HOW TO COMPROMISE IN A RELATIONSHIP TO GET WHAT YOU WANT
This is a story about why my equal relationship failed. And how we compromised in the relationship to make it work.
When I first started seeing my boyfriend Damien, I was adamant on everything being split evenly. I am an independent 21st century woman – of course everything would be equally shared.
Meals were split 50:50.
House and living costs 50:50.
Chores and tasks 50:50.
Love and affection 50:50.
I was meticulous about it and kept a running tab in our head. This naturally continued when we moved in together and for 2 years into the relationship.
We kept receipts, we created a chore chart, we scheduled in affection. We even mulled over whether I should pay for the toilet paper (I used more than he did). We negotiated over simple household items that we wanted – a simple vase warranted a table discussion.
Everything we could divide evenly was divided. This was how modern relationships worked we thought.
No compromises. No unfairness. No giving a person some slack.
Then something really weird started happening.
We started hating each other
We started picking at each other about the smallest things. He didn’t clean the house as well as I did. I didn’t take out the rubbish as often as he did. I spent more time with friends, he went on more holidays. We kept a running tab of every single tiny thing that was uneven and we’d bicker about it. Sometimes, it’d get so bad that we’d have a huge fight about buying extra ice cream or a simple glass of wine.
We fought like children and it went on for hours.
The final straw was the fight we had after dinner with my 12 year old sister.
Damien and I decided to share a meal and my sister ordered her own. When the food came, my sister decided she didn’t like hers so I offered her some of ours. Damien then got very upset about having to share and I then reacted by getting really mad.
How dare he – my sister could eat as much food as she wants. In my household growing up, food was always freely shared – you ate whatever you wanted, however much you wanted, whenever you wanted. In Damien’s effort to try to make things equal, he couldn’t be generous with my own sister and I was furious – it wasn’t like we couldn’t afford more food, we just decided to share because we weren’t that hungry.
That night we fought. At 4am in the morning, Damien finally declared, “This doesn’t feel right, something needs to change”.
We were both intensely frustrated. We were good people for god’s sake. We were bringing out the worst in each other and we had no idea how to make it stop. How much longer could we go without this tearing us apart.
We needed to find a solution.
How would we change our relationship? What were we supposed to do?
Were we supposed to adopt traditional roles again?
There was no memo on how to have a modern relationship that felt fair.
We needed to figure out how to compromise so that the relationship wasn’t exhausting.
To start finding answers, I naturally looked at my friends and their relationships. I quickly learnt that we weren’t different to other couples at all – all couples have experience with seeking equality – some do terrifically well and some horribly.
Melanie’s ex boyfriend wanted her to pay more because she was happier at her job than he was. He was adamant that there should be a ‘happiness tax’ since he was miserable at his job (but wouldn’t do anything to change his circumstances). She broke up with him when she realised they were vastly different people.
My friend Brett had a girlfriend that earned more than he did. He was fine with it but she expected him to make more and be her equal even though he was happy where he was. He was earning over 100K a year but it wasn’t enough for her. They broke up when he wasn’t willing to sacrifice his lifestyle for the sake of money.
Mariam earns less than her boyfriend so when they moved in together, they agreed on contributing a percentage to the household that was based on their income. This meant that since Mariam’s boyfriend earned more than she did, he pays more for the household. This allowed the financial load to be even on both sides. It also allowed her to have a healthy savings and travel whenever she wanted.
Ok so it was clear we needed to find our own way
We started to look into what our needs were in the relationship and work backwards from that.
We started discussing personal needs as opposed to societal expectations.
We asked the question “What Would Feel Fair In This Relationship?”
It was only our own perceived fairness that we really cared about.
We came up with 3 area that MUST be equal:
#1 – Both opinions matter equally – I have seen relationships where there were different expectations for women and men. Men could get mistresses and women should take care of children for example. I have intense hatred for any gender equality imbalance. I also have intense hatred for relationships where one person has financial control. If a relationship is a team, 2 people have a role to play. To behave like one role is more important than another creates a power disparity that I’m just not ok with.
