A Jewish Matchmaker draws the line between compromise and self-sacrifice…

When it comes to relationships, the give-and-take of compromise is part of a healthy dynamic between partners. It’s impossible for the two of you to have the same viewpoint on every decision that needs to be made, so inevitably, the diplomatic art of compromise will be required. If your relationship doesn’t consist of compromise, odds are there is a dysfunctional imbalance at play with one person usually getting his/her “way” and the other person usually “caving”. This might be an effective way to keep the peace with a controlling partner, but it’s not healthy and ultimately leads to resentment and dissatisfaction.

If your personal boundaries are weak or you’re a “people pleaser” and often stifle your own needs in an effort to please others, compromise can quickly escalate into self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice has no long-term, beneficial place in a healthy relationship. Unfortunately, it’s precisely those who need to understand the distinction between the two who most often struggle with recognizing the difference.

If you’re in a relationship where you feel you are doing all of the compromising or one in which you feel that you have to change yourself or your beliefs in order to satisfy your partner, it may be time to determine if you’ve crossed the line into self-sacrifice. It’s not difficult to spot the differences between the two once you know what to look for. Ask yourself the following questions and you’ll have a better grasp of what is happening in your relationship and whether or not your efforts at compromise are actually self-sacrificing behaviors which are denying and stifling your own happiness and well-being.

Am I compromising my morals, ethics, or integrity? If the compromise means that you have to do something that goes against your personal standard of morals, ethics, integrity, or beliefs, it has crossed the line into self-sacrifice. An example of this could be your partner demanding that you drive home after a shared evening of drinking and dining. If drinking and driving goes against your personal mode of conduct, and your partner insists on one of you driving while intoxicated, this is not the time to compromise. If your partner pushes you to engage in any act which is uncomfortable to you and tramples over rules of conduct/behavior that are important to you, it shows a disregard for your personal boundaries, and should not be tolerated.

Does this compromise only benefit me or my partner, or does it benefit the relationship? A key question to ask when in doubt about whether you are compromising or self-sacrificing is to view the outcome through a filter of who benefits by the compromise: you, your partner, or both of you? Major decisions should ultimately benefit the relationship, which in turn, benefits the both of you, and although deciding which movie to see might not seem to have a direct effect on your coupledom, if every time you suggest a movie your suggestion is shot-down, the effect on your self-esteem and feelings of being “dismissed” will eventually compromise the happiness of the union.

Is there reciprocity? The dictionary definition of self-sacrifice is, “The giving up of one’s own interests or wishes in order to help others or to advance a cause.” Compromise, on the other hand, is defined as, “An agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.” Over the long-term course of a relationship, there will be times when you “give up” more, and times when your partner “gives up” more. A healthy relationship reflects a balanced ratio of the two. If you look back over your relationship and can see a definite pattern of one person acquiescing more than the other, you’ve probably crossed into self-sacrifice. When two people genuinely love each other, they each want to to see the other happy and to share in that happiness, the natural outcome of that love will be balance.

Does the compromise negate my needs?
Does the decision reached assume that your partner’s needs are more important than yours? The needs of both of you should be given equal weight. Given this, there will be times when the outcome of a decision means more to one person than it means to the other. Dr. Michael Hurd suggests you ask this question, “Is it more important for my partner to do such-and-such than it is for me not to?” If so, then let the decision fall on the side of the partner who is more strongly affected, but don’t use this as an excuse to always relinquish your desires.

Am I giving up my dreams? This can be a tricky one because what if your dream is to live on the west coast, but your partner was just offered a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity in New York City? Do you give up your dream? In this case, it’s best to look at the broader picture. Yes, part of your dream is to live on the west coast, but having children and raising a family with someone you love is also part of your dream and this new job might be a great boost to that part of your dream. A possible compromise would be the decision to take the job in NYC, but with the understanding that when it’s time to make another career decision, opportunities on the west coast will be explored first. Not all dreams can be realized at once; look at the big picture to see where various dreams fit. If, however, your partner shows no interest in your dreams or sharing in them, giving them up is not compromise – it’s self-sacrifice.

How do I feel? Ultimately, whatever decision is reached should feel good and satisfying to BOTH of you. If you experience lowered self-esteem, a feeling of your needs being ignored or dismissed, or see a general lack of concern from your partner regarding what you want out of life and the relationship, compromising your needs is not going to make things better. Don’t ever ignore your feelings, they are the best mirror for getting to know who are you and what is important to you. Make it a point to connect with them, and ultimately, yourself.

When we love someone, we want to make them happy, so we often relinquish our first choice to accommodate the preference of our partner. Seeing our partner happy makes us happy too. There is nothing wrong with this, but if you are consistently putting your own needs on the back-burner it can be a sign that you lack self-love, which is at least as important as the love you have for someone else. If you habitually deny your own needs and put the happiness of someone else above them, this is not healthy love and you may be in the relationship out of an unacknowledged fear rather than a deep and long-lasting affection. Both affection and compromise should be mutual and mutually beneficial.