal with score-keeping.

Instead, the lack of reciprocation creates frustration and disappointment, and these little bricks of disappointment will build up over time and become a wall of resentment.

Photo by visualpanic

Look at it this way: compromising means doing something other than what you know is best. In essence, compromising means not being who you are.

Here’s an example:

When my wife and I are discussing a particular subject, my stance on the subject is either right or wrong.

If I’m right, or at least think I’m right, then my job is to (politely, carefully, kindly—which is everything) state my beliefs and thoughts; it’s important that I not compromise my convictions about the matter.

My wife’s job is to listen and carefully consider what I’ve said. If, having done that, she concludes that in some relevant way the position I’ve taken is wrong or mistaken, she is to (politely, carefully, kindly) tell me what she thinks. Then I am to truly listen to her (as opposed to, say, pouting and walking out of the room or personally attacking her).

Through this back-and-forth process, an elegant, mutually-satisfactory solution arises. And nowhere in this give-and-take was there any compromise.

Instead, what happened (if it was a good discussion) was a time of discovery, consideration, alteration, reassessment, conviction, respect, love, and appreciation.

If I started off wrong, but the discussion now helps me see that I’m wrong, changing my mind to do or think what’s right isn’t a compromise, it’s growing up. It’s the development of wisdom. It’s grace.

Too often, compromising means cheapening yourself; to purposefully weaken your own grip on what you know to be right. And any spouse who would ask you to do that to yourself—and to what you know is best—isn’t working for what’s best for the two of you.

So, the next time you’re tempted to compromise in your marriage, ask yourself this: “Am I acting with love and integrity from the best in me, or merely caving to keep the peace?”

Your turn. Do you think compromise is a good thing?