I certainly can’t profess to be an expert in relationships – I’m sure that’s something that most of my readers can agree upon! It doesn’t mean that I haven’t thought about them of course, and some of my thoughts will follow here. Throughout my life I’ve been told that strong relationships are all about knowing when to bend, so that the whole thing doesn’t break. I’ve been thinking a little about this lately, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to express my qualified disagreement to you all. Don’t get me wrong here. There are times when compromise is necessary, even compulsory, but I’m not sure it’s often discussed when these times are and how we can recognise them.
Compromise is important. If we’re talking about what kind of take-away to get this week. But on important matters, compromise is a slippery slope to trouble. To me, if you’re constantly compromising, you’re doing it to keep the peace. And keeping the peace ultimately comes at the price of your own happiness. I’m certain that two people who truly love each other wouldn’t want the long term consequence of this for each other. Far more lasting qualities of a healthy relationship are authenticity and challenge. To me, being authentic is acting consistently in accordance with your values. I’ll come back to challenge later on.
So what happens when your values are compromised or questioned? Let me give you an example. Very early last year I went on a few dates with a girl who I met through a mutual friend. As someone who had at that point been a teacher for fifteen years, you can probably guess that I value learning. While I was already out of love with my job at that point (not necessarily the profession), I still believed in the value of school for all kids. It might not always be about long division and conjugating verbs, but I believe in the value of school. So I was having a casual chat with this woman and she was discussing something about her daughter and school the following week and possibly missing a day or two. Because, apparently, “they don’t really do anything important there anyway.” Now of course she is entitled to her opinion, no matter how silly I think it is. Because that’s just my opinion. But if I had stood there and listened to it, accepted it and continued the relationship, then I would have been compromising my values. And there is no way I’m going to do that.
This is where challenge comes in. If your friend, or partner, or let’s face it, even your boss, asks you to accept something that goes against your values, you are within your rights to challenge it. Now, the school comment mentioned above was just one in a long line of things, so I chose not to pursue the challenge in that case, nor the relationship for that matter. So here I’ll mention something else. In fact, it has been the growth I have seen in myself over the past year that has allowed me to see the value in challenge. My partner during this time has an incredible way of challenging my thinking about things that never brings my values into question. Just by providing me with a different perspective and asking me to think about things in different ways, she has created immense space for me to grow. And now that space is open, there’s definitely no shutting it down! This isn’t about being right or wrong, it’s about being open to perceive the world in new ways.
I can’t say I’ll never get myself in a situation again where my values are brought into question. We all make mistakes. But being aware of where I’m prepared to draw the line and say my piece is something I hold dear. I might have known about it before. I certainly knew what my values are on a subconscious level. But perhaps I wasn’t quite aware enough to stand up for what I believe in, what I value. Or maybe I was working under the assumption that pretty much everyone has similar values. Either way, now I’ve been opened up to the power of authenticity and challenge, and their central place in a healthy relationship, I won’t be stepping back. The truth is, it’s become one of my big drivers, and why I’ve become so determined about a great many things, even in the face of many people thinking I’m wrong.
So… given we had pizza last week, could we have Thai tonight? That seems like a reasonable compromise.