Friday, January 28, 2011


I read a really interesting article the other day, relating to couples and how they compromise. The article was written by a marriage counselor, and she repeatedly stressed how confused people are about the notion of compromise, particularly in romantic relationships. For example, she pointed out that most couples think that they should always aim to meet in the middle, yet this method doesn't help much when both individuals want vastly different things. (For example, wanting a baby v. not wanting a baby-- you can't have half a baby. Even  relocating gets tricky-- when one spouse is offered an amazing job in California, and the other is offered an amazing job in Georgia, living in Texas isn't much of a compromise.) Nor does it help in an every-day situation when one person wants to go out for dinner, and the other wants to stay home. If person A wants to go out to get away from home, chores, and maybe even the kids, person B's suggestion that they can order in won't seem like much of a compromise to person A.

I could relate-- there have been plenty of times when J and I wanted to do something different, but together, and usually, instead of picking one or the other, we do both. While in theory this means that we both always get what we want, it comes at the expense of our time (often entire weekends). Even though we're usually happy with how the weekend went, we're still left with a dearth of free time to do things we actually want to do.

The article suggested "taking turns" at choosing what to do for a particular night/weekend. However, this would likely often be complicated by the fact that usually our weekends get planned on the fly, and we don't always know when particular friends will be in town. Not that we have to spend all weekend together-- in fact, we do best when we spend a significant portion of the weekend doing different things-- but the vast majority of the time, if I want to spend a Friday or Saturday night with J, one of his friends will want to make plans with him for that exact same time. I have one of two stock reactions: to tell him to go have fun, that I'll hang out with him the next day, or to get mad that he never picks to hang out with me without some guilt-tripping on my part.

Invariably, there's an argument at some point in which I argue that he never chooses me... and he takes that to mean that I was being untruthful when I told him to go have fun. Which isn't true-- if there's anything I can't do, it's pretending that I'm fine with something when I'm not. My face has a tendency to betray even my most slight annoyances, so I truly can't lie and say that I'm okay with something, if in fact I'm annoyed or pissed. Instead, what's much more likely to happen is that I am just fine with him leaving (sometimes I even prefer it), but then become mad when he goes out again the next night, and when I try to hang out with him the following day, he gets mad that he doesn't have time to do all the reading/working out/sleeping that he wants to do.

Ultimately, it seems that most of these arguments comes down to the fact that he sets aside time for everything else in his life (work, working out, doing the dishes, reading, sleeping, friends, the occasional TV show), but doesn't think it necessary to set aside time to spend with me (since I'm usually home when he is). What that usually ends up meaning is that I try to hang out with/ talk to him while he's doing other things, which results in him getting less done than he wanted and feeling frustrated, and me feeling like he doesn't ever have time for me.

Since I read the article on compromise, I've been trying to think of a way to compromise in this particular situation-- and I invariably get stuck.On the one hand, my saying that I don't mind that he's doing a bunch of reading/working out/etc. doesn't mean that I'm okay with having no time set aside for me. (Yet I can see how it could appear that way.) On the other hand, I've trained myself to try and be flexible (read: compromising) so much so that I don't always know how to not try and compromise, even when I realize later that the particular compromise didn't make me happy at all. These facts, coupled with the fact that we've apparently been doing the whole compromising thing wrong all these years, means that it's gotten hard to see the difference between being a doormat and being a steamroller.

In the end, all I want is balance. I want to work, I want to have my own time to read/write/work on schoolwork/etc., I want to spend time with my friends, and I want to spend time with J. It doesn't seem like it should be this hard to get all that sorted out, yet I'm staring at a wall.
Any suggestions? Should this issue (having J set aside time for me) even be up for compromise? How can we make sure to spend some time together while keeping the rest of our lives going? Can there be a good balance when we both work (and he works a lot of hours) and there's only a little time left for the rest of our lives? I'd love to hear some suggestions!


  1. This is certainly at the core of having a working, happy relationship. I really like your observation about the difficulty between balancing, and for that matter interpreting, when one is being a doormat or a steamroller. Go off and I'll stay leaves for the doormat while you're with me no matter what certainly screams of the controlling steamroller.

    While there are many decision points that make each situation unique, following trends in certain types of situations is probably the best way to go. Perhaps sometimes go out together, sometimes stay in together, and sometimes go on your separate ways. Which one is best must be evaluated base on things like what has happened the last couple of times this came up, who all is involved, what the person's day was like or tomorrow will be like, etc. There are many reasons that one action should be taken over another.

    I hate to say it, but maybe the best way to tell what is going on is to keep a journal of it. The part of that which gets me a bit nervous is that auditing what you choose to do with your free time has the potential to ruin that coveted free time, but memories are quite fallible especially when it comes to emotional things such as this.
    Keep a short record of what came up, what resolution (compromise) came out of it, as well as how both of you felt about it. I wouldn't be surprised if what makes the both of you happiest is not something that you would have thought of before looking through this (or else you would have done it already).

  2. Maybe you guys should talk/write all of the things you want to do and the things you need to do. You may see things that overlap (reading) and perhaps can do them together! For example, read the same book and talk about it together. Or maybe he can give suggestions on what to write about and you can talk about your approach together. I think there is a lot of value in understanding each others' separate interests and inspiring each other to be better at them or continue with them.
    Maybe you could start a "tradition" where you make dinner together one night (maybe sunday) and catch up or do an activity you enjoy together. By knowing you have that night together, it might make it easier to hang out with friends on another night of the weekend. Just a thought!
    All I know is relationships take a lot of work and striving for balance will probably always be your struggle and goal. Just know that you aren't alone! Seems to be a common theme between my dating/married friends :)