In my experience, truly successful relationships are marked by commitment.
Trite words, I guess. But what does the term “commitment” really mean in practice.
As Jean-Paul Satre observed wisely, “Commitment is an act, not a word.”
So, what action is required of you – what do you need to do when you’re in – or want to be in – a committed relationship?
I think the ability to compromise is the hallmark of a truly committed relationship. That means the ability to put aside self-interest and do whatever needs to be done for the good of your relationship as a whole – for what is best for both of you.
This is often taken to mean you must always put your partner’s wishes, desires, needs etc… ahead of your own. And that is okay to an extent – but only to an extent.
So often, we see the compromise equation get way out of balance, as your partner’s interests begin to dominate, at the expense of your own. Yes, we see the boundaries of what is reasonable being well and truly pushed.
One of my more disastrous relationships that I have mentioned in previous articles provides such good examples of what I am talking about – that is, how one partner’s choices can affect and, ultimately destroy, what you once saw and treasured as a committed relationship.
You may recall my description of his completely self-possessed and narcissistic approach to our relationship, which led eventually to his wishes being completely paramount to mine.
For example, he even demanded that my wedding dress must match HIS suit!! Yeah, you can guess where that all ended!! Disaster!
And another example from that relationship was his complete breach of a promise we made to one another early on that we would emigrate from the UK to the USA – a promise he ignored because it wasn’t in the best interests of his (now failed) business.
Of course, it didn’t start that way. Early in our relationship he was – or, more accurately, I thought he was – everything I could want in a man. Oh, how wrong I was! The man I thought was my “soul mate” became my “cell mate”. In fact, he became my jailer. The compromises he demanded of me were so far beyond reasonable that it became an absolute joke.
So, what does reasonable compromise look like in the context of a relationship?
I see it as working as a team – with shared goals, rules and boundaries. Otherwise, you’re not on the same page, and frustration will creep into your partnership. And in that case, you can kiss goodbye to whatever your plans for a future together might have been – whether it’s marriage, starting a family, whatever… That sort of imbalance destroys relationships.
And that doesn’t even take into account the damage that such an imbalance can do to you personally. Trust me, as I found to my significant cost with the control freak I mentioned above. That experience shattered my confidence. It was completely soul-destroying that someone I thought truly loved me was capable of causing me such damage and pain – and all for his own self-interest.
I guess that’s the hardest part of a relationship that fails because of the inability or unwillingness of one partner to compromise – the fact that your love has been sacrificed at the altar of his self-interest. And along with that love goes all your dreams.
So what can you do if you find your partner’s choices are affecting your relationship, and you of course, so badly.
Well, first, you must try to let the hurt and frustration wash over you. Don’t let it eat away at and demoralise you. Remember, as I said in an earlier article, the issue is with your partner, not with you.
Second, you must be sure to act immediately. Don’t give the situation time to fester and destroy your relationship and, ultimately, damage you. Don’t fall for the old excuses we so often make for our partner’s failings – you know the ones like “he’s tired & busy at work, he’s not normally like that”; and “he really loves me and this is just a stage he’s going through”; and so on. Seriously, the sooner you nip the situation in the bud, the greater is your chance of saving the relationship or, as I did, making the right decision to leave the selfish bastard.
When I say it’s important to act immediately to deal with the situation, I don’t necessarily mean you should walk away from the relationship – although ultimately that may be the best option. It’s probably worthwhile having a conversation with your partner first. Tell him in no uncertain terms how his selfishness makes you feel.
And always remember that compromise is the close bed-fellow of communication – you really cannot have one without the other. If you are unable to communicate, your relationship is doomed and it is better to move on. So, work at your communication skills – and your partner’s also. It is very important to be able to have a conversation without anger and frustration surfacing. In order to achieve that, you need to approach whatever the issues are with a calm mind; try to look at the issues from your own perspective as well as your partner’s; and then put your considered position forward clearly and assertively.
Of course, not all issues can be compromised on. Whether or not to start a family is a common big-ticket issue in relationships. If you want kids, & he doesn’t, then you are going to have a very unsatisfying life with him. So maybe the better option is to move on.
But with other things, try to find some middle-ground. For example, if the issue is where to go on holiday, and you like the sun & he likes skiing – perhaps you can agree to hit the slopes but only if you can buy that really expensive ski suit you’ve always wanted!! See, there is an up-side to compromise!
Of course, some things aren’t as easy as that to compromise on. There are occasions where you will have a real fight on your hands.
In that case, try to understand each other’s positions – look at it from both perspectives. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and see why their choices are so important to him. Ask him whether he considered your preferences in the course of making his decision.
Be prepared to listen.
And be prepared to be told some home-truths about how he sees your approach to the relationship. Be warned, you may be in for a surprise or two – even some painful points of view you had never realised before about how he sees your relationship. But hey, that’s the art of communication and compromise in a committed relationship. Oh, and the make-up sex is always the best sex in my experience.
Once you have heard his views, hold back on any anger – take some time is necessary – and create some space by perhaps going for a walk before continuing the discussion. Then try to decide whether the issue is one you can compromise on. If you can – fine. If you can’t, and your partner cannot or will not budge either, then it’s a sure indication that it’s their way or the highway. In that case, it may be time to accept your dreams have changed and/or leave him.
Honesty is very important in these situations. You need to be straight and tell him whether or not you can move forward with the relationship in the relevant circumstances. Make it clear that there are boundaries beyond which you cannot go; that you have reached such a boundary; and that unless things change, the relationship is over.
Trust me, waiting around in the forlorn hope he will change his ways of his own accord is both heart breaking and self-defeating. He won’t.
You also need to be clear in your own mind how far you are prepared to compromise. If the issue is a deal-breaker like whether or not to have kids, you need to be prepared to move on.
And if it has happened more than once, you really need to take a step back, take some time out and ask yourself seriously how you will feel always putting his happiness before your own.
In this context I always think of the briefings they give you on flights – you know the one – “in the case of an emergency and you need oxygen, make sure you use the masks provided for yourself first before helping others”. This is true of relationships also. Just as you are no good to anyone if you lose consciousness trying to fit the mask to your child – so it is if you don’t look after yourself in a relationship – it’s doomed anyway.