Back to Kindergarten

July 27, 2014

Compromise was something that I didn’t consider a challenge for me. I believed myself to be a champion compromiser, to be sure. A smoother-over, a feather-unruffler, a furiously efficient enabler, that’s me. I felt like I had made a career of compromise.

Here is the question for me: Is it compromise if one party feels compelled to acquiesce all the time? Or almost all the time? If I think that nothing can run smoothly unless I am willing to tamp down on my wishes and plans in order to allow another to fulfill his (or her) plans, how is that compromise?

When you are part of a young family, compromise is the name of the game. Someone has to be willing to give in. It becomes a sort of a ping pong game, with each person taking a turn getting to be the compromiser or compromisee. And the lesson for kids is invaluable. None of us gets to be the King Decision Maker all the time. It’s give and take. That’s life, get over it. Or as they say in kindergarten, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

Later, when the little chicks have all flown the coop, you become a couple again. Hopefully. And that give and take should be even more simple now. Hopefully. No childish obstinacy to deal with anymore. No unrealistic expectations about how fair life is supposed to be. We’re all grown-ups now. Right?

Maybe some more time in kindergarten boot-camp is called for.

Visualize compromise as a person reaching her hand out across a vast divide. She is leaning forward as far as she is able to go and stretching out her arm and fingers in an attempt to touch the fingers of the other person, who is doing the same thing in order to grasp the hand that is offered. Maybe they are even standing on one leg in order to close a little more of the distance. That is a picture of two people giving their utmost to achieve a common goal.

There may be times when one or the other of the two has an easier time with the stretching and the reaching. One partner may be willing to exert more effort; one partner may have difficulty making an equal effort. That’s how successful long-term relationships work. They are flexible, they ebb and flow, and partners understand the give and take. Some mornings you’re the happy barista. Other mornings you might be the sullen customer.

Sometimes we get stuck feeling like we always have to play the part of the happy barista, even though it would be nice to be served our coffee once in a while.

Sometimes we get trapped in a relationship that is all give on our part, even though we all need to be takers some of the time.

Sometimes we find that we have become master contortionists, twisting ourselves into pretzels to try to accommodate a partner who can’t be bothered to even offer a glance.

At some point we have to ask “Why?”

How did I get to a place that I was sure that our world would fall apart if I put myself first? It’s been such a complicated journey that retracing it would be like unraveling overcooked spaghetti. Here is where I find myself and here is where the new journey must begin.

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