With this in mind we agreed that:
- My views are not more important than his and vice versa.
- There must be equality in decision making and both parties must be on board.
- Freedom in the relationship apply to both of us equally, no gender/income/societal specific rules.
- Space is given for each person to make their own decisions without micromanaging.
- Each person’s role is respected equally regardless of income.
- Income should be shared freely and not controlled by one party.
- Each person’s wishes around how income should be acquired, spent and shared should be taken into account.
#2 – Both parties have room to grow – I started dating Damien when I was very young – just 20. At that age, I didn’t know myself at all. Back then I hiked, I went to gym, I partnered in his business – all the things Damien liked doing. Then one day I realised I didn’t like doing a lot of these things and went through a bit of a crisis. If I weren’t allowed to change my mind and find my own hobbies, my relationship would never have survived. There have been countless times in our relationship where we have fallen down, had epiphanies, decided something no longer worked and even decided to go back to what we were previously doing. Having the freedom to do all that has allowed a lot of growth. I can’t imagine relationships surviving otherwise and I couldn’t imagine being in a relationship that didn’t have room for this.
In essence, this area comes down to respect.
- Our weaknesses are supported and space is freely given for each person’s change/growth.
- Each person has a right to want different things and seek new goals.
#3 – Strive for fairness as a team – I say strive because I want this to be more of an intention than an expectation. There will be times when one of us will be sick, emotionally or physically. However over time – weeks, months, years – we should strive for fairness and communicate if the relationship no longer feels fair. The purpose of the relationship is to seek and have support when you need it.
This must be in the back of our minds, otherwise we’ll create resentment.
- Orgasms, chores, work, affection, relaxation etc should all be somewhat fair.
- Sure there will be times when one of us is struggling and the other person will support by picking up the slack but over time, this should equalise because we’re both a team.
Once we decided on what must always be fair in the relationship, we compromised on what we should change:
We made a list of things that didn’t feel fair and started communicating:
#1 – It made Damien happy to have a nice things like a million dollar apartment and a european car. personally hate shopping and would be perfectly satisfied with a decent house and home. It didn’t feel fair for me to pay extra for the lifestyle he wanted.
Our Question: Should he pay more for the privilege?
Our Solution: I paid what I normally would for a decent apartment and Damien covered the difference.
#2 – I do a better job with cleaning than Damien. I’m the type of person that walks into a room and instantly sees what’s dirty/messy. It didn’t feel fair to him that I’m critical of his cleaning. To him he does a great job.
Our Question: Should I take on the cleaning role because it matters to me more?
Our Solution:I take on the responsibility of the household chores and if I cannot, I work on my tendency to micromanage Damien’s cleaning.
#3 – The 2nd bedroom in apartment is Damien’s office. It’s his place to hide out. It didn’t feel fair to me that he has an extra room to hide out and work.
Our Question: Should he pay more for the bedroom usage?
#4 – I enjoy giving a lot of affection naturally. I’m the type of person that craves touch so I will play with Damien’s hair, massage him or scratch his beard. I often don’t even realise I’m doing it and he loves it. I feel like it’s not fair that I don’t get the same kind of affection
Our Question: Should he be expected to give me the same level of affection even if it’s not natural to him?
Our Solution: No he shouldn’t be expected to love the way I do. . I know Damien loves me and I know he shows it by doing things for me or telling me how much he cares. If I want love in a particular way, I need to learn to ask for it.
#5 – It makes Damien happy to buy the latest tech gadgets and whatever else that excites him like a little schoolgirl. His eyes get wide open when he talks about it and he jumps up and down about how awesome his new toy is. It doesn’t feel fair to him to have to run small purchases by me as it takes away from his excitement.
Our Question: Shouldn’t he have that without needing to run all expenses by me?
Our Solution:Yes he should, as long as it’s not a large expense. I love seeing him happy with his new toy and I don’t want to be a financial gatekeeper.
