Compromise and  Settling! Am I settling or making a compromise?

I often hear this question from my counseling and coaching clients because they want to know the difference between settling and compromise.


In a relationship, when you betray yourself or allow others to betray who you are or your core beliefs, such as honesty, respect, reciprocity, and commitment, When you have settled, you feel invisible, like you don’t matter. “Stuck” is usually the word clients say when they have settled in a relationship. They feel stuck because they haven’t used their voice in so long that they fear their partner will leave if they don’t compromise. So they are stuck between choosing themselves or their relationship, and this should never be a decision you must make in a relationship.

That’s because, in a healthy relationship, you never have to choose. You can have both.

So, settling is an internal battle. On the other hand, compromise is external.

Couple Counseling, Compromise or Settle, Greenville SC


It is when you model the true give-and-take flow in a relationship, allowing the relationship to expand and grow. This means at some point, you may have to give more than your partner, and vice versa. Because it flows and there is reciprocity, you do not feel like you are sacrificing. You know you may give more this time, but your partner is willing to give and has given more in the past. Trust that your partner is invested in the relationship, which builds a foundation on us instead of I. You feel understood and are on the same team as your partner.

You feel confident in yourself and your relationship.

For example, you or your partner may compromise on where you will spend the holidays (with your family or theirs), what daycare the children go to, how much money to save, where you will buy your home, who does the cooking/home chores, etc.

When you compromise, you and your partner look at your external preferences and then thoughtfully and selflessly analyze what would work best for the relationship and the family. Sometimes, it’s what you want, and sometimes, it’s what your partner wants — and sometimes, it is an integration of both.

And I say selfless for a reason. Sometimes, people mistake sacrifice for compromise, and sacrifice is not selfless.

I hear this phrase often: “I sacrificed for you.” But what does it mean?

As I explain to my clients if you have to say, “Well, I sacrificed this for you,” then the intent is not pure. Sacrifice in a relationship means, “I gave this up to make you happy.” As I heard author Marianne Williamson say once about sacrifice in relationships, “But who asked you to?” Who asked you to sacrifice anything to make anyone happy … and then throw it back at them to show how much you love them … to prove why they should do the same for you.

Can you tell I get all riled up when I talk about sacrifice? Is It a Compromise or a Settling?

I know what you are saying right now, “Suntia, what is wrong with me doing something nice for my boyfriend in hopes that he will do the same for me? If I scratch his back, he scratches mine, right?” Well, here is the problem with that train of thought:

If sacrifice is the foundation on which you build your relationship, then you will expect the same to be done for you. Which ultimately makes you feel like the victim or the martyr. Sacrifice is where contempt grows in a relationship. You gave of yourself. You pretended it was selfless, but inside, you were expecting something in return… and didn’t get it. That’s when you start to hold it against your partner, letting that anger fester and breed. You secretly wait for your partner to sacrifice for you, and when they don’t, the contempt grows. You are angry, annoyed, and bitter, and your partner has no idea.

They don’t understand your sarcasm, hurtful jokes, passive-aggressiveness, and demeaning comments.

This feeling of sacrifice breeds contempt, and contempt is dangerous. Dr. John Gottman, a famed relationship psychological researcher and clinician, considers contempt the most destructive negative relationship behavior. Contempt is pure meanness: eye-rolling, mimicking, mean jokes, etc. It communicates by saying, “I am better than you.” It’s communicating with disgust and a lack of respect.

When contempt overwhelms your relationship, you tend to forget entirely your partner’s positive qualities, at least while feeling upset,” Gottman writes in his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. “You can’t remember a single positive quality or act. This immediate decay of admiration is an important reason why contempt should be banned from marital interactions.”


So you see why sacrifice has no place in a relationship: It’s a slippery slope to something dark, ugly, and painful.

Conversely, compromise means you will not always get what you want, but there is a clear discussion about the options and how you feel about them. Together, you decide what is best.

Because compromise flows in reciprocity, you feel seen, heard, and understood. When you sacrifice, you feel angry and hold it against your partner.

Look at it like this:

Settling and sacrifice are frenemies. On the outside, it appears that you are being supportive, but on the inside, these moments of “giving in” are breaking you down.

Then, compromise and communication are BFFs. Yes, they have different viewpoints and priorities, but at the end of the day, sometimes, after hashing it out, they make a decision that they both can be proud of. Why? Because they know their BFF wants the best for them.

Compromise is hard, and many couples and singles struggle with it. That’s because sometimes the line between giving and giving too much is thin. You may feel like you have had past breakups and always left feeling like you lost yourself in the relationship, or you may be in a relationship and feel like you are always giving in or compromising.

Are You Giving Too Much?

Sometimes, you feel you are giving in too much; this is not your partner’s problem. This is your problem. Because somewhere along the way, you decided it was easier to go along with your partner than express your viewpoint. You decided your voice was not worth the arguments, so you started “the silent dialogue,” which means you speak your truth but not to your partner. You talk to yourself (or think to yourself) or to your friends and family.

When I work with couples, I tell them that silence is the fastest way to create a gap within their relationship. Your partner has no clue how you feel while you build contempt for not being heard. The damage is already done once all that contempt comes to the surface. You’ve created a void in your relationship so big that it becomes a challenge to reconnect and refill that void.

You can say that the silent dialogue is the silent killer of relationships. You don’t know what’s happening until everything explodes.

Here’s the bottom line: A healthy relationship is built upon true expression of feelings, not an avoidance of them.

Before stressing about your challenges with compromise and settling, I want you to know that relationship sacrifice is fixable. It’s through more communication and compromise. Every decision in your household is an opportunity for you to have a voice and to show off your compromise skills.

First, don’t try to tackle a difficult, compromise-worthy discussion in the middle of the early morning breakfast-in-hand, where-are-my-shoes, no-you-can’t-watch-cartoons chaos. Getting the kids to school and the adults to work successfully is a feat in and of itself, so let’s not add to the complications. You need time to think about the full picture and thoughtfully come to the table with your partner.

And here’s the disclaimer: It may take more than one conversation. Consider what you want, why, and how you feel it will be the best option for the relationship. Schedule a time to talk about it. If Sunday evenings are best, then you put it on the calendar to talk about it. I know it sounds so methodical, but it works! Why? Because it takes away the anxiety, which sometimes can turn to anger during difficult conversations. It allows each of you to take the time to express yourself.

The don’ts for the conversation: Don’t rush, don’t cut each other off, don’t roll your eyes, or bring your cell phone.

If you do not think your partner will compromise with you and/or it would be impossible to stand up for yourself, you have to look inside and ask yourself why you are settling for a relationship that doesn’t value you. Is it fear? Maybe its past trauma? Is it self-sabotage?

Or do you need support in understanding that you are worth a loving relationship in which compromising and working together are priorities?

This is where counseling can help. Before asking your partner to change, you must be clear about who you are and what you want. You also have to have the courage to stand in your truth. If you have not worked through your inner challenges, your partner’s resistance could weaken your voice even more.

Gandhi says, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” And I say you must be the change you wish to see in your partner.

When you need professional expertise to help you find your voice and create a relationship based on communication and compromise, I offer sessions that are a judgment-free zone where you can talk about your relationship with your partner and yourself. To book an in-office or virtual appointment with me, go here.

The Difference Between Compromise & Settling In Relationship | Blog Article | Suntia Smilth | All Rights Reserved | Greenville SC