If you really think about it, this kind of seems like The Big Issue. How do we strike the balance between being hyper-critical and turning into the human equivalent of a door mat? If you ask yourself this on a (semi) daily basis, you’re not alone. Couples everywhere are wondering the same thing - to their therapists.
According to relationship counselor Leon Seltzer, there are certain circumstances that shine a brighter spotlight on this age-old dilemma:
- When considering the best ways to bring up children (sort of a big one)
- Verbal and physical expressions of affection (including sex, which can get tricky)
- Who is responsible for which domestic tasks (cough gatekeeping cough)
- What your goals and aspirations as a couple should be (pretty important)
So if you and your partner are smooth sailing, and then suddenly you’re not - remember that these circumstances could be turning up the pressure. Seltzer says after his years of research and thousands of sessions, he’s found the cure.
Ask yourself: Does this compromise go against my priorities and values?
Sounds simple, but the execution can get tricky. Here are a couple of examples:
Exhibit A: You haven’t seen a movie together in ages. You want to see the new Marvel in theatres and your partner wants to see a new documentary about Poland. You could take this opportunity to dig your heels in and say something along the lines of “All you ever want to watch is documentaries!” but we’d advise against it. The compromise doesn’t require you to fold on your values or identity. Why don’t you flip a coin? Or whoever chooses this one relinquishes remote privileges for a week? There are lots of ways to diffuse this without a blowout.
Exhibit B: For the last 6 years, you both have enjoyed the hustle and bustle of big city life. But as you reach your mid-30’s, they start to drop hints about “relocating” and “moving to the ‘burbs.” For a while you thought they were joking but they aren’t. When you approach the topic directly, they said they assumed you’d always move to the suburbs when you were ready to have kids. You told them you expected kids to fit into the city lifestyle, not the other way around. To compromise would require you to forfeit a core part of your identity, so it would be something worthy of confrontation, lengthy discussion, and reaching a new solution.
There’s a distinct difference here. Too often we get our wires crossed and have blowout fights about tiny details or lite discussion on heavy topics. And if you notice yourself making 'big deals' about 'small things' more and more often, ask yourself if it is connected to something bigger. Are you upset about something larger (but find it easier to project on a smaller behavior or action)? But always lead with the cardinal rule: Does this compromise go against my priorities and values?