#6 – It makes me happy to travel instead of spending all my money on home. The only goal I’ve ever really had was to live in many different places and experience life. It doesn’t feel fair to me to stay in Sydney.
Our Question: Shouldn’t I be able to have that?
Our Solution: Work on taking the business online so we can become digital nomads where our income is not dependent on being somewhere in particular. (We made the move and we now live overseas!).
#7 – I don’t enjoy working for income. I’d rather do things I love without the pressure of making money. I want to do things I love (like starting this blog). This one wasn’t so much about fairness as it was about happiness. I only want to do things because I’m passionate about it.
Our Question: How can I have that?
Our Solution: Let’s move to Bali! (we halved our normal costs and increased our lifestyle).
#8 – I would love to learn to cook. My father is an amazing cook and he shows his love through food. I would love to learn to cook but Damien HATES doing dishes. It wouldn’t feel fair for me to cook and clean. This would make me feel a gender inequality (as in being a traditional housewife) that I’m not ok with.
Our Question: How can I learn to cook?
Our Solution: Hire a housekeeper if it’s really important to me.
Once we started implementing, something amazing happened:
We were fulfilling each other’s needs
We started freely communicating our needs, even if it felt threatening to say or hear.
We started to breathe again.
The house was no longer a cold war zone.
Our stress levels decreased, we started falling in love with each other again.
Gosh it felt good to start becoming a team. We weren’t opponents, we were teammates conquering the world together. It felt mighty good.
Damien started talking about how he enjoys financially taking care of us because he likes feeling needed; being useful is integral to his worth in the relationship. However, he said he would feel taken advantage of if there wasn’t love readily available in the house when he got home from battle he calls it (work). Also it was important to him that I was engaging in hobbies that made me happy. He loves seeing me excited and alive when I’m creating a new project and he would hate to see me do nothing all day.
I then started talking about how I’d love to no longer have to worry about income and do things just because I enjoy it but I have real pain around feeling indebted. I have had ex boyfriends do nice things for me when I was younger and suddenly declare that somehow I owed them. This was a huge reason I’ve pushed for things to be 50:50 as an adult. I explained how hurt I was when I realised that these favours came with a contract that I never signed. I became worried about boyfriends doing me favours after that and stopped wanting to be taken care of.
Discussions like these allowed us to convey needs, relieve insecurities and reignite intimacy.
All of a sudden:
- There was room for nice. We weren’t picking on each other for things to be exactly fair
- There was room for appreciation. Impromptu flowers became common and nice to have. We thanked each other often and showed love.
- There was room to grow. When I wanted to take some time off from work to find my purpose, we were able to have a discussion on how I could contribute to the relationship non-financially that would feel fair to Damien.
- There was room for generosity. We could suddenly help each other without keeping tabs. If we had a stressful day/week, it was allowed. Both of us could pick up each other’s slack knowing we’re a team.
- There was room to allow. We stopped pushing each other to do things they didn’t want to do.
On a typical day nowadays:
Damien will gladly get food for me if I’m focused on writing (and make sure he remembers to give me the fork so I don’t have to get up).
Or I will gladly massage him if he’s had a stressful day.
Or he might jump up and down excited to show off some new toy he’s bought expecting me to be excited with him (I try to show excitement).
Or we might give each other space if we want alone time.
Or he might buy me flowers just because.
Or he might suggest we move to Bali because it means so much to me (we’ve lived here for many months).
Or he might talk about collectively spending money on things that matter to me – like family and friends.
None of this was freely available before.
Damien and I finally found a good equilibrium based on our individual needs. We don’t always get it right. Sometimes the fairness scale tips too far one way or the other and we desperately look for things to be fair. Sometimes we get complacent and forget agreements we’ve made to each other. Sometime the agreements we’ve made seem like a good idea at the time but don’t feel right anymore.
That’s ok, it’s a constant learning experience, one that I’m grateful is now a part of my relationship. I can focus on other things knowing that if something is wrong in the relationship, I’ll know about it. We might have murdered each other over a telephone bill otherwise.